Sometimes Mr. Grabowski, who died last week at 86, made headlines of his own.
When Mr. Grabowski felt TV programs such as “Rowan & Martin’s Laugh In” and “The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson” were crossing the line with Polish jokes, he led calls for a boycott of the shows’ sponsors, including Budweiser, the beer giant associated with Carson’s sidekick, Ed McMahon.
“We object to all the jokes that make the Polish look like fools,” Mr. Grabowski said in a 1970 interview in which he cited jokes that struck him as particularly offensive. In one, Carson held up a photo of a javelin and described it as “Polish artillery.”
The newspaper publisher’s steadfastness won him the admiration of many Polish-Americans, including his good friend, the pop singer Bobby Vinton.
“In my estimation, Chester did more for the Polish community that anyone I know,” Vinton said Sunday.
The son of Polish immigrants, Chester Grabowski grew up in Kearny and received undergraduate and law degrees from Seton Hall University. He never practiced law and instead worked as an encyclopedia salesman.
Campaigning for Clifton City Council in 1962, he complained that he was not receiving enough publicity from the local media.
“If you don’t like it, start your own newspaper,” he said he was told.
That’s what he did.
The first issue of The Post Eagle, on Oct. 2, 1963, featured a front-page photo of Gov. Richard J. Hughes filling out his subscription card in the presence of Mr. Grabowski.
The family-owned paper, with offices on Van Houten Avenue in Clifton, celebrates its 50th anniversary next year. It has 50,000 weekly readers, mostly in New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania and Florida, said Mr. Grabowski’s daughter, Christine Grabowski-Witmyer, the editor-in-chief.
The 1963 meeting with Hughes would not be Mr. Grabowski’s last encounter with the office of governor of New Jersey. After Brendan T. Byrne was elected in 1973, The Post Eagle ran a front-page article under the headline “Governor Byrne Burns Polonians!” The article said Byrne had refused to meet with a delegation of prominent Polish-Americans demanding that he name someone of Polish descent to his Cabinet. Mr. Grabowski was the leader of the delegation.
Four years later, Mr. Grabowski was among 14 independent candidates who challenged Byrne and his Republican opponent, Raymond Bateman. One of his campaign stands was ending discrimination against Polish-Slavic ethnic groups.
With 8,494 votes, the gray-bearded Mr. Grabowski bested all but one of the independents.
He tried again in 1981, when Republican Thomas Kean and Democrat James Florio were the major-party candidates. “You might say I’m a sort of Lech Walesa in New Jersey, pushing for justice for the Polonians, as we call ourselves,” Mr. Grabowski declared in a profile in The Record.
He withdrew late in the campaign and urged his backers to vote for Florio, then a South Jersey congressman. But Mr. Grabowski’s name stayed on the ballot, and his 4,496 votes would have been more than enough to tilt the election to Florio, who ended up losing to Kean by 1,677 votes out of 2.3 million cast.
Beyond politics, Mr. Grabowski is best remembered for championing and defending his Polish heritage. At different times, he hustled to the Garden State Arts Center in Holmdel to confront Bob Hope and Jerry Lewis for telling Polish jokes, and he complained about one that Ronald Reagan cracked during the 1980 presidential campaign. Reagan responded with a letter of apology that said Thaddeus Kosciuszko, the Polish general who aided in the American Revolution, “would be saddened to see the integrity and honor of his native land sullied by crude jokes and slurs.”
Vinton, known as “the Polish prince,” said that, being in the entertainment field, he initially was not concerned about the Polish jokes that Don Rickles and other comedians used to tell. “I’ve heard every routine there is,” the 77-year-old singer said. “But being around Chester and hearing him say the jokes hurt the image of young Polish children, I started to take offense as well.”
Noting that ethnic jokes — Polish and otherwise — have largely passed from the scene, Vinton said he can’t help but think his friend had an impact.
“I don’t think anyone will take his place as far as promoting the Polish community, and looking out for it,” said Vinton, who receives The Post Eagle at his home in Florida.
Mr. Grabowski was not without controversy. In the 1980s and 1990s, critics such as the Record columnist Mark A. Stuart and Harvard Law School Prof. Alan Dershowitz accused Mr. Grabowski and The Post Eagle of anti-Semitism for minimizing the extent of the Holocaust.
“My dad was not anti-Semitic, and I was raised by the man and saw his day-to-day operation,” Matthew Grabowski said Sunday.
What inflamed critics, Matthew Grabowski said, was his father’s assertion that there was a “bigger picture” — that many people who weren’t Jewish died at the hands of Hitler. Mr. Grabowski was quoted as saying as much by Record columnist Mike Kelly in 1989: “It’s not exclusively a Jewish disaster.”
Mr. Grabowski retired six years ago, keeping the titles of Post Eagle president and editor emeritus. A statement by Rep. Bill Pascrell Jr., D-Paterson, praised the newspaper publisher’s “tireless worth ethic on all things Polish-American.”
Mr. Grabowski, who died last Wednesday, is survived by his children, Christine Witmyre of Clifton, Raymond of Clifton, Valerie Campbell of Nanuet, N.Y., Matthew of Clifton and Alex of Washington, D.C.; a granddaughter, and his former wife, Jean Garb Grabowski of Clifton. Services were held Monday under the direction of Shook Funeral Home, Clifton.
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REP. PASCRELL’S STATEMENT IN REACTION TO THE PASSING OF CHESTER GRABOWSKI WASHINGTON – U.S. Rep. Bill Pascrell, Jr. (D-NJ) today released the following statement in reaction to the passing of Chester Grabowski, Clifton resident and president of The Post-Eagle community newspaper. "I am deeply saddened by the loss of a great American, Chester Grabowski. Chet was the patriarch of a great Clifton family, founded upon a strong devotion to one another as well as a tireless work ethic on all things Polish-American," said Pascrell. "Chet was a community leader and a small businessman that instilled his salt-of-the-earth values in each of his children. Many times as I drove down Van Houten Avenue I stopped in to visit with Chet, who was almost always in the office, busy working on the next edition of the Post-Eagle. My thoughts and prayers go out to his wife, Jean, his daughter, Christine and his sons Matthew and Raymond Paul Brubaker Communications Director U.S. Rep. Bill Pascrell, Jr. (NJ-8) Robert A. Roe Federal Building 200 Federal Plaza, Suite 500 Paterson, N.J. 07505
Courtesy of Jay Levin www.northjersey.com
POLISH CLUB ONLINE, 2012.06.18