It is so important to keep one’s cultural traditions alive by supporting local organizations and their ethnic celebrations, and to learn about other cultures by participating in their special events and activities.
Lucy Przybysz, known by family and friends as “Miss Lucy,” was born and raised near downtown Sudbury, the eldest child of Polish immigrants who arrived in Canada in the early 1950s.
“My parents met at a dance and married here in Sudbury,” said Przybysz. “Like many immigrants, they spoke very little English. They joined the Polish Club on Frood Road to find friendship and feel welcomed by others from their homeland.”
Upon his arrival in Canada, her father found work in the gold mines of Québec, until friends in Sudbury convinced him to relocate north where there were stable, good-paying jobs at Inco. Przybysz’s mother also left Poland for a better life in North America. She was sponsored by her younger sister who had recently settled in Sudbury.
Being raised by purely Polish-speaking parents, Przybysz and her two younger brothers, Richard and Edward, only learned English once they started school.
“That wasn’t an unusual scenario in our multicultural neighbourhood,” she said. “Moms and dads spoke their mother tongue to each other and to the kids, until the kids learned English outside the home and taught them this “foreign” language.”
The Polish Club and the Polish Combatants Hall were important sources of moral support and provided familiar cultural activities for immigrants and their growing families. Organizations like these remain in operation through the efforts of volunteers who prepare delicious ethnic foods and keep their proud traditions alive for all to enjoy.
Przybysz attended St. Aloysius Catholic Elementary School and Sheridan Technical School (now Sudbury Secondary School). As a child, she often visited the main branch of the Sudbury Public Library on nearby Mackenzie Street. She could never imagine that she would one day launch her career in library services.
“I finished high school in January 1974 and started working full-time at the main branch,” she said. “Then I decided to enroll in a data processing program at Cambrian College. Two years later, with my college diploma in hand, I returned to the library full-time.”
In fact, Przybysz held progressively responsible jobs in clerical work, checking borrowed books and handling customer service and special programs during her 35-year tenure there.
At one point, the library had 2,500 elderly and homebound clients, and Przybysz’s role was to recruit and manage about 65 volunteers.
“We simply couldn’t provide this valuable delivery and pick-up service without their help,” she said. “Our volunteers have improved the lives of so many people, particularly those who have been unable to leave home for months, even years. To our clients, books are their happiness and something to occupy their time. They truly appreciate the care and friendship that library volunteers provide.”
In 2011, and in her mid-fifties, Przybysz retired from the Greater Sudbury Public Library, but she has continued in a volunteer capacity to ensure homebound clients have access to books, talking books, magazines and movies.
“Older people don’t tend to do much online, and we need even more volunteers as the general population ages or becomes less physically active,” she said.
Przybysz’s dedicated career and volunteerism in library services has made a positive impact in our community. Her efforts were recently recognized with an Ontario Volunteer Service Award and a 20-year volunteer service pin.
As a long-time member of the Polish Combatants Association, Przybysz has also helped build community awareness about her family’s heritage.
“Many of our 40 to 50 members are seniors now, and we always encourage younger generations to get involved by helping out at events and assisting us with banquets,” she said. “They learn so much about ancestry and Polish history.”
It has been a lot of fun for Przybysz to co-ordinate yard sales and fundraisers, plan member activities, organize church teas and, in particular, take part in Greater Sudbury’s Canada Day at the arena.
“I know residents will miss our perogies, sauerkraut, sausages and homemade Polish desserts this Canada Day; however, we are looking forward to next year’s multicultural event,” she said. “I hope everyone will take time to reflect on their own family history and appreciate all we have today.”
Another of Przybysz’s volunteer passions has been the Salvation Army, which operates a food bank in the same building on Notre Dame Avenue. “Thousands of people are without work during this unbelievable COVID-19 pandemic and the homeless population continues to grow,” she said. “For a lot of families, this is the first time they’ve had to rely on that kind of service.”
When she is not involved in community initiatives and helping others, Przybysz enjoys quality time with her two adult children and infant grandson.
Eldest daughter Amy, who works for the Durham District School Board, and JP welcomed their first baby, Hayden, 18 months ago. Younger daughter, Laura, a marketing professional, and Brandon live and work in Greater Sudbury.
Miss Lucy’s Volunteer Words of Wisdom
So many organizations rely on volunteers, including cultural associations and local service clubs. Giving your time could also result in learning more about your own heritage and ethnic background. They say that everyone has a story to tell. Take a few minutes to listen. Your life will be enriched from the experiences of others.
Whatever time you can commit, your efforts will be appreciated. Volunteer work can be as easy as you want; just take the time to decide what is right for you. During the pandemic and beyond, it could be as simple as shopping for an elderly neighbour once a week, or it could be delivering a library book to someone who can’t leave their home, then staying for a 15-minute visit. These are simple but special gifts of time that you can give to others.
Marlene Holkko Moore is a local communications professional and occasional contributor to Sudbury.com.