Phone: 215-543-9339 (24-hour Availability)

Regina T. Wnukowski

Age: 93 Of Philadelphia

Incredible people do incredible things and the more you interact with them the more incredible you, yourself, become. Sadly, the world lost one of these incredible people on Friday, August 17, 2018, when Regina T. Wnukowski (née Szygiel) quietly passed away at her home in Philadelphia, PA She celebrated her 93rd birthday earlier that week.

Regina was born in 1925 in Augustow, Poland, a small lake town in the northeastern region of the country. The second daughter of Stanislaw and Anna Szygiel, Regina grew up on Lake Necko with her sisters Antonina (Slucka) and Boleslawa (Domurat). She also had three brothers, Jan, Mietek, and Bernard. Her early childhood was certainly a struggle as the family was not well off. After finishing the equivalent of sixth grade in school, Regina worked in tobacco fields helping to earn money for the family. Life soon changed for the worst when, in 1939, World War II began practically at her doorstep. The invading armies of Germany and the Soviet Union wreaked havoc on the small town of Augustow and its inhabitants.

At some point in 1940, Regina’s father was arrested by the occupying Soviets and sent to a work labor camp in the forests near Arkhangelsk in northern Russia. Never knowing what became of her father, in June of 1941 fifteen-year-old Regina and her family’s situation went from worse to horrific as the remaining six members were taken to the rail yard by Soviet soldiers and thrown into cattle cars for the long and harrowing deportation to Siberia to toil in the forced labor work camps. Regina’s painful memories of this time of her life haunted her forever. Human dignity was being erased all around her on a daily basis. Her job, sorting stones from coal, in the damp mines was no easy task.

Fortunately, the family was released from their hell on earth when an amnesty was declared by Joseph Stalin for families of men willing to fight the Nazis who were invading the Soviet Union. This amnesty allowed Regina and her family to embark on another dangerous trek in search of freedom, leaving Siberia for the relative safety of British- controlled refugee camps in India, the Middle East, and Africa.

Having made their way through Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, and across the Caspian Sea, across Iran, the Persian Gulf, and the Indian Ocean, the family, along with thousands of others, resettled into refugee camps in the East African country of Tanzania.

Living in the jungle was not so easy either, but eventually Regina, a junior nurse for the camp hospital, met a handsome American who worked for the War Relief Services of the National Catholic Welfare Conference assisting the Polish refugees throughout East Africa.

A romance soon developed, and Regina married Joseph S. Wnukowski in Tanzania, on June 29, 1944. Their first child, Stanley, was born there. Regina and her new family left Africa by 1946 bound for a new life in America.

Once in her new country, Regina had to adapt to a different way of life. The move to a big city like Philadelphia and her minimal understanding of the English language presented her with social challenges most new immigrants faced in the years after the war. Sometimes shunned and ridiculed because of her thick Polish accent, Regina always knew that her new country was the greatest in the world and she was happy and proud to become a citizen of the United States.

In the ensuing years, Regina and Joe raised eight more children in their homes in the Mayfair, and later, the Winchester Park section of northeast Philadelphia. They sponsored the remaining members of the family, enabling them to immigrate to America after the war.

The couple was instrumental in founding the Polish Heritage Society of Philadelphia, a group dedicated to embracing the cultural aspects of their mother country. Regina was an artistic person and utilized her creative talents in many ways, sewing clothes and Halloween costumes, making traditional Christmas tree ornaments, and creating her own unique birthday cards for her family and friends. Regina demonstrated her musical talent as a longtime member of the Paderewski Choir of Philadelphia. She hosted countless parties and holiday gatherings, ensuring that her guests’ experience and enjoyment were a part of a memorable occasion. Cooking traditional Polish foods was another specialty of hers, passed down to two more generations of culinary protégés.

Regina loved to play Bingo and the casino was a favored destination. Her fun-loving sense of humor produced uncontrollable laughter and thousands of smiles. If you were fortunate enough to meet this woman, you know exactly how incredible she was and if you never met her, maybe now you understand how incredible people can be.

Regina is survived by her nine children, Stanley, Teresa Mak, Joseph (Linda), Regina Conley (Chuck), Krysia (David) Ferguson, Lawrence (Erika), Francis, Martin (Melissa) and Marie (David) Liswoski. She is also survived by her sister Boleslawa Domurat, sister-in-law Diane Owad, twenty-one lovely grandchildren and twenty-three beautiful great grandchildren.

A Mass of Christian burial will be celebrated on Wednesday, August 29, 2018 at 11:00 am in St. Jerome Church, 8100 Colfax St. #1, Philadelphia Pa, 19136. Visitation with the family begins at 9:30 am in the church. Internment at Our Lady of Czestochowa cemetery, 654 Ferry Road, Doylestown, PA will immediately follow at 1:30pm.

In lieu of flowers, please help us honor her life and love of her Polish heritage by supporting the Regina & Joseph Wnukowski scholarship. Please make donations payable to the Polish Heritage Society of Philadelphia, 423-A Shawmont Avenue, Philadelphia, PA 19128 or her love of children to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, 501 St. Jude Place, Memphis, TN 38105.

Phone: 215-543-9339