Celebrating over one hundred years of history...
Poles lived in Chicago as early as 1833, the year the village was incorporated as a town. However, it wasn’t until after the great Chicago Fire of 1871, that a tsunami of Poles immigrated to the city drawn by plentiful jobs. By the turn of the century Chicago Poles numbered over 1,000,000, second only to Warsaw in population.
Many of the immigrants were skilled craftsmen who began rebuilding the city. Others found work in the steel mills, the stockyards and factories that sprung up in and around Chicago. The families populated neighborhoods of the Near North side, Back of the Yards, Brighton Park, Hegwich and Bridgeport; there they would build churches where Mass was celebrated in Polish. The Poles esteem for education mandated that each and every church have a school. That drive for knowledge carried on to higher education as scores of sons and daughters of those immigrants entered the professions.
In 1907 a group of mostly second-generation polish dentists formed the Polish Dental Arts Club of Chicago (DAC); membership was limited to those who had at least one parent of Polish ancestry. The early members of the club developed articles on prevention of dental problems that were printed in the many Polish language newspapers of Chicago. At first, monthly continuing education meetings were held in various Polish restaurants. Eventually the club chose Syrena Restaurant on 47th and Wood Street in the Back of the Yards neighborhood as their regular meeting place. Members traveled from all over Chicagoland for the camaraderie, the food and the ambience. The restaurant became the unofficial clubhouse of DAC and the owner was made an honorary member.
DAC members served and chaired Chicago Dental Society (CDS) and Illinois State Dental Society (ISDS) committees from the start of the club; many served as directors of CDS, mostly from the Northwest Side Branch. Although these directors were respected for their significant contributions to organized dentistry, the office of the presidency eluded them.
In the late fifties Dr. Edward Bonk joined the club; Dr. Bonk, a born leader and an organizational genius, had an objective… to elect a Dental Arts member president of CDS… and he had a candidate in mind, Dr. Francis X Pelka, the son of one of the original members of the club.
Dr. Pelka taught at University of Illinois dental school and maintained a private practice. He served on many CDS committees with distinction and was not only esteemed but also loved by those he touched. In 1977 he assumed the presidency of CDS; apropos of his professionalism, he selected as the theme of the Midwinter Meeting that year, “BETTER PATIENT CARE”. As a lasting tribute to him, most invocations at the club’s monthly meetings conclude with his theme. Dr. Pelka’s ascendancy to the presidency opened doors for other members of Dental Arts to follow in his footsteps.
In 1983, another club member the late Richard Kozal became president of CDS.
In 1985, he was elected First Vice- President of the American Dental Association (ADA).
Walter F Lamacki was elected president of CDS in 1985 and in 1990 was elected a Trustee of the ADA.
The late Edward Bonk became president of CDS in 1988.
Eight years later, Dr. Thomas Machnowski was elected president of CDS.
Dr. Brian Soltys became president of ISDS in 2013.
Dr. Richard Holba assumed the office of CDS president in 2014.
Dr. George Zehak is being installed as the CDS president this fall 2015.
The club continues to flourish as a continuing education provider in a warm atmosphere and is an incubator for leaders in organized dentistry. Our leadership is a mix of young and mature reflected in the attendees.
The centennial of the club was celebrated at the Ritz Carleton Hotel in Chicago on October 13th, 2007. The celebration was a great success and fondly remembered by those who attended. There is no doubt that the club will continue to prosper for the next hundred years.
DAC member Dr. Thaddeus Weclew, had a dream… that continuing dental education for the general dentist should be made available regularly, conveniently, and economically, not just at annual sessions of the societies. Further he wanted recognition of those who completed a number of hours of advanced education. In the early 1950s he began the process of bring his dream to fruition. Meetings were held in the dining room of his home with a dozen or so Dental Arts’ members arrayed around the table and sitting on the floor. Dr. Mitchell Kaminski, an oral surgeon who trained at Loyola and worked as a general dentist in the evenings, was a prominent member. As a professor at Loyola he recruited a dozen or so new members for his club that he so loved: Henry Bogacki was seated at the dining room table; later his granddaughter, Michelle Bogacki, became president of DAC. Other younger members who were often relegated to finding space on the floor were: Ted Chrobak, whose daughter Vickyann Chrobak also became president of Dental Arts and Jerry Piekos, whose son Marty and his wife Loretta Luksha also served as presidents of Dental Arts. Ed Bonk, Ted Siemion, Victor Weclew, Richard Jaskulski (Ted’s brother) and Joe Kolodzieczak all made significant contributions.
In 1952 The Academy of General Dentistry (AGD) was formed. Dr. Weclew became president and subsequently the long time editor of the Academy. For his devotion to the profession, Dr. Weclew was awarded the French government’s highest honor that a non-Frenchman can receive. He often wore a tie clasp from which hung gold keys he received from all over the world.
Today the Academy has 40,000 members across the globe. In the U.S., AGD, working closely with ADA is an advocate for the general dentist.
All these men have passed, but they have given Polonia a legacy that will never die.