I knew there were angels on earth when I first met Frank and Helen Kur. They are two of the kindest people I know and I consider them some of my dearest friends. Last weekend I felt honored when they invited me to attend Helen’s 90th birthday party, which included a delicious outdoor picnic and plenty of neighbors, family and good friends.
Frank and Helen are actually brother and sister and were born to Polish immigrants, Tony and Anna Kur. They were raised in Chicago, along with their siblings Mary and Annie, and have led remarkable lives.
Frank is a man of many talents. He has worked as a mechanic, secretary, woodworker and as an assistant to corporation CEOs and priests. He also served in the Navy on a destroyer ship in the 1940s. One of his more memorable adventures was when he was thrown overboard by a huge wave. “Oh I thought I was a goner,” he said. “I had cut my arm trying to grab onto a cable as I went down and I thought for sure I would be eaten by a shark. I thank God every day I was rescued.”
After his stint in the Navy, Frank returned to Chicago and became a woodworker for the Majestic Furniture Company, a career he relished for more than 30 years.
Helen has also had an interesting life. At one time she was a professional opera singer, performing on stages all over Chicago.
Then tragedy struck this close-knit family. Frank and Helen’s sister, Mary, died at age 35, leaving two young boys behind. Frank and Helen took these youngsters in and raised them as their own.
And that has always been the case with the Kur’s. They never ventured far from each other as a family. In fact, after their mother died in 1956, and their nephews were grown and on their own, Frank and Helen moved to the Northwoods in 1962, with their father and a big dog named Tiger. They had come to the area on vacation visits in their younger years, and when the big city became more than they could handle, they bought a small lake-side cottage in Cassian and have never looked back.
I first met Frank about 25 years ago, and one of our common interests is pool. Frank and his best friend, Wally Woller, were an unbeatable team and were frequent visitors to a local resort where pool is a popular pastime. I always enjoyed playing with these two, although I rarely won. Nonetheless, Frank and I would always toast each other with a shot of peach schnapps after our games, which resulted in me nicknaming him “Peach”, a moniker I found very appropriate.
Frank and Helen have always been there for their neighbors, friends and family.
They have frequent visitors, and while Frank doesn’t shoot as much pool as he used to, both love playing cards and do so on a daily basis with anyone who is up for the challenge. Frank is a good joke teller and Helen stays up on current events and has always been a stimulating conversationalist. I love visiting them because they have interesting stories to tell, and the sense of friendship and camaraderie I feel in their presence is a like a balm.
So celebrating Helen’s 90th birthday milestone was a real treat for me. While we dined on a delicious meal, including birthday cake, they told me about some of their favorite foods growing up, and since they are of Polish descent, Pierogis were often made by their mother, and were a big favorite of this family. I’ve included a recipe for them this week.
During this celebration I couldn’t help but feel very thankful that both of these wonderful people are in my life. On my living room wall I have a small plaque that reads, “Angels walk beside us on the stepping stones of life.” I’m sure glad the stepping stones of my life have included Frank and Helen.
Pierogi (Polish Dumplings)
2 Tbs. butter
1/3 cup chopped onion
1 1/2 cups sauerkraut, drained and minced
Salt and pepper to taste
3 Tbs. butter
1/2 cup chopped onion
2 cups cold mashed potatoes
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. white pepper
1 (8 oz.) container sour cream
3 cups flour
1/4 tsp. salt
1 Tbs. baking powder
Prepare sauerkraut filling first by melting the butter in a skillet over medium heat. Stir in onion and cook until translucent. Add the sauerkraut and cook about five more minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Remove to a plate to cool.
For the mash potato filling, melt butter over medium heat in a skillet. Stir in onion and cook about 5 minutes. Stir in mashed potatoes, season with salt and pepper and cook until heated through about five minutes. Remove from heat and let cool.
For the dough, beat together the eggs and sour cream until smooth. Sift together the flour, salt and baking powder then stir this into the sour cream mixture. Knead the dough on a lightly floured surface until firm and smooth. Divide the dough in half, then roll out to 1/2 inch thickness. Cut into 3 inch rounds using a biscuit cutter. Place a small spoonful of the mashed potato filling into the center of each round. Moisten the edges with water, fold over, and press together with a fork to seal. Repeat procedure with the remaining dough and the sauerkraut filling. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add perogies and cook for 3 to 5 minutes or until the pierogis float to the top. Remove with a slotted spoon.