I came to Fort Scott from Poland in the beginning of November as a fellow of Lowell Milken Center.
The purpose of my journey was to find out more about the Center and "unsung heroes" and collaborate on these projects. I knew that both Norman Conard and Megan Felt from the center were the ones who completed the project on Irena Sendler -- the Polish woman who rescued 2,500 Jewish children during WW II. And thanks to them the world and Poland itself came to know this incredible woman. I remember reading years ago in the Polish press about a teacher from rural area in Kansas in the USA and his students who found and discovered Irena Sendler for the world.
I admired them but could not understand why the Polish rescuer discovered in the USA while she lived all the time next to us, here, in Warsaw. Why was it an American teacher and his students were interested? Why there, not in thousands of other places? Was it just a coincidence?
So, I came to Fort Scott.
The Sunday evening I arrived I saw the town which, for Polish people of my generation, is an exact picture of an American town. I was enchanted by its beauty.
First, I received an amazingly warm and professional reception at the Lowell Milken Center. Spending my time there, watching the materials and talking, I got to know the educational projects focused on "unsung heroes"; characters so different in their views but equally appreciated, for examples of their bravery, which was sometimes the bravery of being outsiders. I also saw your ability to face and discuss difficult moments in your history, being critical but not judgmental, respecting various points of views. Then I understood America even more.
Then I went to the club meetings and saw you, Fort Scott citizens, doing things for others. I saw the immense community spirit which also means responsibility for others. I just saw a mature civil society in action -- the state of society we strive to achieve in my country.
And I understood even more.
Then I walked the streets of Fort Scott, visited different places, your institutions, shops and restaurants. Everywhere in your town I met open and smiling people greeting and treating me as if I was special. And I felt so much warmth, real interest and care I can't remember getting anywhere, although I travel quite a lot. You gave me your attention and appreciation and I couldn't stop thinking about your incredible ability of sharing good feelings.
And again I understood something.
I was leaving Fort Scott full of wonderful memories and convinced that the story of Irena Sendler couldn't have been discovered anywhere but here.
It was not just a coincidence. It would not have happened without your sensitivity, openness, willingness to help others and appreciation of every individual.
You are special and you should know it. I have taken all I experienced in your community and it gives me new energy every day.
Editor's Note: Marzanna Pogorzelska is a 2013 Lowell Milken Center Fellow and university professor in Poland who visited Fort Scott in November.