Tadeusz Wozniak - "My Hearth Belongs to Polonia"
Greenpoint - Tadeusz (Ted) Woźniak’s favorite place on Earth
Tadeusz (Ted) Woźniak is a well-known Polish businessman. He is also a treasure-trove of knowledge about the Polish community in New York, especially Greenpoint. He has lived here since he was a child and is very fond of the area. This is where his professional career and business took off.
"I was 7 when we moved to Greenpoint with my parents," recalls Ted. “The neighborhood was average – neither good, nor bad. There were fights and robberies, just like everywhere else in New York but I felt safe here. Our neighbors were very friendly. Not many Polish immigrants lived here in the 1960s and 70s, but the area was popular with many Americans of Polish origins, descendants of post-war migrants. Hispanics, the Irish and Germans were the dominant groups here back then.
From a young age, Ted was involved in community work. His parents enrolled him at the Saints Cyril and Methodius Parish School and this is where in 1973 he received his first prize 1973 from the Brooklyn District Attorney, Eugen Gold for his excellent academic achievements and voluntary contribution. Since then, Ted received many awards and distinctions, including the Golden Cross of Merit in 2009 - a Polish civilian state decoration. The accolades always come as a surprise to Ted because, as he says “I am not motivated by prizes. Doing what I do comes naturally.”
Greenpoint - his place on Earth
So, it’s not the desire for awards or decorations that drives Tadeusz. Rather, it’s his way of life. Whether through school, sporting endeavors or involvement in the church, Greenpoint has forever been his special place on Earth. Ted says change is inevitable but he remembers the bygone era with fondness. The district went through a dramatic transformation around 1981, when a wave of Solidarity immigrants from Poland settled here in Greenpoint, New York. Polish businesses, shops, bars and restaurants sprung up like mushrooms and so the "Little Poland" was born. With time, people became friends and neighbors got to know each other. After work, everyone sat outside and chatted.
“I remember my daddy coming home from work, taking a bath and going out to meet his neighbors after dinner” recalls Tadeusz. Everyone knew everyone on the street, adults were always around to supervise children
“I feel sad that some traditions aren’t followed by young people today” he says. “In the past, generations of families lived together in one house. Children learned things from their parents and passed their knowledge onto their children. We had some favorite places, too. For my family, the Polonaise Terrace banquet hall was it. Unfortunately, it has closed. Both my older sister and I had our wedding receptions there. We celebrated our children's birthdays and baptisms there. People belonged to the area, wanted to live in Greenpoint and build their memories here. Young people of today no longer feel the need to connect with their neighborhoods. The changing face of Greenpoint is both a source of happiness and concern to Mr. Woźniak happy.
“As soon as the property prices in Greenpoint went up (after being rezoned from industrial to residential - author's note), the mostly Polish residents sold up and closed their businesses” he says. “It doesn’t surprise me. If you buy a house for 10, 20 or 30 thousand dollars and you’re offered a million plus for it, it makes sense to sell and go back to Poland, or move to another, quieter suburb.
"There are fewer and fewer Poles around here," he adds with a sigh. “New residents have moved in, including many young people. They have their own identities. I noticed that the younger generation is not as friendly or involved in the community life.”
The business is doing well
The recent changes in the district, city and the world – including the pandemic - did not affect Tadeusz's business. After all, taxes need to be paid no matter what. Finding a good accountant who will do what's best for their client is Ted’s golden advice.
„The company is performing well and is profitable”, says Mr Woźniak.
A&W Tax Service Associates LTD was established by Ted and his partner, Gregory Austin 26 years ago. It’s a bookkeeping and accounting firm, providing services to companies and individuals.
“Back then, at least 80% of our clients were Poles. They still have their accounts with us but there are fewer of them now. More and more clients are American”, he says.
One thing that did change was his partner’s retirement.
"I have more work now but also more help," Ted says with a laugh. “I have two right hands. One is my beloved wife who has been working with me since the very beginning. The other is a young man, Kacper Grabiński whom I recently employed. I have been transferring my knowledge to him and hope that one day he will take over the business and I will retire. Although on second thought, I doubt I'll ever retire, at least not for the next few years.
A strong relationship
Ted met his wife Elena, who was born in Saint Petersburg in Russia, 28 years ago. Love sparked and they decided to go through life together, in private and professional capacity.
"People ask how we get along at work and at home without jumping at each other's throats," says Ted. “We love each other very much. And we understand that since we both work for our business, we must take care of it. At times our opinions might differ as to how run the company but we are always able to work out a compromise because we want it to succeed. Elena has great intuition and although we do not always agree, more often than not she proves me right. She works hard and is very committed to growing the business. During the tax season, we work 12-13 hours a day, but we always spend Sundays at home with the family. This is an important day for us.
Their relationship is built on infinite trust, understanding and knowing each other’s needs. They don’t mind spending time apart.
“We have a common group of friends, but we also have our separate friendship circles”, explains Tadeusz. “For example, once a year I go away for a few days with my best friend. We relax, talk about the old days, enjoy a beer. My wife, on the other hand, has many female friends with whom she spends time and since they speak Russian and I don’t, I am not really needed.”
As man does not live by work alone, Elena and Tadeusz plan a joint family vacation every year. They have two children - 32-year-old Eugen and 21-year-old Julia.
“Time spent with children is very important to us. Our trips are an opportunity to bond and make memories,” says Tadeusz.
Before the pandemic, they went to Thailand together. They also visited Russia as Tadeusz wanted to learn about his wife's country. “I fell in love with Saint Petersburg,” he recalls. “The city is full of history. My wife still has many childhood friends there.”
Passion for sport
Tadeusz and Elena are very proud of their children and they both chose their own paths in life. Eugene, a graduate of the Polytechnic Institute with an engineering degree, just like his dad years ago, took charge of his own future and decided to pursue acting, leaving for California to make his dreams come true.
“I totally understand it. I enrolled at the same university but couldn’t get into it at all”, says Tadeusz. "According to my mother, running my own business was my destiny, and after a year, I switched to accounting at New York City University. As for my son, he has already managed to appear in several episodes of NCIS and Never Have I Ever. Nowadays, he is also involved in production, but I won’t say any more lest I jinx it. In any case, he has been pursuing his goals consistently”.
Julia, on the other hand, is studying nursing and still lives at home. Both children inherited a passion for sports from their father. Eugene trained hockey, and Julia loved being a cheerleader, becoming a team captain and leading her high school team to victory. Tadeusz’s pathway to sports was quite different. At the age of 14 his fascination with karate began. “I liked the philosophy of the sport and the discipline one needed to maintain”, he recounts. He became a black belt and set up two karate schools in Greenpoint in the 1970s and 80s, giving young people an opportunity to learn responsibility and discipline. “Due to my age I unfortunately no longer train karate but to keep in shape I practise kung fu as it’s easier on the bones.”
In addition to his professional activities and family life, Ted Woźniak supports various Polish organizations and clubs. He’s happy to provide help and advice to anyone who turns to him. His involvement in the life of the Greenpoint community is legendary. He has always aimed to build a bridge between the newly arriving Poles and the generation of Americans of Polish descent. He was a member of several local organizations and the vice president of the Greenpoint Little League. Thanks to his efforts, the baseball fields were refurbished. Since 1992, Mr. Woźniak has been an active member of one of the oldest Polish organizations, Pulaski Association of Professional and Business Men. “I was the youngest member”, he recalls. “Back then, there were no Poles in the organization. Most members were Americans of Polish origin. We helped Polish people who moved here as well as those living in Poland. Helping Poland in the 1980s wasn’t easy due since it was under the communist regime. Unlike today, we couldn’t keep in touch with people directly or via the consulate, as the Polish diaspora was not welcome. That's why our help was mostly local - in Brooklyn, Bayridge, Greenpont, Maspeth, Ridgewood, as well as parts of New Jersey.”
Tadeusz witnessed the organization undergoing many changes, including aging members retiring and older members sadly dying.
“But then there was also, so to speak, a revival, because in the 1990s the organization began to accept immigrants from Poland into its ranks”, he says. “Initially, it was challenging because many of our members did not speak Polish since they came from the second or third generation Poles, and the new members did not yet speak English”.
According to Tadeusz, the language as well as the clash of new and old thinking was a significant barrier. Young people wanted to introduce changes that long time activists did not always accept. But things slowly changed and the organization grew stronger and stronger.
“Today, the Pulaski Association is a solid institution. We have intelligent, young people in our ranks”, says Tadeusz. They are successful, well-to-do, with a strong will to act. The organization will continue to develop and I hope it will be around for another 50 years or more. Young people have a vision and are great at moving forward, but they should listen to the advice of the elders who have lived and have been through more. The experiences of the elders and the willingness of young people is a great mix, giving the organization what it needs to progress. This long-time activist cares about the growth of the Pulaski Association, especially that over the last 10-15 years many Polish organizations ceased to exist. According to Ted, the older members refused to teach the young. They themselves were successful and led a happy life, but they did not want to pass any knowledge on to the younger generation. This was a barrier to getting involved in the life of the organization for the younger members.
"Older generations have a hard time understanding the way of life today," he says. “In the past, association meetings were also a form of social meetings. People talked face-to-face, shook hands. Today, young people mainly stay on the Internet and live in virtual reality, they have their own social media and messaging services. They talk to each other less and less, and that's not good as far as I am concerned. People should talk to each other. If you have a problem, come and talk to me about it. What’s the use of complaining about it on Facebook while sitting in front of your computer?
Ted’s interest in people, helping the needy, ongoing community and professional work, resulted in the Pulaski Association board honoring him with the Man of the Year title in 2015. “I asked the board if there was perhaps someone else they would rather like to honor, but I accepted the title with joy”, he says, adding with a smile “The awards I received in my life made me realize that no matter what you do, someone is watching.” He has no intention of changing anything and as long as he has the strength to work and help, he will continue to do so.
text: Iwona Hejmej
Photo: Ted Woźniak’s archives
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A & W Tax Services Associates
125 Nassau Ave., Brooklyn, NY 11222