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Published: Friday, 7/15/2011 - Updated: 4 years ago


Old neighborhood with Polish roots picks a new name

Demographics have changed in the area known as Kuschwantz and once heavily populated by Polish-American immigrants. Demographics have changed in the area known as Kuschwantz and once heavily populated by Polish-American immigrants.
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A Toledo neighborhood with historic Polish roots may be changing its name to reflect a newer demographic.

Kwanzaa Park appears to be the winning name for the area based at Junction and Nebraska avenues that's long been known as Kuschwantz -- home to Polish immigrants when they started to arrive there from the late 1870s.

The Padua Center held a "Name the Neighborhood" contest recently in an effort to give the area a sense of identity. It ran from the end of May until a neighborhood meeting on July 7.

Six names were submitted: Kwanzaa Park, Kuschwantz, the Nebraska Neighborhood, Golden Flats, Junction Tract, and the Nebraska Junction.

Originally, the neighborhood was named Kuschwantz by the Polish immigrants who populated the area. However, with the change in demographics over the years, members of the Padua Center felt as though the area should embrace that change with a new name.

A vote was taken at the meeting, and the name chosen was Kwanzaa Park.

Sister Virginia Welsh, director of the Padua Center, said that the idea of Kwanzaa and its seven principles known as Nguzo Saba (unity, collective work, creativity, purpose, cooperative economics, faith, and self-determination) underlies a lot of what the Padua Center promotes.

Sister Welsh said that those who submitted names had very good ideas and excellent points; however Kwanzaa Park was the one that prevailed.

"Basically, it's an African-American celebration and I think it was chosen because of the African-American population," Sister Welsh said. "It will be fun as we look forward in designating areas in the neighborhood with those principles."

Oscar Shaheer, chairman of the Brighten Up Board at the Padua Center, said that although Kwanzaa Park was not his first choice, he is excited for what the new name will bring to the area.

"It's a bold step for us to actually name that area Kwanzaa Park," Mr. Shaheer said. "Kwanzaa has a very high meaning, and there's a lot of work we need to do for the neighborhood to live up to that name and its seven principles."

George Lee, a resident of the area and a volunteer at the Padua Center, submitted the winning name in the Name the Neighborhood contest. George Lee, a resident of the area and a volunteer at the Padua Center, submitted the winning name in the Name the Neighborhood contest.
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Mr. Shaheer is familiar with the celebration of Kwanzaa that runs from Dec. 26 to Jan. 1 and said he feels that if the principles are applied to the neighborhood as they are expected to, it will enhance the area and make it much better.

"It's a lot of work for us to do, and I hope and I think we can be proud of that name one day," Mr. Shaheer said. "I really do."

Although the name has been selected, Sister Welsh said that it will still need to go before Toledo City Council to be made official. That meeting date has not yet been set.

The winning name was submitted by George Lee, a resident of the area and volunteer at the Padua Center. He felt that it was important to recognize the change in the area.

"The area and everything -- it's changed from Polish to mostly … a black neighborhood, and I figured with this name, it would inspire the neighborhood a little bit more," he said.

Mr. Lee said that he does not think there will be any challenges in getting residents to use the new name for the area.

But Jacqueline Konwinski of Sylvania may have some trouble making the switch.

Ms. Konwinski has always had a passion for local history, so she attended the meeting in an effort to preserve the name Kuschwantz and discussed its importance with those who voted.

"I prayed for it that it stay Kuschwantz out of respect for all of the Polish immigrants and Americans that created the community," Ms. Konwinski said. "I understand why the current residents want the name changed, but I still think you can have an identity for the current residents and keep the name Kuschwantz."

Terry Glazer, executive director of United North, has experience with creating a new identity for an area.

Mr. Glazer said the selection of the name One Village for a portion of North Toledo at one point involved the help of 500 community members.

Although the area of One Village still incorporates its individual sub names for specific neighborhoods, Mr. Glazer understands the challenges of getting the word out.

"I think it is good to respect the historical past as well as the current resident population, and how to find a balance is not a bad thing," Mr. Glazer said. "It's important to have the community buy in, and that the groups involved promote the name.

"Put it on their letterhead, on all the newsletters that go out so that it keeps spreading the name."

Contact Payton Willey at: paytonwilley@theblade.com or 419-724-6065.

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