Wiera “Baba” Hryszczuk, 97, passed away peacefully in her sleep on October 22, 2018 at the VITAS Inpatient Hospice Unit, Physician’s Regional Medical Center, Naples, Florida, with her grandson David Hryszczuk by her side.
Wiera was born in Suchovy, Belarus, on July 15, 1921, to Eudosha and Terente Pucykowicz. She loved attending the Polish grade school across the border from her small farming village and was an exceptional student. However, she was only able to attend through 7th grade, because there was just too much work for her and her seven brothers and sisters to do on the farm. Her favorite chore was tending to and milking Cheepa, her beloved cow, and she always prided herself as being an expert milkmaid. To her last days, she could still recite and sing all the poems and songs she learned in school as a child. All you had to do was ask, and Wiera would happily break into song, particularly the “Polish National Anthem.” What a joy it always was to hear her sing.
At 17, Wiera was swept off her feet by the dashing and dapper Wasil Griszczuk (Hryszczuk), a 24-year-old village councilman, farmer, craftsman, and aspiring musician. They married in 1939, the same year the Nazis invaded Poland, and her new husband was soon sent to the Front as an infantryman for the Polish Army. After Poland’s quick defeat, Wasil (Wesley) returned to Belarus in time for the home birth of their first son, Andrei (Henry). Second son Anatole (Tom) arrived three years later.
In July 1944 as Stalinist Russia invaded their country, the young family, fearing persecution, was forced to flee their homeland. Wiera, six months pregnant with her third child, Olga, along with her huband and two young boys escaped at night in a horse-drawn wagon, joining caravans of people on the road also fleeing from Eastern Europe. Apprehended by Nazis at the Czechoslavakian border, they were loaded onto cattle cars, and distributed throughout Germany to be utilized as slave labor. The family survived bombings, hunger and many hardships in various refugee displacement camps until the end of the war when the Americans liberated Germany in June 1945. Life was finally getting better.
A wondrous event occurred in February 1951 for the Hryszczuk family. They were allowed to officially immigrate to the United States. Crossing the Atlantic Ocean on the USNS “General Stewart” for 14 painful seasick days, they were relieved to finally arrive in America through Ellis Island, where they were processed and assigned placement with sponsors throughout the world. Their sponsor lived in Rockford, Illinois, a city ripe with opportunity and jobs in the manufacturing industry. Upon their second day of arrival, with no training or English language skills, both parents were working on factory assembly lines. Wiera was especially adept in her job as a machinist at National Lock & Key, never missing a day of work in 35 years. A hard and conscientious worker, Wiera also studied to become a U.S. citizen, one of her proudest moments. But her greatest achievement was providing a better life for her family in America.
Wiera was a founding member of Christ the Savior Orthodox Church, built by the new immigrants (including her husband and sons) within their Southeast Rockford community, and she faithfully attended for 66 years. She was one of the original members of the Sisterhood who cooked, cleaned and raised funds for the church. She loved to sew and create beautiful embroidery for family and friends. And boy, could she ever cook! Her holiday meals were incredible feasts, from her chocolate bread, kruschekies, pierogies and potato pancakes to her mouthwatering kapusta (sauerkraut) and sausage–all homemade with love–from scratch and no measuring. She never sat down, just scurried around the table making sure everyone’s plate was always full.
A favorite annual project with son Henry was Operation Green Thumb. Each spring mother and son would carefully plan, plant and cultivate the backyard vegetable garden full of onions, beets, radishes, cucumbers, tomatoes, zucchini and dill that she shared with everyone.
The little bungalow on Bildahl Street where Baba’s growing family gathered was always filled with love, laughter- and lots and lots of deliciously thin “Baba” pancakes for her many great-grandkids. Within four generations, the “fresh off the boat” family of five numbered over 50, and she was devoted and generous to all.
In 2017, escorted by grandchildren David Hryszczuk and Diana Vincent, Baba took her first ever airplane flight to live with her daughter Olga, granddaughter Liz, and great grandchildren Finleigh and Quintin in Marco Island. She was in awe of the exotic palm trees, the fresh seafood, and loved sunning poolside in December. She greeted those she easily befriended with “Starros Nerados” – old age is no fun, to the merriment of all.
Survived by son Henry (Maria) Hryszczuk, Rockford, Il; daughter Olga Karmelowicz, Marco Island, FL; grandchildren Kathy Irwin, Boston, MA; Susie (Mark) Morley, Colorado Springs, CO; Nancy (Barry) Livingston, Lake Charles, IL; Dr. Steve (Andrea) Hryszczuk, Belvidere, Il; David (Mary) Hryszczuk, Chicago, Il; Diana (Scott) Vincent, Davis, Il; Tim, Wes and Heidi Hryszczuk, Rockford, IL; Liz (Bob) Fitton, Marco Island, FL; Missy (Doug) Kaut, Kansas City, MO; David (Chris) Murphy, Olathe, KS. and 30 great-grandchildren. Preceded in death by husband Wesley, son Tom, and seven brothers and one sister in Belarus. “Vechneya Pomyat,” Eternal Memory, dear sweet Babuschka. You will live in our hearts forever.
Baba will make her second and final flight home to Rockford for burial.
Thank you to her wonderful family and friends who cared for her throughout the years: to her son Henry, daughter Olga, grandson Steve, his wife Andrea and their children Anna, Kate, Luke and Sam, as well as Hanna and Gary Lavold.Thi
Special thank you to the doctors and staff of Vistas Healthcare, both home hospice and the inpatient unit for their professionalism and loving care. “Starros Nerados” to all of you one last time.
Memorial donations can be made to Vitas Healthcare, 4980 Tamiami Trail North, Suite 101, Naples, FL 34103; Christ the Savior Orthodox Church, 1802 Pershing Avenue, Rockford, IL 61109.