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Polish Center of Discovery & Learning is Teaching Visitors About Polish Culture

By Jake Levin

Ronald Lech is a man on a mission.

The stories of Polish-American contributions to the United States and the world's history must be told, Lech said, as such tales are not easily accessible in mass media or the curriculum of schools. As the Associate Director of the Polish Center of Discovery and Learning at Elms College in Chicopee, Mass., Lech is hoping to bring Polish-American culture to the forefront of the cultural spectrum.

"We offer a complete experience for our visitors," Lech said. "Visitors will be able to tour galleries on the three floors of our center."

The mission statement on the center's website, www.polishcenter.net, proclaims itself as "a living monument that celebrates the many contributions, both past and present, made to the economy, arts and sciences of our nation by Polish people and their descendants."

Lech, who is also the Vice President of the Board of Directors at the center, said exhibits include over 30 folk costumes, the journal of a Polish national who was sent to Russia as a slave laborer during World War II and a "Coming to America" room, which shows what Poles would have in their homes upon arrival.

Poles were among the first European settlers in North America, Lech pointed out, a fact easily forgotten by even Polish-Americans themselves; Poles arrived in what is now the United States just a year after the British colonized Jamestown in 1607.

Lech cited many notable Americans of Polish descent through the years, including 1972 presidential nominee Ed Muskie and Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak.

There are many great Polish-American athletes, Lech said, including baseball Hall of Famer's Stan Musial and Carl Yastrzemski, as well as a pair of notable two-time Super Bowl champion New England Patriots in tight end Rob Gronkowski and kicker Stephen Gostkowski.

"We hope that by visiting us, [people] will leave with a greater understanding of who they are and where they have come from," Lech said.

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