Mary Adamowska Panaro was born Maria Adamowska in Czernowitz, Bukovina, Austria, on August 8, 1902, to Polish parents Stanisław Adamowski (1876-1925) and Bronisława Dąbrowska Adamowska (1881-1916). Her father emigrated to Canada in 1910, while Mary, her mother, her aunt Julia Dąbrowska Zaokopna, and her younger brothers Mieczysław (Norman) Józef Adamowski (1908-1969) and Bronisław (Ben) Adamowski (1909-1914), joined him in Winnipeg in 1911. Mary lost her younger brother Ben to a street accident in 1914 and her mother in 1915. Her father died in 1925 following a long battle with tuberculosis.
Mary completed Grades 3 to 7 at Holy Ghost School in Winnipeg, grade 8 at Strathcona School, and grades 9 and 10 at St. John’s Technical High School. She graduated in Commerce. She received certificates in Cost Accounting, Business Administration, and Personnel Administration.
On April 19, 1927, she married Peter Anthony Panaro (1902-1983) of Winnipeg, and on January 1, 1930, gave birth to her only child, daughter Norma Beatrice (in some records, Bernice or Berenice) Panaro Dietz (d. July 11, 2017). Mary and Peter were divorced in 1933.
Mary’s professional career began in 1918, when she began work as a stenographer at the law offices of Hyman & Cherniak, where she worked until 1919. From 1920 to 1925, she was a secretary at the Polish Consulate in Winnipeg. From 1925 to 1929, she was employed by the Cunard Steamship Company as a secretary and later, as an accountant. In 1930, she began her 36-year-long career with the Winnipeg law firm Aronovitch & Leipsic in the Real Estate and Insurance divisions, where over the years, she held the roles of secretary, accountant, credit manager, and office manager, as well as licensed agent in the General Insurance division.
After experiencing the aid and kindness offered to her and her family by a social worker following the loss of her mother, she vowed at a young age to give back to her community. From early adulthood, she was active in the Polish community, in the newcomer and settlement community, and in war relief efforts. As a teenager and young adult, she was involved in the young Polish community, helping to organize various cultural and social activities, as advertised in Winnipeg’s Polish newspaper, Czas Polish Press.
She was a member and Secretary of the Marshall Pilsudski chapter of the Imperial Order Daughters of the Empire (I.O.D.E.). During and following the Second World War, she contributed to, collected, and helped to pack shipments of food and clothing to needy European families through I.O.D.E. and through the Polish Women’s War Relief Committee. In 1946, she met the first train carrying Polish veterans from Italy, and worked to organize a reception in their honour. In 1949, when the Council of Social Agencies asked Catholic Sisters of Service to organize a reception centre for young Polish women arriving from displaced persons camps, she helped arrange social and cultural activities and material help for the women. She was also involved with the settlement committees assisting Hungarian refugees in 1956 and Czechoslovakian refugees from 1967 to 1969. She also taught English to newcomers following the Second World War.
Mary became a member of the Welfare Council of Winnipeg, named to a committee created to assist immigrants and refugees arriving in Winnipeg from war-torn countries. She was asked to represent the Catholic Women’s League on the New Canadians Committee of the Council of Social Agencies, from which the Citizenship Council evolved, and was a part of the developments in that evolution. She was present at the meeting on November 30, 1951, when the New Canadians Committee decided, with encouragement from the Welfare Council, resolved to reorganize and adopt the name Citizenship Council of Manitoba, of which she became secretary in 1952. She was elected to the executive of the Citizenship Committee in 1956. She chaired the nominating committee charged with recommending officers to lead the new Citizenship Council of Manitoba, which became independent from the Welfare Council in 1957. She served as treasurer for the Council for many years. Following her retirement from Aronovitch & Leipsic, she became heavily involved with the Citizenship Council, and in March 1969, she became its first official staff member, holding the role of Executive Secretary. Along with the Centre’s President Sonja Roeder and its volunteers, she prepared the newly acquired International Centre Building for occupancy. The building was used for festivals, socials, movies, lectures, and cultural events. In June 1969, after the provincial government asked the Centre to welcome 300 Filipino women, Mary launched the longstanding tradition of the Centre’s Saturday morning coffee parties, which provided an opportunity for Winnipeggers to meet with newcomers over a cup of coffee. Each party began with the lighting of a candle by the host and the newest arrival to symbolize a coming together in friendship and understanding. The coffee parties were particularly meaningful to Mary. She established links with refugees and newcomers from all over the world, earning her the title of “International Mother.” She retired from the International Centre in 1976.
Mary was a founding member of the Polish Canadian Women’s Federation Winnipeg branch (#7), formed in 1962. She held the roles of President of the Winnipeg branch (1966) as well as the Vice President for Western Canada of the National Council (1975-1979). She also initiated the 3rd of May luncheons. She was involved in the Polish Handicraft Guild in Winnipeg, and helped to organize the 1963 Polish folk art exhibit.
She was also heavily involved with the Catholic Women’s League, holding the positions of President on local, Diocesan, and Provincial levels, as well as of Vice President and Treasurer on the national level. She was awarded a National Life membership in the League in 1961.
Mary created the Polish Women’s Business Group of Winnipeg in 1960. She was a member of Save the Children, the Personnel Association of Winnipeg, the Canadian Citizenship Federation, the Citizenship Court Committee, and an Executive member of the Polish Refugee Assistance Committee. She worked as a volunteer for United Way of Winnipeg. She was the Citizenship Chairman of the Canadian Polish Congress and a Director and Committee Chairman of the Holy Spirit Credit Union. She was a founding member of the SHARE Mental Health Program and Treasurer of the Nicolas Copernicus Quincentennial Committee.
Mary’s community involvement was recognized in 1970 when she was awarded the Distinguished Citizen Award from the City of Winnipeg and the Golden Medal of Merit from the Canadian Polish Congress. She was also awarded the Nicolas Copernicus Quincentennial Medal in 1973 and was named a Provost of the Order of the Buffalo Hunt by the Province of Manitoba in 1982. She was awarded an Honorary Lifetime membership from the Citizenship Council of Manitoba and was nominated for the YWCA Woman of the Year award in 1983. On June 20, 1983, she was appointed a Member of the Order of Canada (Investiture at Rideau Hall on October 5, 1983). In 1984, she received an Outstanding Achievement Award from the City of Winnipeg and was named an Honorary Member of the Polish Gymnastic Association (Sokol).
Mary Panaro died in Edmonton, Alberta, on June 14, 1989, while attending the national meeting of the Polish Women’s Federation.
Prepared by Marta Dabros, Nov. 2017.