A Father’s Day Reunion

I’ve never been to a family reunion, but a few weeks ago, I found a copy of a newspaper article about a Father’s Day family reunion held in 1945. It’s a story from the almost-but-not-quite-related side of my family tree; my great-grandmother’s sister’s husband’s sister never had any children, but she helped to raise my grandfather (and, later, my mom and aunt) as one of her own. When my Aunt Rita told me that she couldn’t remember her parents’ names–let alone the rest of her family tree–I made it my mission to keep tabs on them; after all, if she’s a part of my family, then they are, too. That’s how I found this newspaper article, and it makes for the perfect family reunion story this week:

Joseph Niedbalski of Bucknor Street was entertained Sunday by his children and friends, in celebration of Father’s Day. Luncheon was served, and the guest of honor received many gifts. Among those present were the three daughters of Mr. and Mrs. Niedbalski, who had not been together at a family reunion for ten years. They are Mrs. Anthony Garbacz of Oil City, PA, Mrs. Peter Wolnik of Brocton, Mrs. Emmett L. Benjamin of Coral Gables, FL. Their husbands and families were also present.

Others attending were Miss Sherry Sobilo of Brocton, great-granddaughter of Mr. and Mrs. Joseph Niedbalski, Miss Louise Wiltanger of Oil City, Mrs. Joseph Niedbalski, Jr., and son, Mr. and Mrs. S. J. Niedbalski and family, Mr. and Mrs. Willis Benjamin and family, all of Dunkirk.

Niedbalski, Theodora
Mary, Theodora & Genevieve Niedbalski, 1923

Joseph Niedbalski was my Aunt Rita’s uncle, and I’ve shared a photo of him on the blog before: he and his wife, Michilena (Kubasik) Niedbalski, arrived in America aboard the SS Southwark on May 6, 1902 with their two children, Mary and Stephen. The couple had eight children in all–Mary (b. 1901), Stephen (b. 1902), Genevieve (b. 1904), Theodora (b. 1905), Leonard (b. 1907), Joseph (b. 1910), Sylvester (b. 1911) and Clemens (b. 1914)–and Joseph worked as a machinist at Books Locomotive Works in the city. The children married and moved away–some to Pennsylvania and others to Florida–but their three eldest daughters, in particular, moved the furthest away to lead their own lives: Mary to Brocton, Genevieve to Oil City and Theodora to Miami. And they’re the focus of this week’s story.

Mary Niedbalski was born on July 17, 1901 in Poland, and she left for the United States aboard the SS Southwark at eight months old. She married Peter Wolnik–the son of Joseph and Marie Wolnik–on September 17, 1923 at the age of 22; Peter was born in Buffalo to Polish Catholic immigrants, and he had recently returned to Dunkirk after serving in an aero squadron during World War I. Peter and Mary had seven children–Esther Jane (b. 1924), Dorothea Elizabeth (b. 1926), Joseph Daniel (b. 1928), Leo Richard (b. 1930), Lorraine Eleanor (b. 1932), Barbara Ann (b. 1935) and Doloris Mary (b. 1926)–and they made their home on Highland Avenue in nearby Brocton, New York.

Genevieve Joann Niedbalski was born on January 3, 1904 in Dunkirk, New York, and she married Anthony Joseph Garbacz–the son of Anthony and Mary (Apolit) Garbacz–on September 7, 1925 at the age of 21. Anthony was a Polish immigrant who arrived at Ellis Island with his family on June 14, 1912, and after they were married, Anthony and Genevieve bought a house at 217 Spruce Street in Oil City, Pennsylvania, and Anthony worked as a molder (while Genevieve “stayed at home”). The couple had five children together–Anthony Joseph (b. 1926), Walter Thaddeus (b. 1929), Clemens Frank (b. 1930), Genevieve Marion (b. 1931) and Virginia Ann (b. 1937)–and after Anthony’s death, Genevieve married Joseph Frank Skaza and had one more son, Joseph Anthony.

Anthony & Genevieve (Niedbalski) Garbacz with children: Anthony, Walter, Clement & Genevieve

And last–but not least–is Dorothy; Theodora Elizabeth “Dorothy” Niedbalski was born on November 7, 1905 in Dunkirk, New York, and she married Emmett Leonard Benjamin–the son of Augustus James Benjamin and Mary Ann Dillingham–on August 14, 1923 at St. Hedwig’s Church. Emmett, from what I understand, was everyone’s favorite uncle, and he served in the Army Air Force in Brest, France during World War I, returning to Fort McHenry as a Sergeant in June 1920. After the war, Emmett and Dorothy picked up and moved to Miami, Florida, and they had four children: Mary Elizabeth (b. 1924), Emmett Leonard (b. 1926), Patricia Ann (b. 1932) and David (b. 1938). Both Dorothy and Emmett were larger-than-life figures in the family; they were strong and independent and adventurous–a perfect match.

Ten years is a long time to go without seeing your sisters; I’m one of four sisters, and I cannot imagine being apart from them–being across the country and unable to meet–for an entire decade. I’ll bet it was the best family reunion–the best Father’s Day–yet, and it couldn’t have taken place at a more perfect time; Joseph passed away in 1949–just four years later–at the age of 78. What’s my take away from this one? I think it’s about time our family had a family reunion. I don’t know who or when or where or how, but meeting the aunts and uncles and cousins that I’ve merely written to would be a dream. I guess I’ve found next year’s summer vacation; I’d better start planning.


15 thoughts on “A Father’s Day Reunion

  1. We’ve had three family reunions, all on my mother’s side of the family, but from two different paternal lines. For years, we’ve talked about having one for my paternal line…and wish we’d had it earlier as so many are now gone..
    Still, there are lots of cousins, and even we are getting older and some to the stage of not being able to travel far, so your story has pushed me to see what I can do, soon. We’ve been lucky in a way that we have gotten together for many weddings and sadly, funerals, and I make a point of keeping in touch with all that I can.
    Anyone thinking of it, do it… there is nothing quite as heart warming as to look out over a crowd of people and know that these are your folk.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Peter Wolnik and Mary Niedbalski were my maternal grandparents. Their daughter Dorothy, was my Mom. I can’t believe I happened upon this blog! I am dumbfounded right now! I grew up in Dunkirk, and moved to NE Ohio in the mid 80’s. We have lost all my Mom’s siblings now. A dear friend of Dorothy, had given a momento to my nephew in New Mexico and had a story that she shared and I wanted to authenticate it. So I googled Wolnik, and there I am, after several pages, staring at a picture of my Buscia Buscia!!!! And I followed the link, and here I am. I am still speechless, with tears in my eyes! Donna Sam

    Liked by 1 person

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