“It’s bittersweet,” Tencza said Tuesday. “But it’s an honor to be recognized by this group of men at this popular event. This year’s event will honor the committee and the work they’ve done.”
Tencza, a lifelong Meriden resident, is the lodge grant coordinator for the Elks National Foundation, securing money to donate to the community. He has served on several committees and has helped organize various lodge events.
The Polish Night committee, which organizes, sells tickets and hosts the annual event, has shrunk in recent years and committee members struggled to nominate new honorees, said Robert Kosienski Jr., who was honored in 1995.
Kosienski’s father, Robert Kosienski Sr., former Meriden police chief, was inducted in 1970, and again in 2015. As an older generation passed away, it became time for the younger generation to take over, Kosienski Sr. said.
“Everybody on the committee has been honored,” he said. “From this point on there could still be a Polish Night if someone wants to pick it back up again.”
“Clubs like the Elks and Falcons, those kinds of clubs are struggling for membership,” said Kosienski Jr., adding that Elks Club Lodge 35 is one of the oldest in the country and has had a strong relationship to the city. “A lot of what we do is with the Nerden camp in Middlefield and the Elks are synonymous with supporting veterans.”
At one time, members had to wait more than a decade to be nominated as Polish Elk of the Year, but after several decades, the group found itself nominating repeat honorees. There remains an active membership but the level of participation has dwindled in recent years, Koskienski Jr. said.
Polish Night committee vice chairman Dan Michalak said the Polish community in the city is on its fourth generation, but membership has its cycles. Michalak is also vice president of the Polish Falcons of America, based in Pittsburgh.
“It all depends on where you are in the cycle,” Michalak said. “A lot of families moved out of the area and some return.”
Polish Night at the Elks Lodge, at 120 E. Main St., will feature Polish music, the Warsaw Table of authentic Polish hors d’oeuvres, followed by a full Polish dinner. Tickets are $22 and available at the door. The event is open to the public.
“It’s a celebration for those who are Polish or who want to be Polish,” Kosienski Sr. said. “We want to invite the public to celebrate the event.”