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Wis. Town Ranks No. 1 With Poles

June 6, 2002

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TOWN OF SHARON, Wis. (AP) _ Finding out that many of her neighbors are Polish wasn’t a surprise for Renee Szalewski.

``I am Polish. My husband is Polish,″ she said. ``I wouldn’t want to guess how many aunts, uncles, cousins that all live in the township. There are a lot of them.″

The town of Sharon _ townships are called towns in Wisconsin _ ranked No. 1 in the country in residents reporting some Polish blood in their families, according to U.S. Census Bureau figures of municipalities with more than 1,000 people.

Census figures show 1,978 people live in the Portage County township in central Wisconsin and 63.5 percent reported some Polish heritage.

Six other municipalities in Wisconsin finished in the top 10, including the central Wisconsin township of Bevent, which ranked second in the nation with 60.8 percent of its 1,130 people reporting Polish ancestry.

Szalewski, a 45-year-old mother of four, said people in her township take their Polish heritage seriously.

``And we are also very good at taking Polish jokes,″ she said, laughing. ``We all know how to deal with them.″

The township is a rolling countryside of corn and potato fields, woods, dairy farms and scattered rural homes.

There is no big city or village in the township. Residents consider state Highway 66 its main street. In fact, the highway’s nicknamed the Polish Heritage Highway, said dairy farmer John Kurszewski.

Mark Wanta, a neighbor of Kurszewski, said ``about anyone you talk to, you can talk to them in Polish if you want to.″

The seeds of Polish immigration were planted in the 1860s, when Prussian authorities tried to homogenize their country’s region of Poland as Germanic. Roman Catholic churches were closed, Poles were stopped from going to school and their land was seized, sparking the Poles’ flight to America, said Angela Pienkos, executive director of the Polish Center of Wisconsin.

Word of cheap land in north-central Wisconsin drew Poles from Milwaukee and Chicago, she said. Some bought acres for only a couple dollars.

Cecilia Sanders, 60, said she remembers the area being nothing but people of Polish ancestry.

``It was like one big family,″ she said as she headed into a tavern to enjoy a ``pewa,″ the Polish word for beer.


On the Net:

Census Bureau: http://www.census.gov

Polish Center of Wisconsin: http://www.polishfest.org/polctrwi.htm

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