In the early minutes of Saturday, August 28th, 2021, Ewa Mercedes Theresa Budek-Bielski peacefully passed in her sleep under the care of The Rivers Health & Rehabilitation Center of Grosse Pointe while battling dementia and onset Alzheimer's disease. Ewa had just celebrated her 89th birthday on August 18th, 2021.
Ewa had many nicknames and descriptions. To those in Poland, she was Pani Ewa. To those in Grosse Pointe, Michigan, Ewa was the white bun lady, the Pier Park permanent resident, or the old lady with the yellow Volkswagen beetle. No matter what you called her or how you described her, she was exceptionally unmistakable and memorable, not only for her unique look but her positive, warm personality.
Ewa Budek-Bielski was born under the Polish Embassy in Buenos Aires, Argentina on August 18th, 1932 while her father, Michael Budek, was serving in a diplomatic post. She would always state her first memory was seeing the monkeys in the trees, and little did she realize she would inherit that same desire to climb and swing in her own direction.
Her father and mother, Charlotte Prus-Niewiadomski, made the fateful decision to move back to Poland around 1936 before WWII. On September 1st, 1939, her father was called to the front of the war due to his previous Polish military service. Her grandparents and mother fled the city of Gydina with Ewa and her 2 brothers, Marian and Jerzy, to escape the war. During their flee, her grandfather was recognized by the rail workers because he was the former police chief of Krakow, and the family was smuggled off a train to safer quarters in Krakow. Their fate couldn't escape the brutality of the Nazi occupation of Poland.
Her father became a POW at Olflag Xc. The Nazis sent his suitcase back to his home residence in Krakow, where he hid a note in the binding of a book stating he was alive and where he was stationed. The family's initial reaction he was that he must be dead which led to Ewa's mother having a mental breakdown. She was placed in the hospital where Ewa snuck in to visit her daily until one day, she disappeared without a trace. Ewa would find out almost 50 years later through the Red Cross that her mother was sent to Auschwitz and was killed due to being a part of the Polish Intelligentsia. Her brother, Jerzy, would eventually find the note, which provided the surviving family hope they could reunite after the war, but it was too late for their mother to know her husband was alive.
With no father and mother, her grandparents took care of her the best they could and often moving place to place under the occupation. She was taken in for a time at the Institute of St. Mary's, Catholic School, but she would wander about the city of Krakow with her brother, Marian, who participated in the Polish Underground. As the situation got worse, the Nazis eventually caught her and sent her to a labor camp in Czechoslovakia.
She would go on to survive the war after being liberated from the Nazi labor camp by the Soviets and returned to Poland. She thought she could be united with her brothers and grandparents. She eventually was reunited with Jerzy and her grandparents in Katowice and found out her brother Marian was in Krakow.
Meanwhile, her father was being liberated by Patton's 3rd army. As her father approached Czechoslovakia with the 3rd army, he hatched a plan to sneak out his children. He hired Polish soldiers turned mercenaries to smuggle them out. He sent three mercenaries to get them individually. This was to avoid the possible capture of all his children at once as they crossed the border. Marian and Ewa made it, but Jerzy refused to go without his grandparents which eventually led to him staying in Communist Poland.
Ewa was terrified but survived the journey. She reunited with her father, and they lived at the DP (Displaced Persons) camps in Western Germany for 5 years. She referenced the camps; Salzgitzer, Falingbostel, and Rehden, as "high school". In the British influence of Western Germany, many Polish priests and former soldiers petitioned the British government for school supplies for the children there. They ran the barracks and campground like a mini-school camp. Little did she know, she would become a displaced sister with her future in-law, Regina Engelhardt, there. They would also become mini rivals. Ewa was the rebel who played soccer with the boys, a lady who did not follow the rules and refused to pass up an opportunity for an adventure. Regina was the perfect student who all the Polish priests/camp teachers wanted Ewa to become. They both immigrated to America not knowing their children, Miriam and Christopher, would fall in love.
She would decide to immigrate to the US in late August of 1950. She was sponsored by Howard Kane, a gesture she never forgot, but by the time the paperwork was finished, he already had taken in another child. She would live in Boston for a short time before moving to a more permanent residence in Cleveland, OH. There she lived with the Sliwinski's. They hired her to work in their bakery and later she developed an eye for fashion while working in a department store.
She would meet up with other DP camp immigrants and travel around America. They even made a road trip in a small coupe from Chicago, Illinois all the way to California. Her itch to explore this new country never ceased, and these experiences would lead her to become a travel bug. She would go on to visit 34 states and 41 countries- yes, she kept a list.
She would be reunited briefly with George Bielski, another DP friend, on a visit to Detroit. She thought very little of the visit, but soon they were corresponding by letters, and eventually chatting long into the nights on the telephone.
Her courageous approach to life led her to pursue a job at the department store at J.L. Hudson's in Detroit where she married George on January 13th, 1955. She climbed her way to the top of the executive table starting as a person sorting buttons in the mail room to saleswoman, using tricks like only putting her initials on her resume to hide her gender. She became the first female Buyer at the company and traveled the world choosing the lines of clothes for the store. Many thought she lived a backward lifestyle, being the breadwinner and often leaving her sons Christopher and Andre at home with George while she traveled, but she could've cared less. She was a woman of her own making.
Unfortunately, she faced what many workers faced as they aged, losing their claim to pension benefits in her nineteenth year of service. This didn't sit well with her, so she helped organize the ERISA Working Action group and became the Chair of the Citizens' Commission on Pension Policy, where they took on companies for violating their pension promises. Her advocacy would lead her to team up with Ralph Nader and help create the Pension Rights Center. Shirley Chisolm once said, "If they don't give you a seat at the table, bring in a folding chair." She did exactly that.
Additionally, she rebelled by opening her own company- Perfect Closet. She never let anyone make her feel she had an expiration date. It was a business that built closets for homeowners and organized them as well. It was the precursor to what many know to be California Closets. She was a visionary. You can find her "Pointer of Interest" story in the Grosse Pointe News archives, Vol. 51, No. 41 October 11, 1990.
As communism was falling in Poland, her heart was calling her back there. She joined the Commercial Union to go to Poland and teach businesses how to adopt to capital markets. She was there for 4 years before heading back to the United States to be a full-time grandmother and traveler. She shared her experiences on the reconstruction of Poland through the Rotary Club. As you might have guessed, she was also one of the first female members of the Detroit Rotary Club.
Beyond the timeline of her life and the accomplishments, she was a loving mother with her quirks. She was proud of her sons, even though she would spend more time telling others rather than them and was adored by her grandchildren. Their favorite times together were hanging out by the Pier Park pool, learning about the "War", having coffee ice cream in the summer, hot tea in the winter, watching documentaries, and playing her favorite card game. She was the happiest traveling, gardening, singing Polish songs, having family dinners, enjoying holiday traditions, and sharing a cackling laugh with her friends. She was extremely proud of her heritage and shared many Polish traditions with anyone that came to visit.
She was a believer in stopping by and enjoyed guests knocking on her door randomly. She believed time ran quick and there was no better moment to live than in the present. She never stopped being curious about the world and always thought we should strive to be better.
Ewa is survived by her two sons, Andre and Christopher, her daughters-in-law, Miriam and Debbie, her four grandchildren, Christian, Elizabeth, Amelia, and Averie, and her displaced sister, Regina Engelhardt- who will be 93 in October. She now joins George, who passed 34 years prior.
The Budek-Bielski family will be celebrating her life at St. Paul's on the Lake at 10 am on September 15th, 2021. A luncheon will follow. Please follow all COVID-19 protocols as we remember her fondly.
Our heartfelt sympathy in your great sorrow.
I knew Eva for 75 years. In your affliction may the knowledge that your friends grieved
Your Loss. Thad and Diane Gubala
Ewa did accomplish a lot in her life. In addition to all the achievements mentioned in her obituary, she was also an author. In 2013 Ewa published her memoir “Bo my tu Polskę tak kochamy…” (Because we here love Poland so much...)
We met Ewa in late 1940’s in High School when several Polish High Schools in the British Zone of Germany were consolidated in a small town of Rehden in Lower-Saxony. We were in the same grade. As the students emigrated to various countries, our class shrank drastically and by the fall of 1950 there were only seven of us in our class.
Ewa was always full of bubbling energy and prone to get into mischief – none of it ever very serious. In the USA she lived for a short time with Alina and her sister Emila and worked with them the second shift at Burney Bros. Bakery. Last we saw her in person was in May 2013 but we kept contact with her through email up until she was able to do it. May God give her Eternal Rest.
With sincere condolences to her whole family,
Alina and Kostek Krylow
Rehden 1950 - First row from left: Jankowska, Alina Mikolowicz, Wlodzimierz Stankiewicz, (HS Principal) Ewa, Helena Durska ; Second row: Jozef Winkler, Kostek Krylow, __X__
Every time I wear a scarf, I think of our former neighbor, Ewa.. I ran into her quite a few years back several times and always enjoyed our conversations. Rest lovely lady, you have earned your rest.
Ewa has been a treasured friend since her younger son Andre and my son were friends in grammar school together at Richard. Our Friendship went beyond that as we also shared in our Polish heritage. Time spent with Ewa was always a gift and I will remember ours with great joy and gratitude.
My love and sympathy as you grive the loss of Ewa. She was a lifelong friend of my family husbanf Bill(1927-2017) and son Tom, daughter Sara. We were privileged to travel with Ewa in Poland ? 2006 and share many memories old and new. Truly a privilege to know and love this wonderful lady. Judy Liliensiek and family
Eva was a life member of the St. Paul Altar Society; we'd lost track of her - mainly due to not having any functions for more than a year. I recall her helping one of my friends with planting flowers. She was unique with a faith to be admired. Helena Thurber
PhotosAdd a photo
Grosse Pointe Farms, Michigan 48236
Healing Registry Unavailable at the Moment!