Arizona is sharing its Centennial with a Payson resident — Janina Malicki.
Janina, who now resides at Payson Care Center, but until recently was cared for by her daughter Mary Ann O’Rourke, was born March 3, 1912 in Warsaw, Poland.
She was the youngest of her parents’ 17 children. They were farmers, but she hated rural life, so she went to live with a sister in the city. She loved to sing and in time became a soprano with the Polish opera.
Her husband, William B. Malicki, was born June 22, 1915 in Detroit, Mich. to immigrant parents. At the age of 15, his parents sent William back to Poland where the family owned many properties. He continued his education there and learned about the family’s businesses.
William and Janina met in 1934 in Warsaw and they married. They had two daughters in short order, Theresa, born July 12, 1935, and Barbara, born Dec. 12, 1936.
While Germany and Poland made a nonaggression pact in January 1934, the clouds of war still hung heavy between the two countries. In September 1939, Germany invaded Poland and it remained occupied until January 1945.
O’Rourke and her older sister, Barbara Pike, said their father was with the Polish underground and over the course of several years helped more than 200 Jews and others escape capture.
The Malicki family was placed in internment Dec. 12, 1943, according to Pike’s internment certificate. While in the camp, the family had to go through garbage to find enough to eat and Janina would stand in line for two hours to get a single bowl of water for her daughters, O’Rourke said.
In April 1944, the family was put on a train and transported to Vittel, France where they were held until Oct. 23, 1944, according to Pike’s certificate. The Americans liberated the family Dec. 7, 1944.
“We journeyed from La Bourboule, France to America aboard a passenger ship … named the Thomas H. Barry,” Pike wrote in an account, Jan. 13, 1989.
“We landed in this wonderful country, Christmas Eve of 1944 (in) Boston, Massachusetts.”
Pike said in a later account their father had to argue about their mother’s passage into the U.S. He won the argument when he promised he would take Janina to night school so that she would learn the English language to become a U.S. citizen.
O’Rourke said from Boston the family went to Jackson, Mich. where a priest took them in.
O’Rourke was born in 1945 at a U.S. Marine hospital. She said her mother told her she was very embarrassed to be in a hospital full of men and especially embarrassed because a good-looking, young doctor did the delivery.
O’Rourke said her mother eventually resumed singing, performing in Detroit at one time. However, her husband did not want her to have a career, so she gave it up.
Janina was also a gymnast and actress in Poland, according to stories her family has shared with the staff at Payson Care Center. She could do the splits until she was 97 and rode on a Harley-Davidson motorcycle with Mary Ann up until two years ago.
She could speak seven different languages, but is now most comfortable in her native Polish.
Known as Grandma Malicki at Payson Care Center, she has been part of the PCC family for a little more than a year and brings smiles, hugs and laughter to the staff caring for her.