Sławomir (Mike) Popiel ( 11.27.1944-09.14.2012) hailed from Kielce, Poland. He was an engineer, a graduate of the Warsaw Polytechnic, and he practiced his profession in New Jersey and New York. Mike designed internal communication, coded these pages and translated them into English.
I got to know Mike at the end of May in 1998. My work computer connected me with people whose last names were either Popiel, Dobrzanski or Pankiewicz, and who lived in the USA. It was an idea of mine, to spend a week on conversations with Americans whose last names happened to be related to my family.
One day, I was talking with people named Popiel and Dobrzanski, when I first heard Mike's voice on the other end of the line. He lived in Hamburg, New Jersey. His voice was full of warmth. He was intrigued by my phone call. We quickly started speaking Polish, and right away I knew that I would like to speak to Mike again. I gave him my private phone number, and the address of my web page: dobra.org. Mike called after a few days, and said he very much liked my web page. I replied that we could create a web page about people with our last name, and that if he was experienced with a web design program, we could start right away. He said: "I will learn". He called back in two weeks, on June 15th: "John, I learned Front Page. What should our page look like?" The page was to look as it does now. My niece Dominika, whom I just fetched from the airport, copied the first document and send it to Mike. On June 15th the page was live on the internet.
That Saturday, Mike arrived in Brooklyn and took me and Dominika to his home in New Jersey. On the way, he stopped to buy a hundred year old whiskey. That day, I met his wife Barbara, and their daughter.
When I returned to Brooklyn, I started copying texts, which Mike translated to English and immediately posted on the page. This is how our friendship begun.
Mike called me every Saturday for thirteen years. We usually spoke for an hour. Mike studied the history of Poland, he subsequently studied ancient Rome. He also read the classics.
One lovely Sunday in August, on my birthday, Mike called at 10 in the morning and commanded: "John, at 12 noon exactly, we are meeting at a gas station, at a crossroads, at such-and-such-a place in New Jersey". I lived in New York, an hour and a half away. Without a question, I raced to make it on time. Mike got there exactly at 12, and gave another military command to follow him (the military and its history were his passion). A few minutes later, we arrived at Greenwood airport, where I followed him to an aircraft. Without a word, he sat down on the left side of the cockpit. I sat down on the right. I briefly wondered if there was any gas in the plane's tank, but Mike said: "I am taking off and landing. You are steering." When we took off he said: "We are going to Montauk. Here is the map." I remembered then that I once told him I read a book by Max Firsch, called "Montauk", and that the book's protagonists start a journey from Montauk to the West Coast of America.
It was a marvelous flight. The weather on that fourth of August was beautiful. On the right, we passed the Manhattan skyscrapers. We flew over Connecticut and Long Island. I held the yoke. I climbed and I descended. Just before we reached the Montauk airport, Mike took over. We landed among hundreds of airplanes standing at the local airport. We went to the nearest restaurant. Mike sat down in front of me. He had a great smile on his lips. For a long time, he did not say anything. We ate some good food, had a couple of beers, and we planned our plane journey to the West Coast.
We returned to Greenwood in the same manner: I steered and Mike landed.
Mike received flight training lessons as a birthday gift from his daughter. Afterwards, flying became his hobby. When I called and he didn't answer, I knew he was flying. Once, when he found out that my friend from Montreal, Marcin Tarnowski, invited me to visit, he immediately offered to fly me to Montreal. The journey to the West Coast, however, never happened. His wife took ill, and he had to take care of her. Barbara passed away in February of 2010.
Mike came to the United States in 1981 with his wife and daughter, as part of the so called "Reagan Express". They settled in New Jersey. In time, they bought a house. Mike worked in his profession as an engineer. He loved horses, He had cats and dogs. He was exceptionally organized, and he loved to learn. He bought Latin dictionaries to aid his new hobby, reading and translating classical Latin texts. Without any other help, he translated from Latin the documents contained on this web page.
Years later, after the death of his wife, he made two trips to Poland. His daughter told me that it would have been better if they stayed in Poland to be near their family. Mike remained in close contact with his Polish friends with whom he arrived from Austria where he stayed some time after leaving Poland. All of his life, he was a chain smoker. He died on 14th of September, 2012 of metastatic lung cancer in Sloan-Kettering Hospital in Manhattan. He is buried in North Hardyston Cemetery West Annex in New Jersey.
So long Mike. I will see you in the wild blue yonder. We will fly together to the West Coast.