From Poland to Chestnut Hill: An immigrant story

by Len Lear
Posted 1/25/24

One of the best things about this job is meeting fascinating, creative people who have come to Chestnut Hill from around the world.

This item is available in full to subscribers.

Please log in to continue

Log in

From Poland to Chestnut Hill: An immigrant story


As I have written before in these spaces, one of the best things about this job is getting to meet fascinating, creative people who have come to Chestnut Hill from almost anywhere in the world. A perfect example is Romuald “Aldek” Roman, 74, who lived with his wife, Jolanta, and their three children until recently for 32 years in Chestnut Hill (and six years before that in Lafayette Hill).

Their home was “Silverstone,” a 10-bedroom Victorian mansion on Stenton Avenue, across the street from the Institute for the Achievement of Human Potential, a massive property where families with brain-injured children come from around the world for therapy. Jolanta was a dietitian there, and several families stayed in their house while attending classes at the Institute.

Roman lived for the first few decades of his life in Communist Poland when it was part of the Soviet Union. Being an independent thinker, he had as much in common with the government bureaucrats as a horse does with horseradish.

Growing up near the Tatra Mountains, Roman fell in love with nature and the wildlife he found in the mountains, was an avid mountain climber and skier, and earned a master's degree in forestry at the Agricultural University of Krakow.

Roman often clashed with the powers-that-be, however, and after martial law was declared by General Wojciech Jaruzelski in Poland in 1981, “My wife and daughter and I were encouraged to leave the country,” he said. “I was seen as a troublemaker.”

Roman's family moved to Boise, Idaho, where he thought he'd be able to find a forestry job easily because the woods in Idaho are so thick and there are so few people.

But that scenario did not work. “I took an exam for a forestry job and left after 10 minutes,” he said. “My English was good, but so many terms were completely different.”

Eventually, however, his expertise in entomology led him to get a job in Idaho because they had an invasion of grasshoppers.

“The governor even thanked me for helping to stop the invasion, but then, after the problem was solved, there was no more job,” he said. “I realized I'd have to go to a big city, and I was promised a job in Philadelphia making $8 an hour, which was fine because I had been making $3.50 an hour in Idaho.”

The Polish immigrant paid $500 for a 1972 Ford Grenada and drove it from Boise to Philadelphia, whereupon it died. He started a master's degree program in environmental science at Drexel University, but it was too expensive, so he switched to Temple University and got the master's degree there, in industrial hygiene technology.

He became certified and then got a job with the Environmental Protection Agency as a Superfund program remedial project manager. His wife also went to graduate school and became a dietitian. “We were poor, though,” said Roman. “We worked very hard to achieve the education and social status that we had in Poland.”

Meanwhile, Roman also wrote several books in his native language that were published over the years in Poland, and then in 2022 had his first book published in English, “Aldek's Bestiary,” by Chestnut Hill Press, a collection of 21 short stories about wild and domestic animals in Poland and the U.S.These stories, which are “80 percent true,” according to Roman, are humorous, poignant, compelling and at times heartbreaking, especially the ones about animals being horribly abused.

Jim Miller, who founded Chestnut Hill Press and met Roman while walking his dog in Wissahickon Park, said he’s been “reinvigorated” by their collaboration.

“How rare it is to make a true friend in the midst of your eighth decade,” said Miller, who is 75 years old. “How much rarer to find a true friend who overflows with Aldek’s erudition, imagination, compassion, and perception.”

Roman recently published his second book in English, “No Entry Zone,” which is fiction. “I originally wrote it in Polish,” explained Roman, “then rewrote it in English, and I honestly think it is much better now.”

Roman and his wife have a daughter, Katia, a lawyer in Poland who started a foundation to help Ukrainian refugees; sons Matt in Philadelphia and Peter in Cleveland, both doctors. “My sons both went to Germantown Academy,” said Roman. “That's why I have no money.”

Roman did pay a substantial amount of money, however, to pay for a bench in Wissahickon Park near the Valley Green Inn with a plaque containing a poem he wrote to honor his late best friend, Dr. Charles Schmidt, a dentist.

“I spread his ashes near the bench,” said Roman. “He did not like exercise, but I convinced him to go with me for a four-mile walk every Friday on Forbidden Drive starting at 5 p.m. and then have martinis at Valley Green Inn.”

The author, who retired from the EPA 10 years ago, and his wife have done extensive traveling in recent years and now live in Sarasota, Florida, “where the weather is great, the people are nice, and the dogs smile at me,” he said.

For more information, visit Len Lear can be reached at