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The Polish People Of Thurber

In 1994 Frank Wisnoski's youngest sister recalled the trial and "….that one of the three men who was fighting with the victim committed suicide (Zeilinski?), and when Zeilinski's wife was on her death bed she stated that her husband was the one who did the stabbing. This must have been when Frank received his pardon…" Frank Wisnoski's fight was not with the victim, but Frank became a secondary victim on this "Green Sunday," a day of peace and joy.

Most Eastern European immigrants wanted to became Americanized and one way to realize this was through land ownership. All land and housing in Thurber property was company-owned, and "owning a piece of America" would not be possible in Thurber. In nearby Strawn there were coal mining jobs available, but more importantly, there was land and business opportunities. And dozens of Poles and Italians moved from Thurber to Strawn in the early 1900s. One family making the move to Strawn after the 1903 strike was the Zimitzski; and their story reaffirms "only in America.

In Strawn the father Pete Z. built a house (still standing today) on a dozen acres of land north of the Palo Pinto Creek. Pete continued to mine coal. When son Marche Z. returned from WWI in 1919 he contracted to tear down the old Stephens County courthouse in 30 days; a task which no one else would attempt. Marche met the deadline and took possession of all the scrap material from the courthouse. He sold some of the scrap material and used some material to build travel courts (small motel units) and a cafe on the newly-constructed Bankhead Highway which passed through the Zimitzski land. He then opened up "Zims Bottling Works." Simultaneously, he obtained franchises for bottling both Coca Cola and Dr Pepper! Marche was independent and used well water for his soft drinks. The well water periodically tested safe by State Health standards, but Coco Cola insisted that Zim use city water. Marche told Coca Cola what they could do with their franchise! He did very well with Dr. Pepper! He bought ranch land very cheaply during the Depression. There were gas and oil wells. He also had a beer distributorship (Heilmann's Old Style Lager). Marche had beautiful brick work in all his buildings (still standing) and this can be credited to his father-in-law Pete Wasieleski who quit mining in Thurber in 1921 and now did masonry work for Zim. The Zimitzski name was changed to Zimicki. The father Pete died in 1931 and the son Marche in 1962.

Pete Wasieleski came to Thurber from Sierpc, Poland in 1889. He was a charter member of St. Barbara's Church and throughout his life he never missed a Sunday Mass. He dug Thurber coal for 32 years and in his spare time he became skilled as a brick mason. He was temporarily taken off his mining work to help build the Thurber Smokestack in 1908. For 13 years the family lived on Thurber's Polander Hill in House #512. Pete's wife was an expert seamstress and they saved money to move into their own home and 10 acres in Thurber Junction (Mingus) in 1907. Pete was short (5' 7") but sturdy and a strong worker. The Wasieleski's were exuberantly happy, having attained the "American Dream". Pete had a horse, "Booster", a cow, hogs, chickens, an orchard and a smokehouse for curing meats. There were five healthy children and the three girls took piano lessons. The family owned a piano and at evening time the girls would play newly-learned compositions. But the dream ended in 1913 with Cecelia's death at the age of 43. With five children from age 17 and younger, the middle daughter Lottie, 15, dropped out of school to manage the Wasieleski household. Pete 45, a very eligible widower with property, never remarried. His skill as a brick mason can be seen today in the Thurber Cemetery with the brick-enclosed Wasieleski burial plot and the Zimicki brick structures north of Strawn. The burial plot is enclosed with faced Thurber brick. The top of the walls are curved and the joints are finished in "Grapevine" style. After 90 years there are no separations, cracks or loose bricks in this enclosure. Pete died in 1930. Some Wasieleski descendents still live in Thurber Junction (Mingus) and in Pete's old homestead. All of Pete's kids received a good basic education from the nuns at Thurber's Hunter Academy. Among the second generation American-born Wasieleski descendants there was a highly decorated WWII General, a veterinarian, a Ph.D., hospital dietician, executive secretaries and sales supervisors.

The meaning of the term "Full Circle" will be manifest when Daryl Berezik, great grandson of Stanislaus Berezik, completes his purchase of some Strawn real estate. This will be almost 100 years since Stanislaus bought a store and a house in Strawn in 1907. But after moving to Strawn Stanislaus never fully realized the American dream, for he died of pneumonia two years later at the age of 45 in 1909, leaving a wife and 9 children. But the two older sons, Tony 21, and Joseph 19 were working in the mines, and with added income from the Notions and Soda Store the Berezik's had a hard life, but good life in Strawn.

Stanislaus Berezik was active in the historic Thurber Miners Strike of 1903. When the miners went on strike, the company figured they could break the UMW much as they did the Knights of Labor in 1889. The Company closed the mines and ordered the evacuation of Thurber. This was an extreme hardship on families. A column of evacuees, moved northward toward Thurber Junction and Lyra. Some were on foot, some pulled carts and others rode in hired horse-drawn wagons loaded with several families possessions. The union would find temporary jobs for some miners in Lyra and Strawn. Other miners would be sent to the northern coal fields. Thurber families would be taken in by families living in Strawn and Lyra. It is not recorded what arrangements were accorded in the Berezik's. After a month of inconvenience the strike was settled and the families moved back to Thurber. During these grim times, it was the wives who had to be tough and resourceful, for without their sacrifices the strike would have been more difficult or perhaps a failure.

Strawn experienced a small boom when there was some oil play around 1912. After WWI the economy in Central Texas was on the decline. Stanislaus two older boys, Tony and Joseph, moved to Detroit/Hamtramck for work in the automobile plants. When they were settled they sent for their mother and the rest of the family. The family purchased two house in Detroit where everyone initially lived together. As the Berezik's married they bought their own homes, but always within walking distance of the matriarch, Rosalia. And the family prospered and remained very close.

Joseph Berezik undoubtedly used his knowledge and experience from the UMW in Thurber to become active with the UAW (United Auto Workers) in Detroit. In Detroit he became a UAW Shop Steward and during the strike of 1937 he wrote several articles for the union.

Working within the auto industry the Berezik family acquired new automobiles and household items thereby making life much easier than the coal mines of Thurber. But the Berezik's have never forgotten their Thurber/Strawn roots. And when Stanislaus Berezik's great grandson Daryl acquires his property in Strawn, indeed, there will have been a "Full Circle."

Around 1893 John and Antonin Sumeracki came to Thurber from Rus-Pol. In 1895 they sent for their mother Michalina,m 45, and there sister Mary, 23. The 1900 Census also lists Matthew Sumeracki from Aus-Pol, most likely a cousin of the above. These three Sumeracki men were participants in the important 1903 Thurber Miners Strike. The urge to own a piece of America was strong, and since no property was available in Thurber all Sumeracki's had moved to Strawn by 1910. Already, there were cousins Vincent and Maci Sumeracki living in Strawn, so at one point there were five Sumeracki families in Strawn.

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