Ted Trzyna
Name & Family

The name Trzyna is from Poland. It can be pronounced in the Polish way, Chin-uh, or in an Americanized way, Tra-zi-nah. I tend to say Tra-zi-nah, but have no preference.

In the Polish-Czech borderlands, Trzyna is a local version of Trzcina, which means reed, specifically the common reed, Phragmites australis, illustrated at left.

Although the reed is common, many of our ancestors were not.

All four of our grandparents were born in the Polish lands in the 19th century, when Poland was partitioned among Russia; the Austro-Hungarian Empire; and Prussia, which became part of Germany following German unification in 1871.

Our paternal grandfather, Piotr (Peter) Trzyna, was a political refugee who moved with his family to Chicago in 1912. Until then he ran a popular restaurant on the main square of Kraków, Poland’s medieval capital and a symbol of Polish identity. Kraków was in the Austrian-occupied part of Poland. Peter was active in the Polish Socialist Party, which worked for Polish independence, and the restaurant was a gathering place for party leaders. When he got word that his arrest was imminent, he made a quick exit for the United States and his family followed. Like many other political refugees, Grandfather Trzyna intended to return to his homeland. Like most of them, he never did, but Polish history and politics were always talked about at the dinner table.

The palace that housed the restaurant is called Pod Baranami, which means Under the Sign of the Rams; see the rams' heads above the main door at right. During World War II the building was the German military headquarters for the city. Then when the Soviets occupied Poland it became Red Army headquarters. Since the 1950s, a pub and cabaret have occupied the space.

Grandfather Peter and our grandmother Zofia Paszkiewicz Trzyna raised three sons and a daughter, including our father Thaddeus Stephen Trzyna.

Our maternal grandfather, Theodore Giese, was born in 1869 in Russian-occupied Poland. He attended a vocational school for teachers, taught Russian and mathematics at a high school, and moved to Chicago in 1890. Since he wasn’t qualified to teach in Chicago, he worked as a cigar maker, then opened a tobacco store, later adding a candy section. With the money saved, he opened a restaurant and bar in Chicago’s Polish neighborhood on the Near Northwest Side; this remained in the family until the 1950s.

Starting in 1917, he was on the board of the White Eagle Brewing Company. This was a “Polish brewery”; the white eagle is a symbol of Poland. The label at left is for one of its brews, named for the Polish composer, who is not the person pictured.

Next to the restaurant (within the family it was always called "the restaurant," but it was mainly a bar) he had a factory for making wooden furniture for taverns.  When Prohibition took effect in 1920, the factory switched to making coffins; this eventually became the American Casket Company, which moved to a big brick building on the South Side. Theodore Giese became wealthy, lost his fortune as a result of the 1929 Crash, and died in 1934, in Chicago.

Grandfather Theodore and our grandmother Bronislawa (Bernice) Bombinska Giese had four sons and three daughters, including our mother Irene Mary Giese Trzyna.

By coincidence, both our grandfathers were in the business of serving food and drink, but with one exception the succeeding generations have made their marks in other endeavors.

The “our” above refers to my younger brother Thomas and me. We have a lot of interests in common and are in touch almost daily. Now Emeritus Professor of English at Seattle Pacific University and no longer tied to a teaching schedule, Tom is writing and publishing more than ever. The titles of recent books reflect his broad interests: Karl Popper and Literary Theory: Critical Rationalism as a Philosophy of Literature and Cain’s Crime: The Proliferation of Weapons and the Targeting of Civilians in Contemporary War. The latest is Pornography and Genocide: The War against Women (Cascade, 2019). Tom did his undergraduate work at the University of California (San Diego and Berkeley) and earned his doctorate at the University of Washington.

Our father, Thaddeus Stephen Trzyna, graduated in electrical engineering from Armour Tech, now part of the Illinois Institute of Technology, in Chicago. His brothers followed him there: Charles in mechanical engineering and Zbyszko (Zip) in civil engineering. Their sister Irene had a lifelong interest in Polish and American history.

Uncle Zip became a career officer in the U.S. Navy Civil Engineering Corps, the Seabees. He was in the news in 1964 when Cuban dictator Fidel Castro cut off the water supply to the U.S. Guantanamo Bay Naval Base. Zip built a desalination plant in record time, so fast that Castro accused the Navy of stealing water. To show he was wrong, the base commander, Vice Admiral John Bulkeley (at right in photo, Zip standing) held a press conference at the point where the water pipe entered the base, dug it up, and showed that it was bone dry. Zip was a Captain when he retired. 

Our mother, Irene Mary Giese Trzyna, taught middle school mathematics for many years in the town where Tom and I grew up, South Pasadena, California. Mom graduated from the University of Chicago, as did several of her siblings. The siblings were: Theodore (Doc), a medical doctor; Stanley, a hospital administrator; Eleanor, an elementary school teacher and administrator; and Max, who owned and managed the family “restaurant” and other enterprises into the 1950s.   

Another uncle, Arthur Giese, was my most important mentor. Uncle Art (at right) served for decades as a Professor of Biological Sciences at Stanford University. His wife, our Aunt Raina, was an accomplished painter, mainly of portraits. (Some of her portraits hang in my home, but I’m too modest to put up the one she did of me at age 15, so it sits in plain sight along a baseboard, and of course people ask me "Is that you?") “Transformative” has become a buzzword, and I avoid it, but it describes my visits to Art and Raina's Spanish-style house on the Stanford campus when I was in my early teens. Those visits were my introduction to higher culture and the kind of social and intellectual life that goes on around a major university. In the years that followed, I kept on visiting them as often as I could.

I plan to tell my own story on another page, but I need to relate here the sad fact that my only child, Jennifer, died in 2012 at the age of 47. Obituary  Jen and her husband Rick Caughman gave me two grandchildren, Timothy and Emily, and we are very close.
This is a necessary preface to happier news: On June 16, 2019, my granddaughter Emily Irene Caughman graduated from the University of California, Santa Barbara with two degrees: in economics and in communication.

This placed her in the fifth generation of college graduates in the Giese* line of our family:
  • Theodore, Siennica Academy, Poland (1880s)
  • Irene, University of Chicago (1930s)
  • Me, University of Southern California (1960s)
  • Jennifer, Pitzer College, The Claremont Colleges (1980s)
  • Emily, University of California, Santa Barbara (2010s)

Am I bragging? I sure am.

                                   Photos at graduation: Emily and me, left; Emily and brother Tim, at right
      *And fourth in the Trzyna line, starting with my father.