Niagara Gazette

February 22, 2013

HAMILTON: Oh, yes! I remember Catherine Golanka

By Ken Hamilton
Niagara Gazette

Niagara Gazette — Though it could not compare to the city council meetings of old, from what I heard, that last city council meeting was not only a rip-roaring one, it was also one of the best-attended meetings that they had in quite some time.

Though I am there at many of them, I couldn’t make it to that particular Tuesday meeting, though I doubt if I was missed. The news sources were abuzz with information and I guess what they said happened is what happened.

Niagara Gazette contributing columnist Norma Higgs apparently spoke, and later posted the remarks that she made to city council onto Dan Davis’ Niagara Community Forum Facebook page for all to see. In her speech, she cited one of our local, and largely unsung heroes, Mrs. Catherine Golanka.

Higgs said, “Not many in this room will remember Mrs. Golanka, the elderly woman from the Polish community who attended city council meetings and kept everyone on their toes with questions and comments about city matters and government. “

Well, as I said, I was not in that room; but oh boy, do I remember Catherine Golanka? And yes, she was Polish.

It is for a very good reason that I reiterate the fact that Golanka was Polish, a reason from which we could all learn.

In the early ‘80s, during the time that I first started speaking before the council, and after about the third time that I ever spoke, the fearless Mrs. Golanka approached me. She was both well known and inspiring to me in that she remembered everything that the council said and what every member did. I didn’t think that her friends — Josephine Fera and Victoria Fama — and she even knew someone as insignificant as was I.

And I was wrong. On that night, as usual, I had gotten up and spoken on issues that were important to Highland Avenue; and then I walked proudly towards my seat. Mrs. Golanka then buttoned-holed me and gave me some, well, motherly, civic advice — right there in front of everybody.

Speaking to me only a bit milder, but just as much a matter-of-factly voice as she often chastised the council members, Mrs. Golanka said to me, to wit, “You know; you go up there and talk about Highland all of the time, but there are other issues in the city that you should speak about, too.”

Her words and she made me shudder; but at the same time, she opened my eyes to the fact that, despite the size of our name — Niagara Falls, and despite our ample diversity, we are still a very small city.

I cannot remember a single time that Golanka spoke exclusively on Polish community issues.

We Niagarans connect at virtually every point that connects anyone. The proverbial ‘six-degrees of separation’ is not the case here. Usually, there are only one or two people between each of us.

I can pull out of my driveway and into anyone else’s within 15 minutes, and never have to leave a Niagara Falls city paving crew’s street. We are one city, and we are one people; and from the day of the Golanka, I began to see it the way that she saw it.

I thank people like the now-Reverend Herman Boyer, Fred Brown, Eddie Palmore, Art Ray, Michael Brundidge, Doris Jones and a plethora of others who helped to direct me into service to my neighborhood. However, I also have to thank the Victoria Famas, Josephine Feras and especially the Catherine Golankas that inspired me to look past the Highland Bridge and to connect myself to the good of the entire city.

For those of you who did not know Mrs. Golanka, here is an example of the power of a single citizen.

Former City Council Chairman Anthony Quaranto tells the story of one wintry council meeting in which the only people in the room were the council, the clerk staff and the assigned police officer. No citizens had shown up on that blizzardly evening. Noticing that Mrs. Golanka was not present, as she almost always was, Quaranto instructed the police officer to go to her home, pick her up and to bring her to the meeting; because, as he said, “I am NOT going to have a meeting and have her saying that we did something behind her back.”

Wouldn’t it be great if there was a room full of Golankas at every governmental meeting? Well, It starts with you.

Contact Ken Hamilton at