A Tribute to Michael Drabik
By Kathy Drabik DiBona
On October 23, 2014, my brother, founder of the Polish Genealogy Society of Western New York, proud father, sweet son, brother, uncle, and dear friend of many would have been celebrating his 64th birthday. Instead, our Dear Lord is celebrating him, in Heaven. We owe it to ourselves and to Michael to toast a hero among men and a sweetheart to the world. It is in the spirit of love and admiration that I offer my humble words in honor of an extraordinary man, gone from us way too soon.
Michael Anthony Drabik was born in Kaisertown, Buffalo New York to the extremely happy parents of Joseph Michael Drabik and Alice Gorski Drabik. We lived at 5 Glenn Street when Mike arrived. I loved him the moment I set my small child’s eyes on him. He and I shared many fun times filled with childhood nonsense and wonderful silliness. My early memories of growing up as his big sister fill me with warmth. He was a very beautiful baby, often referred to as “so cute he could be a baby girl,” to which in later years Mike’s humor took that to mean boys must be considered pretty ugly then! We would laugh daily over anything that happened to us, living a childhood of building snow forts, finding adventures in the clay mounds left as the city built the Thruway at our street-end, wading in the baby pool, and later diving off the sideboard in the 5-foot pool at Houghton Park, the Saturday morning trips to the Broadway Market locating the sponge candy man, or riding every ride possible at Crystal Beach! Each day with Mike was a day filled with giggles, teasings, and so much wonder and fun.
As we grew, changes naturally happened. My folks bought the candy store/deli across from PS 69, now Houghton Academy, on Clinton Street, our baby sister, Rosemary was born in 1955, and we began making new friends both in school and in the neighborhood. Mike gravitated to his best friend Dickie Gluc from Cliff Street, while I played hard with my Glenn Street buddies, Mike Knowles and Patty Slazcek. During those formative years, Mike began to become engrossed in the elders who were our relatives and those who lived close to our home. He would take it upon himself to pull his little red wagon to meet them as they returned from shopping at Ted’s, Maniewcheski’s (both on Clinton Street), or the Bailey or Broadway markets and haul their items back to their homes for them. While with them, Mike would ask question after question about their personal families and their history, always gathering facts and stories about the Polish culture. He was hooked. By the age of eight, Mike requested that he be allowed to attend Polish Saturday school to learn the Polish language and to explore more about the culture. That interest continued throughout his entire life. Our mother, Alice, especially supported and encouraged Michael on a continual basis to pursue his dreams and desires, and she continues to be very proud of all his accomplishments, as well as those of his three beautiful daughters who he and his wife, Bogusia, raised.
After completing grade school at PS 69, Mike entered South Park High School where he spent a few wild days and nights enjoying his youth, but always returning to his Polish studies and being nurtured and befriended along the way by many of his teachers and several local friends and relatives, as well as the Polish immigrants he met. He found his way to Polish Alliance University in Cambridge Springs, PA, and while there, Mike excelled. He was awarded a year-long scholarship to study abroad in Warsaw, Poland at the Jagiellonian University in Krakow. He decided to trace our roots while there. After he completed his academic requirements each week, he rented a bicycle and began an adventure. He explored Poland by bike! It was during those years that he truly fell head over heels in love with our Motherland. He ventured further and further into the Polish hills, all the while seeking to locate our family roots. He used every resource available to him and, in those days, there were very few! Those who were fortunate enough to meet Mike will recall his determination and persistence. He continued on until he finally located our relatives. He wrote home to us often, so we were aware of his many travels and activities, but had no idea how very entrenched he was becoming with the lifestyle there. He ‘found’ himself in Poland.
Then the love bug bit. Mike met Bogusia Potowa while in Poland and decided that she would be his wife. He returned to Buffalo after his scholarship ended and eventually brought her to America to become Mrs. Michael Drabik. What a day of joy and bliss that was. In years that followed, her family members and other relatives were sponsored and brought, with Michael’s assistance, to America. He and Bogusia, as well as my mother and father, worked hard to make sure each new immigrant was well cared for, had housing, food, clothing, assistance of any type he could arrange, and often offering their own home and belongings to assure each immigrant a feeling of security and welcome. Mike was a truly amazing man, unselfish to a fault. He was a blessing.
During his years as a caring and loving dad to his three absolutely gorgeous daughters, Kasia, Joasia, and Krysia, Mike began to envision the formation of a way to share with others how to best discover their own roots. He realized the many difficult challenges due to his own experiences and decided to begin the process of building a genealogical research group and research center for those interested in locating their Polish roots. The Polish Genealogical Society of Western New York was born. To this very day, the effect of the founder, Michael Drabik, continues to grow and be felt by those who benefit. Michael would be very proud of “his baby!” He loved every minute he spent with it as he worked with many fine dedicated persons especially, David Newman and Daniel Kij.
I wish to thank each and every member who dedicates his or her time and efforts in keeping my little brother, Michael’s, dream alive. I miss him every day and speak to him each night. I feel his presence, especially when I visit Buffalo and wander the areas where we played and chased one another, sometimes laughing so hard our tummies hurt and the tears of happiness flowed. Mike was a very special gift to us all. His spirit lives on as we honor him through his work. Let the Society grow and thrive. Mike is watching over it and you, with a smile in his eyes and a great love in his heart.
Happy Birthday, Little Brother, Mike,
Love Forever and Beyond,
Your Big Sister,