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Piast Institute co-founder Thaddeus Radzilowski 'believed in people'

Mark Hicks
The Detroit News
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Thaddeus Radzilowski, a Hamtramck native and expert in Polish issues, launched the Piast Institute in 2003.

Thaddeus Radzilowski was an accomplished historian and academic whose voracious cultural interest led to launching Hamtramck-based Piast Institute, which became what is considered the largest Polish-American think tank in the United States.

“His intelligence crossed all lines, all borders,” said longtime associate Virginia Skrzyniarz, the group’s co-founder and executive vice president. “He believed in people.”

Mr. Radzilowski died Friday, July 20, 2018, after battling health issues. He was 80.

For 15 years, the professor was most closely associated with Piast, which formed in 2003.

Under his leadership as president, the institute became the only United States Census Bureau Information Center in Michigan and an immigrant assistance site for the Department of Homeland Security, according to the website.

The center also linked a global network of accomplished fellows as well as produced position papers, school curricula, research reports, conducted surveys, organized conferences and exhibits involving Poland, Poles and Polish-Americans, officials said.

“We had a mutual vision of how we wanted to serve the Polish community,” Skrzyniarz said. “We wanted to serve it in a higher caliber, and that was through research and data and letting people know on a very intellectual level what the Polish people have accomplished, what they’ve done, who they are.”

For his part, Mr. Radzilowski enjoyed educating others about that impact on southeast Michigan.

"You can't understand Detroit unless you understand the contributions of Poles to Detroit," he told The Detroit News in 2001. "You can't understand the history of other groups unless you understand that, together, they created the culture of Detroit."

Through his work at the center and in the community, Mr. Radzilowski left a memorable impression.

“I will always remember Dr. Radziłowski’s lecture during which he challenged Michigan’s Polish American community … with one question  ‘Quo Vadis Polonia?’ ” Ewa Matuszewski‏, CEO at MedNetOne Health Solutions, wrote on Twitter.

The quest for more knowledge was a constant to Mr. Radzilowski, who grew up in Hamtramck and served in the military during the Vietnam War.

The Wayne State University and the University of Michigan graduate studied Poland as well as Central and Eastern Europe, lecturing widely and publishing more than 100 monographs, edited collections, journal articles, book chapters and scholarly papers, according to his biography.

He also taught at UM-Dearborn, Madonna University, Heidelberg College and Southwest Minnesota State University, associates said.

His expertise was so vast, Mr. Radzilowski could tell strangers the origins of their family’s surnames, Skrzyniarz recalled. “He knew something about every single culture. He was an incredible man.”

In addition, Mr. Radzilowski was acting director of the Immigration Research Center at the University of Minnesota, co-directed a special program on international business at the WU Vienna University of Economics and Business and chaired an international migration conference at the Jagiellonian University in Krakow, according to his biography

From 1995-2003, he was president of St. Mary’s College in Orchard Lake.

Mr. Radzilowski also was a corresponding member in the Polish Academy of Sciences; served as an adviser and consultant to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights and the U.S. Bureau of the Census; and joined a Ford Foundation commission on ethnicity on American life.

Among numerous honors, the president of Poland presented him with the Cavalier’s Cross of the Order of Merit of the Republic of Poland in 1999, Piast Institute reported.

Within hours of his death, supporters shared condolences on the center’s Facebook page.

“The doctor’s passing is a significant loss to humanity especially to many people of Polish heritage,” Donald Skrzyniarz wrote.

Marty Hershock added: “Detroit Polonia has lost a great scholar and advocate.”

Survivors include his wife, Kathleen; three sons, John, Paul and Stefan; two grandchildren; sisters Fran and Cynthia; and brothers, Norbert and Fred.

Visitation is 3-9 p.m. Tuesday at Heeney Sundquist Funeral Home at 23720 Farmington Road, Farmington. A funeral Mass will be celebrated at 11 a.m. Wednesday at St. Gerald Catholic Church, located at 21300 Farmington Road, Farmington.

Interment follows at Holy Sepuclhre Cemetery, Southfield.

In lieu of flowers, the family requests that donations be made to the Piast Institute in honor of Mr. Radzilowski.

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