Martha Golubiec, a longtime member of the Polish community, died on January 22, 2021 in Seattle after a long illness.
Bursting with energy and ideas, she was a community pillar since the 1960s till recently. During this time, she initiated, spearheaded or contributed to many of the developments that were crucial to the community centered on the Polish Home in Seattle, now the Polish Cultural Center Dom Polski. She also worked tirelessly to elevate standing of the Polish community in the City of Seattle and beyond.
Marta Szternal was born in Białystok, Poland on September 28, 1939 as a daughter of a Polish military officer and a school teacher in a very patriotic family. After the German invasion of Poland in 1939, her father, Kazimierz Szternal, escaped from Poland, fought at Narvik, parachuted back to Poland as a member of the Polish Special Ops (Cichociemni), and fought in the 1944 Warsaw Uprising as the chief of staff and then the CO of the Mokotów District. Marta met her father only after the WWII ended, when her mother and sister escaped Poland with her to join him in England in 1946.
The family immigrated from the UK to Chicago in 1951, taking an active part in the life of the Polish community there, with Martha and her sisters joining the Polish Scouts. She graduated from the Loyola University with a Bachelor of Science degree in 1960. The same year she met a young dashing US Navy pilot Ronald (Roman) Gołubiec, and they married in 1961. Shortly after that they moved to Seattle for jobs at Boeing.
Martha and Ron at their wedding on Feb 4, 1961
Ron and Martha, with other Polish transplants lured to Seattle by the Boeing boom in the early 1960s, helped to reinvigorate the Polish community. Martha was active in the Ladies Auxiliary (Koło Pań, now Polish Women’s Club) becoming its president and organizing balls and picnics. She was also a co-founder of the Polish Bazaars in 1963. Conceived as a means to alleviate the cash shortage at the Polish Home, the bazaars have in fact become a cash cow for the Polish Home Association ever since.
The Boeing bust in 1970 forced the Golubiec family, now with two sons, John and Mark, out of the City; they spent most of the 1970s in Germany and Iran, with Ron working in the airline industry, and Martha as a teacher in international schools. They returned to Seattle and started their company Polyways Travels in 1980. They also joined the whirlwind of activities supporting the fledgling Solidarity movement in Poland, raising awareness of the situation among the general public and joining forces with other local ethnic communities such as Lithuanians while seeking political support from the US Congress. At that time Martha also joined the newly organized Ethnic Heritage Council of Seattle.
When Solidarity Trade Union was outlawed in Poland, and refugee activists started to arrive in the Seattle area with their families in the early 1980s, Martha emerged as the main person helping them to start a new life here. She served as interpreter, host and cheerleader to these families, dealt with legal & immigration issues, and organized a dedicated group of Polish Home members who were helping with finding jobs, lodging, home furnishing etc. for a big wave of immigrants. As the families had many children, Martha founded the Polish Scout Troop Kaszuby in 1986 and was its Scoutmaster for 24 years. The Troop is still going strong under new generation of leaders, providing a place where local kids can immerse themselves in Polish traditions and history and speak and sing in Polish.
Martha as the Scoutmaster of the Polish Troop Kaszuby
All her life, Martha was involved in American civic and business organizations in the City of Seattle, bringing her experience back to the community. Among others, she was a longtime member and officer of the University Lions Club and an officer of the Wallingford Chamber of Commerce. She had an innate knack for networking , easily connecting with people of all walks of life and with other local ethnic communities, be they Slavic, Nordic or Jewish.
This wider perspective made her a co-founder and an enthusiastic supporter of the Seattle-Gdynia Sister City Association (SGSCA) and later also a co-founder of the UW Polish Studies Endowment Committee (UW PSEC). Since 1993, the SGSCA has been promoting the educational, cultural and business exchanges with the City of Gdynia, which now includes a summer business school for HS students in Poland; the organization also produces the Seattle Polish Film Festival. Martha and Ron hosted many exchange students and visiting film artists under their roof. The UW PSEC, started in 2003, has a goal of establishing an endowed chair for Polish Studies at the University of Washington and also supports student scholarships and visiting Fulbright scholars. Martha organized first auctions at the UW that started the fundraising drive for the organization.
Martha was also involved in active outreach promoting Polish history and experience to American public. She was a keynote speaker or panelist at different lectures and meetings at the Polish Home, the UW and elsewhere on issues ranging from Poland in WWII and fates of Polish refugees to the current situation in Poland and Europe. She organized the exhibition commemorating the 25th anniversary of Solidarity and also arranged for the Solidarity archives to be deposited at the UW Suzzallo library. She helped with production of the documentary movie “A Trip To Nowhere” (2010), about Soviet deportations of Polish citizens to the gulag camps in WWII, and also supported with Ron the documentary about the local Polish WWII ace fighter pilot Alex (Witold) Herbst (2015). She also discovered the story behind an old picture at the Polish Home and made a presentation about Japan’s rescue of Polish orphans from Siberia after the Bolshevik revolution; the children passed through Seattle on their way to Poland. In turn, she was featured as a community elder in the two documentaries produced for the centennial of the Polish Home Association in 2018.
Martha represented a role model supporting native heritage while actively contributing to local American community and raising public awareness of an important ethnic experience. Martha’s leadership made us realize the immense contribution of time and effort it takes to preserve, document, and promote ethnic culture. Her public service record has made all of us proud of our community and its contributions to the public life in Seattle.
Martha Golubiec was recognized for her extraordinary, broad, and diverse contributions on many fields. She received the Cavalier Cross of the Order of Merit of the Republic of Poland and the Solidarity Medal, both bestowed by the President of Poland, Polish American Historical Association Civic Achievement Award, certificates of recognition from the Consulate General of Poland in LA and several local organizations, as well as the Aspasia Phoutrides Pulakis Memorial Award from the Ethnic Heritage Council.
John, Liz, Ron, Martha, Mark and Betty at the EHC ceremony in 2016
We have lost an extraordinary member of our community and a wonderful person. Martha will be forever in our hearts and minds.
Martha was predeceased in death by her elder sister Elizabeth Ciezkowski. She is survived by her beloved husband Ron, sons John, with wife Liz, and Mark, with wife Betty, as well as two grandsons Nicholas and Jonathan in Seattle, and by her family in Chicago: her younger sister Eva Filipowicz with the daughter Marta and grandchildren Alex and Izabella, her nephew Paul Ciezkowski with wife Bryn Zbyszewski and children Michael and Wrigley, her niece Margaret, with husband Joe Stojak and daughters Maggie, Haley, Ellen and Nina with grandson Evan and her niece Renee with husband Dave Rogers and children Ritchie and Tina.
Memorial services. Due to the current pandemic restrictions, a celebration of Martha’s life will be held at a later time. In lieu of flowers, please donate to the Seattle Polish Foundation at the donation page here; donations will be allocated to Martha’s favorite causes. Please indicate the donation purpose in the comment field provided by the PayPal form.
Homages. Mr. Wojciech Szczurek, the Mayor of the City of Gdynia, Poland has sent his condolences regarding Martha to Ron; the letter is in Polish and in English, you can read the PDF with both versions here.