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Polish museum director to present public programs on campus

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NORTH NEWTON, KAN. – A Polish museum director coming to do research at Bethel College will share some of his work in two public presentations on campus.

Jarek Pająkowski, director of the Lower Vistula River Valley Landscape Park, headquartered in Świecie, Poland, will give programs hosted by Kauffman Museum and the Mennonite Library and Archives (MLA), sister organizations at Bethel College, and will also speak to a college class.

The first program takes place at Kauffman Museum Sunday, April 13, at 3:30 p.m. as part of the Sunday-Afternoon-at-the-Museum series. “Plums, Peat Bogs and Bicycle Paths,” Pajakowski’s multimedia presentation, will feature the Lower Vistula River Valley Landscape Park. Landscape parks in Poland are national parks that protect areas with natural, historical, cultural and scenic value.

The Lower Vistula River Valley Landscape Park was organized in 1994 with Pajakowski as director. In 1997, he created the Friends of Lower Vistula Society, a non-governmental organization formed to strengthen local and regional identity by promoting the natural, historical and cultural values of the region, with a mission to inspire, support and complement government initiatives, including ecologically balanced economic development.

Among the Lower Vistula River Valley Landscape Park’s projects are saving native plum tree species, cataloguing local peat bogs, creating a bicycle path with signage to interpret the valley’s natural and cultural landscape, and preserving endangered species of birds and mammals. For more information, see (click on the British flag for the English version).

Pajakowski’s second program will be held in the Administration Building chapel Thursday, April 17, at 7 p.m. His topic will be “Mennonite Settlers on the Lower Vistula River Valley in the 17th and 18th Centuries.” This presentation is part of the Friends of the MLA series.

In the 16th century, Mennonites took refuge from religious persecution in the Netherlands in the delta region of the Vistula River, near the present-day cities of Gdańsk, Malbork and Elbing, Poland. In the 18th century, many Mennonites migrated to what is now Ukraine, but a small number moved upstream into the Lower Vistula River Valley. Descendants of some of these now live in the south central Kansas area.

The Lower Vistula River Valley Landscape Park includes a 238-year old Mennonite house that is the symbol of the park, appearing in its logo. In 2000, the project to reconstruct this historic Mennonite farmhouse in the village of Chrystkowo received second prize in the Preservation of the Natural Environment and Cultural Heritage competition sponsored by the Ford Motor Company.

Pajakowski is in the process of making the house at Chrystkowo as a museum on Mennonite culture dating from 1770, when the house was built. Chrystkowo is one of the places along the Vistula River where Mennonites lived.

Only a few dozen Mennonites sites still exist and there has been very little conservation of Mennonite-related buildings in the area. The house at Chrystkowo is said to be the best-preserved site.

Pająkowski is a native of Świecie, a small town in the Vistula River Valley. As a child, he was interested in nature and the region’s environment, which led him to an engineering degree in agricultural studies in Bydgoszcz and a master’s degree in biology from the University of Gdańsk. He recently earned a Ph.D. in quaternary geology from the Polish Academy of Sciences, Warsaw.

Out of his personal interests and the desire to develop community cultural wealth, Pająkowski has contributed articles and maps to more than 50 national publications. His hobbies include bird-watching, aerial photography and regional Polish food. He is married and has one son.

Pajakowski’s connection with Bethel College came through North Newton resident Doreen Harms. Before she retired, Harms worked for many years with international visitor exchange programs through Mennonite Central Committee, including the Polish Agricultural Visitor Exchange (PAVE).

Last spring, Harms – whose family can trace back to the Mennonites in the Lower Vistula River Valley – with some cousins and a niece decided to visit the area. Pajakowski had been a university student of Czeslaw Sadowski, a PAVE participant from the first year of the program.

“Dr. Sadowski arranged for Jarek Pajakowski to set up our Vistula River Valley tour to find our roots,” said Harms, “since he was very knowledgeable about the area. He did a wonderful job. Our connection with him dates from that.” Pajakowski, in turn, was eager to come to Kansas to do research in the Mennonite Library and Archives.

Both the Sunday-Afternoon-at-the-Museum and Friends of the MLA programs are free and open to the public. Pajakowski will also speak to a Bethel College class, Applied Ecology/Conservation Biology, on April 10.

Kauffman Museum is located at 27th and Main in North Newton. Regular museum hours are 9:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m. Tuesday-Friday, and 1:30-4:30 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. The museum is closed Mondays and major holidays. Regular admission to the museum, which also includes admission to the permanent exhibits “Of Land and People,” “Mirror of the Martyrs” and “Mennonite Immigrant Furniture,” is $3 for adults and $1.50 for children ages 6-16. More information is available by calling the museum at 316-283-1612 or visiting its Web site,

For directions to the Administration Building chapel or more information on the Friends of the MLA, call 316-284-5360.

Bethel College is a four-year liberal arts college affiliated with Mennonite Church USA. Founded in 1887, it is the oldest Mennonite college in North America. Bethel is known for its academic excellence and was the highest ranked Kansas college in the national liberal arts category of U.S. News & World Report’s listing of “America’s Best Colleges” for 2008. For more information, see the Bethel Web site at

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