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University of Wyoming Alumnus Zbigniew Rozbicki, of Torrington, CT, recently passed away, leaving a legacy gift to the Native and Indigenous Studies department. The NAIS caught up with his son, Ned Rozbicki, to share memories of his father, discuss his connection to the University, and his generous gift. This interview has been edited for brevity.
Zbigniew Rozbicki grew up a displaced person, having fled the fascist occupation of Poland with his mother and eventually settling on the East Coast of the United States in the 1950’s. He didn’t remain there for long, however. “[My father] loved the west. It wasn’t something that immigrant kids from the east coast did - I’m sure there weren’t many of them at the time at the University of Wyoming,” Ned shared via Zoom from his home in Connecticut.
As was the case with many immigrants who had experienced displacement and persecution as a result of the Second World War, Ned recalls that his father “was fascinated with the West from a young age. He loved the outdoors, loved to fish and hunt.” Although there was no mention of Karl May, the stories Ned shared with us about his father’s time in Wyoming held the fanciful, boy’s own glimmer of May’s stories, which were wildly popular in the Germany and Poland of the elder Rozbicki’s youth.
“He loved to hunt, and during the school breaks he’d carry his hunting rifle he’d carry with him. He’d usually end up hitch-hiking back home and he had no problem hitch-hiking with a gun in his hand on the road going cross-country.”
Along with an enduring love for the wide open spaces and freedom that the West symbolized, Rozbicki’s passion for history led him to connect with the Native and Indigenous cultures of Turtle Island. “He had a profound respect for the native cultures. He spoke to me at length about how it was really repulsive to him to see the way Native Americans were treated in their own land,” Ned remembered.
Having spent many years in Alaska, Rozbicki was affected by the story of Elizabeth Peratovitch, a member of the Tlingit nation and tireless campaigner for civil rights. “As a lawyer, he was really offended by the way native people have been treated in this country, both economically and legally, and I think that’s what the gift was about for him.” Ned adds, “Growing up as a displaced person gave him an affinity for that. I think paying it back toward the original inhabitants was an important gesture.”
“Toward the end of his life especially, my father became disgusted with the proliferation of civilization, the pollution and negative impacts of humankind. His intent was to, in some small way, give a leg up to the original inhabitants of the land who arguably understood and respected it in a more profound way than westerners have ended up doing.”
Ned left us with a final reminiscence of his father’s time in Laramie that seems to sum up the man’s character: “He told me he once came late into class after having been absent for a week. The professor asked where he had been. My dad said that he had noticed a forest fire up in the Medicine Bow and he had gone up to help fight the fire. It was a real adventure back then for him to live in Wyoming.”
Thanks to Zbigniew Rozbicki’s generosity, the adventure continues. Bardzo dziękujemy.
Interview and article written by:
Laramie, December 5, 2020