Visiting the Polish Heritage Center
The Polish culture of Ashton is something residents want to remember. They are keeping that history alive at the Polish Heritage Center.
"A little over 20 years ago, some residents were concerned about the fact that it just wasn't like it was in the old days," center board member Larry Molczyk said. Due to concern that the Polish heritage of the area was slowing being forgotten, the Polish Heritage Center was created. Father David Rykwalder is the center's "spiritual director". He says the center, which has now moved to a new building, is more than a museum. "We want it to be a living heritage center, where we convey to our younger generations our history, our traditions, our culture and language," Rykwalder said. "Because with the passing of generations, we are losing a lot of that."
In the center, visitors are first greeted by a reception area when walking into the building. Then they see the displays. "You'll see a display case with various historical photographs and memorabilia, flanked by a couple of figurines in traditional Polish dress," Molczyk said. "There's one whole section dedicated to historical musical instruments. There were a lot of Polish bands that toured the area and their descendants donated musical instruments to the center."
You can also see Ashton High School alumni memorabilia, including medals, trophies and pictures of the graduating classes. Another area concentrates on church artifacts. "We have many artifacts related to our Polish parishes," Rykwalder said. "They show what the churches were like in the early days, and how some of them have changed.
There's also a section where visitors can research genealogy, and there's a gift shop. "The gift shop focuses on various Polish-related items and offers Polish stoneware and glassware," Molczyk said.
It's no wonder the Polish Heritage Center is located in Ashton, as many Polish people came to the area in the early days of Nebraska in search of a new life. The lure of free land brought many people to Sherman County. "A lot of these people in Poland, they were not able to own the land," Rykwalder said. "They worked for the nobility. And so, most of the produce went to the land owners. This was exciting for them, because here was land they could settle and own."
You can learn about the settlement of the area here, but there's more. Board members are hoping to offer "hands-on" activities that feature the arts. "Last year we did a class on Polish egg decorating," Rykwalder said. "We are hoping to have a workshop on making typical traditional Polish ornaments for Christmas trees, and we are hoping to do something on that this fall."
By making the Polish Heritage Center more interactive, the organization hopes to generate more interest in this hands-on museum, where an important part of Nebraska's history is remembered.