CUNY professor Vera von Wiren-Garczynski, 83

City University of New York professor of Russian studies and longtime Glen Cove resident Vera von Wiren-Garczynski's lifelong dedication to fostering relations between the United States and Slavic countries led her to dine with presidents, meet with leaders of social movements and even receive the Ellis Island Medal of Honor in 1986.

She died on Aug. 3 in Glen Cove after two strokes, family said. She was 83.

"She was energetic, driven, vivacious," said a daughter, Maria Lawcewicz, of Arlington, Mass. "She couldn't sit still."


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She was born in 1930 in Novi Sad, Yugoslavia. She and her mother were put in a labor camp during World War II after the Nazis invaded. American forces eventually freed them, and she later married Polish officer Stanley Garczynski, an Auschwitz survivor.

Her family moved to the United States in 1950 and settled in Brooklyn, before moving to Glen Cove in 1966. She pursued a college education and received a doctorate of philosophy in Russian studies from New York University.

She became a Russian language and literature professor at CUNY and a visiting professor at Columbia University.

One of her biggest interests was in improving relations between Slavic countries and the United States, said Paul Wisniewski, a longtime friend and executive director of the Slavic American Cultural Association she founded.

She founded the group in 1978 to foster Slavic cultural awareness, with a focus on immigrants and their children.

"Instead of building walls, she was interested in building bridges to people," Wisniewski said.

Throughout her life, she was part of various committees for culture and history. She also spoke nine languages: English, Polish, Russian, German, French, Ukrainian, Hungarian, Serbo-Croatian and Bulgarian.

She was invited to the White House by Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush, and also by Hillary Clinton when she was first lady, to discuss matters regarding Eastern Europe and Russia. She went to Poland in the 1980s and arranged for the Polish Solidarity movement's leader, Lech Walesa, to appear on American television.

She had recently been working on a project with the New York State Council on the Arts to promote knowledge about Russian author Alexander Pushkin, the family said.

Survivors include another daughter, Barbara Wierbicki, of Garden City; and three grandchildren.

A funeral service was held on Aug. 6 at Intercession of the Holy Virgin Church in Glen Cove.

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