Preparing For Walesa Visit Solidarity Leader To Visit Old Friend

Posted: November 19, 1989

Looking up at the three-story stone and brick house, Erik Nelson and Frank Keenan were plotting logistics.

"I've got a color guard here, and a glee club over there," said Keenan, pointing to two areas on the lawn in front of the Copernicus House in Fort Washington. "Walesa will walk down those steps. Is the press sitting or standing?"

"If they sit, then we have to rent more chairs," said Nelson.

Rentals of folding chairs and a helicopter, limousine and public address system were but a fraction of the arrangements that Nelson and Keenan had to complete in preparation for Polish Solidarity leader Lech Walesa's visit to the Philadelphia area.

Scheduled to arrive at Philadelphia International Airport late yesterday, Walesa and a 16-member entourage were to be taken by motorcade to the Copernicus House where they were to spend the night.

This morning, a short ceremony to honor the Solidarity leader was scheduled for the lawn outside the house, which is the headquarters for the Copernicus Society. (If it rained, the ceremony was to be in the fieldhouse at Germantown Academy).

"This is a big thrill for us," said Nelson, executive director of the society, a philanthropic organization founded by Edward Piszek, founder of Mrs. Paul's Kitchens.

"Its Walesa's first visit to the United States. He's going to New York, Washington, Chicago, but to come out to a little town in the Fort Washington/ Oreland Area? It's exciting," he said.

Nelson and Keenan, vice president of Emlen House Enterprises, which is Piszek's holding company, and a committee of eight went to work three weeks ago setting up the details of Walesa's visit, working to make sure that almost every imaginable need would be met.

Keenan and Nelson learned in early October that there was a chance that Walesa might visit. They met with one of his advance men, who was arranging the stops on Walesa's North American tour. They received confirmation that Walesa would visit the area and stay overnight in Fort Washington in an Oct. 17 telex.

"Walesa and Mr. Piszek have known each other for many years," Keenan said. "As a gesture of friendship, Mr. Piszek invited him to his home and Walesa took him up on it. It's as simple as that."

Piszek, the son of Polish immigrants, founded the Copernicus Society in 1972. The organization is the vehicle through which Piszek performs his philanthropic activities. The society donated an ethnic literature collection to the Philadelphia Public Library and launched Project Pole, a $500,000 advertising campaign to fight Polish jokes. It also trumpets the accomplishments of such Poles as Frederic Chopin and the society's namesake, Copernicus, the astronomer who demonstrated that the planets revolve around the sun.

Piszek also saved and restored the Philadelphia house of Revolutionary War hero Thaddeus Kosciuszko, which Walesa is scheduled to visit this afternoon.

In the 30-room Copernicus house, which serves as the society's headquarters, there are photographs of Walesa and Piszek, a frequent visitor to Poland.

Walesa will stay in the Pope John Paul 2d room, which has twin beds, an adjoining bathroom and a sitting room. It has blue carpeting and pale yellow wallpaper, and photographs and a portrait of the pope.

The Copernicus House, a T-shaped, beige stone structure with white shutters, was built in 1905. It sits at the crest of a small grassy hill within Piszek's 100-acre estate in Fort Washington. In the corner courtyard, bordered by dogwood trees and green firethorn bushes, is a bronze statue of Cardinal John Krol in formal vestments. The former cardinal of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia is a close friend of Pizsek's.

Walesa and his entourage, which includes advisers, a translator and a four- member film crew, were to sleep in the 10-bedroom home and rise early in the morning for a VIP breakfast for 40. After the 30-minute morning ceremony, which was to begin at 9 a.m., Walesa was to travel by helicopter to Mass at the National Shrine of Our Lady of Czestochowa in New Britain Township, and then onto an afternoon in Philadelphia.

From the city, he was scheduled to go to Princeton, N.J., and New York.

On Wednesday, between telephone calls and paperwork, Keenan and Nelson stood near a flatbed truck in front of the house. On the truck, draped in a blue cloth, sat a replica of the Liberty Bell commissioned by Piszek. Walesa was to pull a rope and sound the bell during the morning ceremony before a crowd of 750 guests.

"This is history," said Nelson, "and we're proud to be part of it."

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