Janssen/Phelan Family History
Our Polish Heritage
Pasternak, Pasternacki, and Pasterski all come from the same Slavic root, “paster,” meaning shepherd. The most famous person to hold one of these names is Boris Pasternak, the Russian novelist who wrote Dr. Zhivago. Of Pasternackis in particular, the most renowned was probably Dr. Fiodor Ignatjevich Pasternacki, who came up with Pasternacki’s symptom, a way of testing for kidney ailments. In terms of sheer numbers, Pasternak is a much more common name than Pasternacki. In fact, Pasternacki is rare enough that I assume anyone bearing the name is probably related to me somehow, even if I haven’t yet established a direct connection.
In the 1850s, when my ancestors came to America, the nation of Poland did not exist. The kingdom of Poland had been divided up between three conquering nations. Approximately the western 2/3 of Poland belonged to the Prussians, part of the German Empire; a small chunk of southern Poland, known as Galicia, was in the hands of the Austrian Empire; and the remaining portion in the East was occupied by the Russians. Immigrants from all three of these sections emigrated to America and settled in Wisconsin. My ancestors came from the German-occupied area of Poland. In fact, on early census forms they are often listed as being born in Germany, or in German Poland. It was not until the end of World War I that Poland became an independent nation again, which is why November 11, our Veterans Day, formerly known as Armistice Day, is also Polish Independence Day.
From Poland to Portage County
Frank Pasternacki emigrated to America in 1855. He lived in New York and Ohio up until 1862, when he enlisted in the army. He served with Company G of the Sixth Ohio Regiment for three years during the Civil War. When the war ended, he moved to Stevens Point, Portage County, Wisconsin.
It is unclear whether Frank came to this country alone, or brought members of his family with him. Whether they rode over on the same boat or not, he did have siblings in this country, though I have very little information about them. His obituary mentions three sisters. Mary Pasternacki married Joseph Bileski. They settled in Fredonia, Chautaqua County, NY. Many Polish immigrants, probably Frank among them, passed through this area of New York before moving westward to places like Wisconsin. Catherine Anna (Kate) Pasternacki married John Gollon in Dunkirk, NY. They settled in Portage County, Wisconsin, where many of their descendants still live today. The third sister I know only as Mrs. T. Miller, who lived in Fond du Lac at the time of Frank’s death.
There were other Pasternacki men who settled in Portage County at this time, namely a Joseph and a John. These men were born about the time when they could have been brothers or cousins of Frank, but they are not mentioned in his obituary, and I can’t assume a direct relationship without some further confirmation. A more promising discovery I made was the 1880 census, which lists a Katie Pasternacki living with Frank and his family in Stevens Point. She is 28 years older than Frank, and I can only assume that she was his mother, but this is the only source in which she is mentioned so I cannot confirm that.
Regardless of whether he had immediate family with him when he arrived in Stevens Point, Frank would certainly have found kinship among the folks he met there. Stevens Point and surrounding Portage County had one of the highest per capita rates of Polish-American immigrants of any county in America. In the last half of the 19th century, Poles fled their homeland by the millions and emigrated to America. Their primary purpose for leaving was that they had no nation of their own. The occupying forces in their country treated them like second-class citizens in their own motherland. Of the three occupied areas of Poland, the Prussian section had the best living conditions, yet even there the Poles faced restricted property rights and unfair taxation. In addition, their Polish culture and language were being suppressed in favor of the Germanic culture of the Prussians. When these factors were combined with the pervasive problem in all of Europe at that time—too many people and not enough land—it is understandable that our Polish ancestors would look across the Atlantic for hope of a better life.
Portage County gave Poles a place where they could not only preserve their Polish culture but celebrate it. Also, it was one of the few places where large quantities of Polish immigrants settled on farms, rather than in the industrial ghettos of large urban centers. Once our Polish ancestors made the arduous and dangerous trek to Wisconsin, however, their troubles were not over. Poles here in America still faced discrimination. Since most of the Poles could speak German, they tended to settle in German communites. As a minority group within these communities, they had no political power and even faced second-class treatment in their churches. No matter how prosperous a Polish farmer was, he could not purchase a spot in the pews at the front of the German-dominated churches; he and his family had to sit in the back. As more and more of them poured into Portage County, Poles gradually gained strength in numbers, began to form their own churches, and started running for political office.
The Fourth Ward of Stevens Point became the home of a large population of Polish immigrants. It was here that the first Polish-American alderman in Stevens Point, John Kallas, was elected in 1877. The city’s second Polish-American alderman was my great-grandfather, Frank Pasternacki. He succeeded Kallas in 1878 and was re-elected in 1879. In addition to being active in political affairs, Frank was also active in matters of the church. In 1876, he and his wife Eva were one of 53 families who signed the founding papers of St. Peter’s parish in Stevens Point. Frank continued to be a prominent member of St. Peter’s Society until his death.
Our Patriarch Meets His Matriarch
The name Kubisiak is derived from “Kubis” or “Kubisz,” which are nicknames for the name Jakob. The name Kubisiak, therefore, means something equivalent to “son of Jake”. The name is of Kashubian origin. The Kashubia region is in the north of Poland, along the shores of the Baltic sea. Today it is situated in the northeastern part of what is called Pomerania. The largest city in the area is Gdansk. The Kaszubians have their own cultural traditions and folk arts, influenced by Germanic and Swedish cultures. Since the Kubisiaks were living in Poznan during the 19th century, they were somewhat removed from their Kashubian culture, and it’s probably safe to say they had assimilated themselves into mainstream Polish life.
I have been able to trace the Kubisiak line back to the early 1700s, by examining the church records of the Lubasz parish, which encompasses Gulcz and several other towns in Poznan. These records were hand-written in Latin by the clergy, with quill pens. As a result, they’re not always easy to read, and spellings vary greatly. Kubis, Kubys, Kubicki, Kubisek, Kabusiek, or Kulwas are all variations on the name that appear in the records of the early eighteenth century. My great-great-great-great grandfather was Simon Kubisiak, born 24 Oct 1756 in the town of Stawno. I believe his parents were Laurentius and Regina Kubis. Simon married Catharina Michalak. On 3 Apr 1791 their son Franciszek Kubisak was born in the town of Stawno. In 1816 he married Marianna Jaskowiak, born 25 May 1785 in Bzowo, daughter of Gregorij and Anna Jaskowiak. Their son Jan Kubisiak, my great-great grandfather, was born in Gulcz on 12 Nov 1812. In 1836 he married Wiktoria Jur, the daughter of Andrzej Jur and Ewa Mikolajewski. Wiktoria’s line can be traced back a couple generations to her great grandparents Luca and Marianna Jur, and grandparents Simon Jur and Hedwig Dolna. Jurek, Juryk, and Jurzyk are variations on the name which are also found in the Lubasz parish records. Wiktoria was born 17 Aug 1813 in Gulcz, and that’s where she and Jan were married. Jan and Wiktoria had about nine children, all born in Gulcz.
In the early 19th century the Kubisiak family lived in Gulcz on a plot of land atop a hill. They resided in a house with a straw thatched roof, as was customary in those days. When Franciszek Kubisiak died, the family land was split between Jan Kubisiak (Eva’s father) and a sister, name unkown, who married a Jesko. Jan established himself as a cobbler and a beekeeper. He owned a house and garden, and was reportedly well off enough that he had food left over to share with peasants who came by daily asking for handouts.
Jan and Wiktoria, along with daughter Ewa and the rest of their children, came to America about 1867. As a result of the beekeeping, the Kubisiaks brought barrels of honey with them on their trip to America. The journey was hard. Eva was very ill and in bed most of the six week trip. Water was a scarce commodity. They were allowed one cup of water per day for the whole family, and they mostly ate hardtack. Upon arrival in Wisconsin, the family settled on a farm in the Town of Hull for some time, then moved to the Town of Amherst. Jan, also known as John in America, played the fiddle and would play for parties in the Amherst area.
The Kubisiak Clan
Eva’s oldest sister, Mary, married Jacob Wachowiak in Gulcz, Poland about 1850. They had nine children in Poland, and didn’t move to America until about the late 1870s. They settled in Stevens Point where, six generations later, many of their descendants are still living.
Eva’s two remaining siblings, both brothers, became prominent members of the Polish community in Portage County, and sired large families. John Kubisiak (birth name Jan) was one of the first saloon keepers in Stevens Point. He started with a grocery business, often buying and selling livestock, grain, and potatoes. He then expanded the store by adding a saloon, which thrived well into the 1890s. In spite of his profession, or because of it, he was elected Portage County Supervisor from the 4th ward in 1892. John married Magdalen Kroll. They had eight children.
His brother Albert Kubisiak (aka George Albert, birth name Wojciech), married Frances Dzwonkowski, a daughter of one of the first Polish settlers in the county. Albert and his wife settled on a farm in the town of Hull where they had nine children. In the winters, like many farmers in the area, Albert moonlighted as a woodsman. As a young man, he would also spend the Spring working as a raftsman. After trees had been felled and milled in northern Wisconsin, he would steer a raft of the saleable lumber down the Wisconsin and Mississippi Rivers, sometimes venturing as far as St. Louis. From there he could catch a train to Wisconsin and be back home in two days. In 1884, Albert and Frances were among the founding members of the St. Mary’s of Mount Carmel Church in the town of Fancher, Stockton township. Albert continued farming in the town of Hull until retiring about 1920. He moved to Amherst, where he died in 1923. His wife Frances lived to the ripe old age of 93, dying in 1949.
The oldest of Albert’s sons, John F. Kubisiak, was elected Sheriff of Portage County in 1914. He held the office off and on into the 1940s. In those days, there was a law against Sheriffs serving consecutive terms in office. John got around this rule by getting friends of his to run for Sheriff, appoint him under-Sheriff, and then step out of the way and let him run the show. This skirting of the term limit was a common practice throughout the state, and it allowed John to have one of the longest-running political careers of any Polish-American in Portage County history.
In total, Albert Kubisiak’s nine children went on to have over 40 grandchildren, who in turn saw fit to make their own contributions to the Polish population explosion. In addition to a whole slew of Kubisiaks, the female descendants married men with names like Michalski, Ropella, Wysocki, Newton, Dean, Augustyn, Konkol, and Wolfrum. Though these families have spread out over the last hundred years, many of their members still reside in Portage County.
Ups and Downs for the Pasternackis
With a few exceptions, the Kubisiak families tended to settle in the rural areas of Portage County—Stockton, Hull, Amherst, Fancher. Many of them made their living by farming. The Pasternackis, on the other hand, didn’t stray far from the city of Stevens Point. They were city folk, and often entrepreneurs. Frank Pasternacki owned his own general store on the town square in Stevens Point in the 1880s and ‘90s. While he was running the store, Frank used to help young Polish-speaking couples make wedding arrangements at St. Peter’s Church. He often threw in his daughter Mary as a bridesmaid. She was a bridesmaid 25 times before her own marriage. After the store closed, he was employed for a while by C. Hell as a harness maker, and he may have gone back into the grocery business after that. Frank died 10 Jun 1902. His eventful life was capped by an equally exciting send-off. The Stevens Point Daily Journal published an article about his funeral, which includes an account of an incident in which two or more horse-drawn carriages in the procession collided and became entangled. The carriage of a Mrs. Gross was tipped over, and “Mr. Taylor’s rig was quite badly disfigured.” A few riders were thrown to the ground, and one Mrs. Hoffman was dragged by a horse. Thankfully no one was seriously injured.
Though serious harm was avoided in this instance, the Pasternacki family did see their share of hardship. Tragically, both Frank and Eva outlived three of their sons. Peter E. Pasternacki died at the age of 4, and Stanley K. died in infancy. Frank Pasternacki, Jr. died at the age of 18. Frank Jr. had enlisted in the Army to fight in the Spanish-American War. He never made it beyond basic training. He was a private in Company I of the 4th Wisconsin Infantry. He died of typhoid fever at midnight, the morning of 9 Nov 1898 at Camp Shippy army base in Anniston, AL. His funeral in Stevens Point was the largest funeral ever held in Stevens Point at that time (and probably since). Over 2,000 mourners gathered in and around the church, which was decorated with red, white, and blue. Frank was given a military gun salute, and Polish funeral songs were sung at the ceremony and during the procession of 1,000 mourners to the grave site.
Frank Sr. died a few years after his son, but Eva lived another 25 years. She never fully recovered from the loss of Frank Jr., and she was in poor health ever since his death. She was a semi-invalid for the last several years of her life. She died of pneumonia on 15 Mar 1923. Several of the Pasternacki children did grow to adulthood, became prominent citizens of Stevens Point, and raised families of their own. Among them was my great uncle, Dr. Leon Peter Pasternacki.
The Polish Mayor
Leon Pasternacki was born 2 Jul 1885. He grew up in Stevens Point, and was one of 13 students in his high school graduating class. He went on to study dentistry at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois. Upon returning from dental school, he followed in his father’s footsteps and entered local politics. In 1914, Leon Pasternacki was elected the first Polish-American mayor of Stevens Point. At 29, he was also the city’s youngest mayor ever (a record which probably still stands to this day). During his term of office, his administration is noted for establishing the city’s Parks Department, and directing a team of engineers in the search for a new underwater source of drinking water for the city.
When his term ended in 1915, Leon chose not to run for re-election. Over the course of his life he held other political offices and served the community in many ways. He served on the Board of Education for 10 years, and was its president for a few years. He was a presidential elector, vice-president of the Parks Commission, and served on the Stevens Point draft board during World War I. He was also a director of the corporation which built the Whiting Hotel, a director of Citizens National Bank, and a vice president of the Stevens Point Fair Association. In 1920 he ran for U.S. Congress, and lost.
Leon also served his country in the military. The story of how he entered the service brings to light an important episode in Polish-American history. In 1914, World War I broke out in Europe. Although the United States did not enter the war until a few years later, this conflict had a special importance for Polish nationalists. Poland still did not exist at this time, divided as it was among three conquering nations. Most Poles hoped that a defeat of the Germans in World War I would mean the restoration of an independent Polish nation. To this end, in 1915 and 1916, Ignace Jan Paderewski, a famous Polish pianist, toured America to raise funds for Polish victims of the war, and to raise support for Polish independence. Although President Woodrow Wilson had not yet committed the participation of American armed forces to the European war, through the urging of Paderewski he permitted Polish-American volunteers to create their own military unit to fight in World War I. This unit became known as the “Blue Army” because they were given blue uniforms discarded by the French. Recruiters for the Blue Army visited Stevens Point, where they were greeted by parades. Eight local men enlisted in the unit, including Leon Pasternacki, who applied for commission as an officer. Before he could begin his service, however, President Wilson officially declared the U.S.’s entry into World War I in 1917. Upon doing so, he changed the rules for Blue Army admission, allowing only those to enter who were too young or too old for the American draft. As a result, Leon never made it into the Blue Army, but was drafted into the U.S. Army instead, along with his brother, Paul Pasternacki. Leon enlisted in the Army dental corps, and reached the rank of Captain. He later served in the Officers’ Reserve.
Leon married Bessie Quien in 1923. On their honeymoon they visited Youngstown, Ohio. They liked it so much they moved there in 1925, and lived there for 42 years. Leon retired from his dental practice in 1960, on his 75th birthday. In 1967 they moved back to Portage County, WI, and lived on the South Branch of the Little Wolf River in Scandinavia, WI. Leon spent the last six months of his life in the Portage County Home, where he died on 19 Apr 1972. His wife Bessie lived to be 102. They had no children.
A Plethora of Pasternackis, and Maslowskis, too
Paul Peter Pasternacki worked in the clothing business. He started his career as a young salesman in a store in Ironwood, Michigan. He also worked breifly there as a salesman of dry goods. Sometime between 1910 and 1920 he moved back to Stevens Point and opened his own clothing store, Pasternacki Clothes Shop, Inc., on 309 Main St. He sold ready-made clothing (as opposed to tailor-made), which was a relatively new business at that time. Like his brother Leon, he was a World War I veteran. He married Johanna Stefaniak, and they had two children, Marie and Paul. The clothing store stayed open for decades under the direction of daughter Marie Pasternacki and her husband Ambrose Simkowski.
Josephine Pasternacki married Simon Wasko (or Waszko), a Polish-American typesetter and printer who was born in New York. They moved to Chicago in the late 1890s and had four daughters: Sophia, Irene, Wanda, and Eugenia (Jean). Sophia married Clyde Schaeffer and had a son Joseph. When Joseph was two years old, his mother died, and he was raised by his grandparents, under the name Joseph Wasko. My older brothers and sisters remember Joe Wasko from decades ago when he lived with the Maslowskis (see below) in Stevens Point. My cousin Mary Zaborski tells me his still living. Another of the descendants of the Waskos is Frank Warzak, who is still alive and living in Bonita Springs, Florida. Mary Zaborski saw him in Colorado and says “he is 80 and still skiiing.”
Katherine Pasternacki briefly lived with the Waskos in Chicago as a young woman, but she returned to Stevens Point and married Adolph J. Maslowski. He was the son of John Maslowski. Both men were tailors by trade. John Maslowski emigrated to America in 1882, when young Adolph was only three years old. Originally the family settled on a farm in Sharon, WI, home of many Polish immigrants, before soon moving to the city of Stevens Point. There John was a very prominent member of the Polish Community. In 1891, when the Polish community in Stevens Point threw a huge parade to celebrate the centennial of the Polish Constitution, John was chosen as one of three “generals” to head the parade. His tailor shop was one of the first Polish business ventures in Stevens Point. When he died, his obituary listed him as “head of one of Stevens Point’s best-known families.”
John Maslowski was married to Florentia Welty. They had at least seven children, of whom Adolph was the eldest. Adolph carried on his father’s tailor business. Adolph and wife Katherine Pasternacki had six children: Grace, Carl, Therese, Adolph Jr., Ramona, and John (Jack). Four of those siblings—Grace, Carl, Therese, and Ramona—I remember from my early youth. My family and I would visit them when we went to Stevens Point, and on a couple of occasions they came to visit us in DePere. None of them ever married, and they all lived together in the same house their whole lives. Carl Maslowski earned a law degree at Northwestern and returned to Stevens Point to open his own automotive business, Carl Motor Sales. He was a World War II veteran, a long-term member of the Police and Fire Commission, and held the post of Fire Chief in Stevens Point from 1943 until 1965. After his retirement, the SPFD named a new mini-pumping engine in his honor, dubbing it the “Little Carl”. My mother used to talk of a girlfriend whom Carl dated for 40-plus years and never married. She is not mentioned in his obituary. The other two siblings in the family, Adolph and Jack, I do not remember meeting. Jack was the last surviving member of the immediate family; he died in 2004. He has a son Kenneth, living in Illinois.
A “Second Home” in Minnesota
Adolph Maslowski Jr., after moving to Virginia, married a Minnesota girl, Leona Mary Irwin. In 1987, six years after Adolph’s death, Leona was murdered, and the case was never solved. In 2001, retiring Virginia Police Chief Tom Yarick said that the case was one he particularly regretted not having solved before stepping down. At that time, he remained confident the case would eventually be resolved. Through the use of new technology and DNA testing, he hoped “maybe somebody will be able to bring that to a conclusion.” Adolph and Leona had four children. Their son James Maslowski was a Rear Admiral in the United States Navy and had a long and decorated career as a naval pilot, including flying with the Blue Angels. In 2000 he was awarded the Venerable Order of the Gray Eagle, a title given to the active naval aviator who has worn his gold wings the longest. He retired to Tuscon, Arizona, where he lives today.
When Pasternacki Met Phelan
On 4 Jun 1923 she married Irishman Francis M. Phelan (For more information on the Phelans, see my essay on Our Irish Heritage). Sophia was 30 years old when she married, which was relatively old for those days. This allowed her to work for several years before marriage. My cousin Mary Zaborski tells me that she was trained as a music teacher, though she never encouraged any of her daughters to learn a musical instrument. She also sold insurance for a while, for Sentry Insurance. She was one of the first women in Wisconsin to earn a driver’s license. When she decided to drive to Chicago, IL on a business trip for the insurance company (during World War I) it caused such a stir that it made the local papers. Mary Zaborski remembers Sophia saying that she was not a “women’s libber,” she just wanted equal treatment for everyone.
Like most women in her day, she stopped working after marriage, but she continued to be active in church and charitable organizations. She served for 28 years as a field rep for the National Catholic Society of Foresters, retiring in 1972. Sophia also served on the Stevens Point Girl Scout Council for 10 years, and was a trustee of the Stevens Point Boy and Girl Scout Council for 25 years. She was a charter member of Catholic Women’s Club, and a member of Catholic Daughters of the Americas, St. Cecilia Court, and St. Stephen’s Altar Society. She also served on the Portage County Deanery Board and the Board of the La Crosse Diocesan Council of Catholic Women. She lived in the same house on Spruce Street in Stevens Point for 58 years, until her death on 9 Dec 1983. She is buried with her husband in St. Stephen Cemetery in Stevens Point.
Francis and Sophia had three daughters: Ruth Eve Phelan, Mary Ellen Phelan, and Ann Sophia. Since this is a story of our Polish heritage, I have to single out one of my aunts as carrying on the Polish tradition. Ruth Phelan married Jerome Zaborski, a steam fitter in Milwaukee. Ruth was a very interesting character who by the time she was married had already lived a pretty fascinating life. She worked for Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, served as a WAC in World War II, and managed a country club in Frankfort, Germany where she once met then-General Eisenhower. The Zaborskis raised their five children in the family home on 80th and O’Connor Streets in Milwaukee. Karen Zaborski married Chris Connolly. Sara (Sally) Zaboorski married Jim Perry. Both still live in the Milwaukee area. and Dann Zaborski and Pam Hartwig live in Dousman, WI, while Mary (Molly) Zaborski lives in Green Bay. Robb married Karen Smith and lives in Laughlin, NV. He is the only Zaborski with children.
I have not included any footnotes within these historical essays. For information on my sources look up the names of individuals in my genealogical database (links below). All source information is listed there.