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Mme. Valeria Lipczynska
Queen of the Poles -- Angel of Mercy
Daughter of a professor and barrister, Valeria Glowczynski was born in 1849 in Tremessen in the Duchy of Posen in German Poland. Miss Glowczynski married John Lipczynska (a veteran of the doomed January Insurrection of 1863) and came directly to Grand Rapids, Michigan, in 1869. This location chosen because John's sister, Louise, wife of Valentine Pogodzinski, was here since 1865.
John and Valeria Lipczynska (Lipczynski) were the first Polish family to settle east of the Grand River, an area which was called "Cegielnia" (The Brickyard) because of its location to the huge brick-kiln installations in the Michigan-Fuller area. John, being a potter, found employment here. By 1875 John had acquired the Samuel Davis Pottery Works at the corner of East Bridge St. and East Road (Michigan St. and Eastern Ave.).
John and Valeria had three children: Walter, Helen Fiske and Joseph. Valeria's brother, Michael and sister, Mrs. Pelagia Prus (Michael Proos) and John's brother, Anton, also settled here. The Lipczynska's had one granddaughter, Mildred Lipczynska Orlowski, one grandson, Rugeen Fiske and their great-grandchild, Dorothy Fiske Leonard and great-great grandchildren, James and Michelle Leonard. However, Valeria Lypczynska and Anton Stiller vied with each other as godparents of the children of the pioneer Grand Rapids Polanders of the 1870s. Inviting one to be a godparent was to confer on that person the role of aunt or uncle. Valeria became the godmother and "ciotka" (aunt) of innumerable Grand Rapids-born Americans of Polish ancestry. She was deeply loved and the fairy godmother as she gave so much of herself and of her substances. It is said that John and Valeria alone sponsored some forty families from Tremessen to Grand Rapids.
John and Valeria Lipczynska were great organizers and staged the very first Polish Ball. In 1871, they helped found the first Polish organization in West Michigan, the Wiarus Society. They aided in the formation of the St. Adalbert Aid Society in 1872. In 1878 they were among the Polish patriots who founded the non-church affliliated organization, Polish National Aid Society. Also in that year they started a "Fund for the Polish Church." In 1881, they became charter members in the Basilica of St. Adalbert's Parish. In 1890, Valeria inaugurated the Polish Ladies Society and in 1897, she and John became founding and charter members of the new St. Isidore's Parish. Next they were both instrumental in the formation of the Polish Falcons, another non-church organization. Valeria instigated the formation of the Ladies Welfare Society and organized the Harvester Ladies (Zniwiarki), which worked for the parish and the community. John and Valeria owned the Lipczynski Hall, on Eastern Ave. just north of Michigan St., where they staged patriotic manifestations and she trained children for amatuer theatricals. There were also various meetings and social gatherings held here.
Without Valeria's help the pioneer Polonian priests---Dean Marianus Matkowski, Msgr. Simon Ponganis, Msgr. Casimir Skory, Msgr. Joseph Pietraski, Fr. Ladislaus, Fr. Krakowski and Fr. Joseph Kaminski---could never have organized the parishes of St. Adalbert's, St. Isidore's and Sacred Heart as well as they did.
Valeria was a social activist. Because of her proficiency in English, she would accompany the new immigrant men to the mills and mines and factories and sought out jobs for them. Eventually, she formed a corps of American-born young people to perform this task. She was, in the event of a delinquency or unfortunate happening in the community, contacted by the authorities to act as a kind of intermediary and probation officer. She supported the Lutnia and Halka Choir as well as the Arkopolan Singing Society which her husband's nephew, Stanley Lipczynski, organized and directed. She visited the sick, nursed them, consoled them and often was the midwife.
She also served as the Grand Rapids correspondent for Middle West Polish newspapers and the Polish National Alliance sent her as their representative to their annual conventions. She traveled to Chicago, Milwaukee, Detroit, Buffalo, Baltimore, Cleveland, Wilke-Barre and Washington. She was elected Vice-Censor (Vice-President) of this national Polonian organization and in this capacity had private audiences with President Theodore Roosevelt and President William Howard Taft.
In every eventuality people sought her out as translator. She spoke fluent German being a Prussian Pole and despite the oppression she had suffered, she was a member of the German Arbeiter Society and the Germania Society.
In August, 1927, she was decorated with the coveted Polish Golden Service Cross for her altruistic services to the immigrant. The ceremony was attended by city and church leaders.
John Lipczynski died in 1917. Valeria died Sunday, February 16, 1930. Her funeral took place on Wednesday, February 19, 1930, from St. Isidore's with Father Pietrasik, Monsignor Skory and Father Kaminski officiating at the Requiem Mass. Interment at Holy Cross Cemetery.