Hamtown’s Movers And Shakers

konopkaWho he is:

Born at Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit, Ronald Konopka lived at 5523 Prescott for decades before moving away in the mid 1970s.

However, to this day he still has fond memories from the 1950s of his parent’s flower shop that used to be near the corner of Commor and Jos. Campau. An enthusiast for model making and former design sculptor at Chrysler, Konopka recreated a scale-model diorama of the old flower shop which is now on display with some of his other work at the library. This coming Thursday (Oct. 29) at 6 p.m. he will give a brief presentation of the model in commemoration of Polish-American Heritage Month.

What was it like growing up back then?

For me, growing up in Hamtramck was often difficult, as my father had the sole-responsibility of supporting 8 family members. Any allowance money I ever had came from me working part time jobs. Economic times were especially difficult especially during the 1958 recession, when the Detroit unemployment rate was over 20 percent. The recession back then was even more difficult than the current recession

How have things changed since then?

Hamtramck has changed dramatically over the past 40-to-50 years in every way. For me, many of the old businesses like Federal Department Store or Cunningham’s Drug Store are only a memory. Although the population has become very diverse, there appears to be an acceptance and tolerance of these changes in this former Polish community. It is still refreshing to see that there is still a high level of pride in property ownership as many homes are still well maintained

What inspired you to build the models?

The main reason for building the diorama models was to create a lasting tribute to the memory of my Polish immigrant grandparents as well as my parents’ former Hamtramck businesses. I have fond memories of my grandparents’ second grocery store as well as my parents’ flower shop.

What are they made out of?

The models are fabricated from balsa wood, plastic, and an artist’s type of cardboard and then hand painted with a brush.

What was the most challenging part?

The most challenging part was trying to find the materials with which to build the models.

How long did it take you?

Actual construction time took less time than the time spent searching for the building materials, but overall each project took many months worth of time — especially in the planning stages.

It must be rewarding to finally finish after all that time.

For me, the greatest reward was in taking a one-dimensional historical photograph and bringing that photograph to life by creating a 3-dimensional model from that photograph. The photographs of both my grandparents’ grocery store and my parents’ flower shop were my main source of inspiration.

How does bringing back the town’s history help the present?

As I experienced many happy and fond memories while living my childhood, those experiences as they were lived helped create happy and fond memories for me today which are now reflected by these models. Building these models was an very personally satisfying experience, it was a fun experience, it was so much fun that I could hardly stand it so now I would like to share some of my fond memories with others

What was the best part about living in Hamtramck?

The best part of my living in Hamtramck was being part of a close-knit community. There was an ever-present sense of friendly pride in being a part of a smaller community, unlike living in an uncaring, cold city like New York City.

What will your presentation at the library focus on?

I would like to talk briefly about some of the early life history I remember about my grandparents, other early childhood memories, and more details as to constructing the diorama models.

What are your fondest memories of the flower shop?

They include looking forward to holiday parades, reading comic books and then trading them with my younger brother, playing outside, and learning to identify different flowers. Also, spending all night Friday in the store while my parents worked to prepare flower arrangements for an early Saturday wedding, and then delivering the arrangements to Immaculate Conception church early Saturday morning.

What will your next reproduction be of?

As far as a future project I may attempt to construct a 1950s-era gas station or possibly my grandparents’ second grocery store, which was located at 5505 Prescott.

Any parting words?

In living life I feel that it is imperative to have happy and memorable present-day living experiences, as these daily experiences ultimately become happy and memorable memories.

By Ian Perrotta

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