Family history also is city's

Sioux Cityan Jeanette Maskevich has written a book that weaves her family's history with that of the South Bottoms. The book will go into its second printing. (Staff photo by Tim Hynds)

She claims she's no researcher or historian, but Jeanette Maskevich took two years to compile information on her Polish and Lithuanian heritage. Once she was done documenting, she typed a 185-page family history book on her IBM Selectric Typewriter.

"I was a secretary my entire life, so the typing was no big deal," the 90-year-old Sioux City native said, "I've always been an avid reader and I love talking to people so getting the information was no problem either."

Her background reflects Sioux City at the turn of the century. Hundreds of immigrants from Poland and Lithuania flooded Sioux City to work in the packing houses. Maskevich's parents, Anthony and Helen (Skrzetucki) Adamowicz, came to Sioux City in the early 1900s.

"My parents spoke no English," she said. "I was born here and served as the little translator for them."

Growing up amidst the Polish, Russian and Lithuanian folks, Maskevich soon was speaking all three languages, in addition to English. She recalled registering at St. Francis Catholic Grade School, associated with St. Francis Catholic Church, the Polish parish which closed in 1998.

"The nun asked my mom what my name was and she said, 'Janina,' (pronounced Yah-nee-nah)," Maskevich said. "The nun said, 'What? I don't like that name; let's call her Jennie for short.'"

It wasn't the first time Maskevich encountered the Americanization of her name. It happened again when she was ready to attend East Junior High School.

"My friend Annie Dziurawiec was a year ahead of me at St. Francis and told me when she went to homeroom at East Junior, the teacher called her name and then asked 'What kind of name is that?' and one of the boys yelled out it was a Polack," Maskevich said. "I decided they weren't going to call me that and when I registered the next year and they asked my last name, I said, 'Adams' instead of Adamowicz. They never questioned me. They just took my word."

Maskevich graduated from East High School right after the Depression and said she was lucky to find a job at the former Cudahy's packing plant. Her father had worked there for more than 34 years.

"I was supposed to stamp the hogs coming down a conveyer belt and you should have seen me chasing them around with this rubber stamp," she laughed. "I lasted a week."

Maskevich decided to return to school, after the birth of child number three, taking clerical courses at National Business Training College. Her first job was at Mould Lumber. It was where she honed her typing skills.

"The boss started dictating at 8 and quit at 11:45," she said. "He expected the letters to be done at 4:45 and God help you if you had an error. Everyday when I left, I prayed I would stumble out the door, fall and break my leg so I wouldn't have to go back."

Maskevich eventually did find another clerical position and worked for 12 years at the Girl Scouts office and seven years for Junior Achievement. She estimated her typing was between 80 to 100 words a minute.

Her first effort at documenting her family history resulted in a 22-page book. It took about a year of compiling information, writing and rewriting and was completed in 1991.

"This report is my gift to my family and their gift to me," she wrote in the forward. "My family are the people I live with in time and whose lives parallel mine."

Maskevich insisted it was not a scholarly report -- mostly information garnered from her mother, some from her father and some from her husband, Charles, and his parents, all of whom were natives of Lithuania. To fill in the blanks, she would go to the library and research information.

With the success of book number one, Maskevich's great-granddaughter Wanda Anderson gave her the "shove" to begin writing more of her memoirs.

The second book is heavy on Adamowicz and Maskevich history, but also tries to put that time in perspective as to what else was going on in the nation and Sioux City. Family members, close friends and the Sioux City Public Museum were all given free copies. Maskevich shrugged off the the printing and mailing costs.

"It cost about $1,500 to run off and mail about 60 copies, but it was worth it," she said.

So worth it, that Maskevich is working with her son Charles to publish 20 more copies. This time there will be more colored photos and graphics, she insisted.

Joanne Fox may be reached at (712) 293-4247 or joannefox@siouxcityjournal.com.

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