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Bill Prystupa: a friend to newcomers

Everybody Has a Story

Often in our community the efforts of people to help others are carried out quietly, with little publicity, with those performing those good deeds doing so without a view towards gaining any recognition for their actions. 

However, the efforts of one man to help other new immigrants to the Battlefords community is being recognized by those he helped. 

He is Bill Prystupa, who is being remembered for his generosity in helping new immigrants get settled in the Battlefords.

The idea for telling Bill’s story came from Mark Tatar, whose family knew Bill well. Even to this day, “we always talk about Bill,” said Mark. 

What really sparked the idea was when Tatar moved from the Valley Ford dealership to Rainbow Toyota, where he worked in sales. 

The Rainbow Toyota building was where Ulmer Chev used to be, and Bill used to work in that building years before.

“Just being there in that building kind of made me think about him more,” Mark said.   

One of the key things for the Tatars was that when they arrived in the Battlefords from Poland, they didn’t know any English.

“He spoke some Polish,” said Mark. That meant Bill helped translate whenever the family needed to go to the bank or get their power or telephone hooked up. 

As Mark’s mother Wanda said, this was stuff that was “very easy, but if you don’t know English, you can’t go anywhere to do something. You have to have somebody with you,” she said. 

The Tatars recall that before they arrived there were other Polish families in the community who turned to Bill for help translating. There was one mechanic at Ulmer’s he helped out that way. 

“He helped lots of people,” recalls John Tatar, Mark’s dad.

“He came to Saskatoon to the airport to pick us up … we didn’t have anybody to come here,” Wanda recalls.

Later, they became friends and they recalled Bill “took us fishing, garage saling. If I made something for supper we invited him because we were grateful he was there for us when we needed.”

The Tatars said John found a job at Gainer’s — later Maple Leaf Foods — but he didn’t have a car. They recall Bill was able to find an old Ford Pinto for $250. 

“And he bought it for us, kind of as a surprise,” Mark said. John called it “a good surprise.”

Eventually they paid Bill back once John was able to make money from the job, but at that time they had nothing “It was kind of pretty tough,” Wanda said.  

The Tatars arrived in Canada in the mid-1980s. John arrived first, after a brief time in Italy, and the rest of the family followed a little while later. 

In those days the Tatars were escaping the harsh reality of life in Poland, where residents were still living under the communist system. 

It was the era of the Iron Curtain and the rise of the Solidarity movement in Poland, with Polish residents leaving the country for better lives elsewhere. 

People couldn’t even tell their own relatives they were leaving to live somewhere else, for fear of the secret police finding out. 

“You had to basically escape,” said Mark. “You couldn’t say ‘oh, I’m leaving Poland to go live somewhere else.’ You had to make it sound like you were going on a trip, and then not come back.” 

The Tatars recall that a wave of Polish immigrants ended up in the Battlefords during that time in the 1980s. 

Bill’s help went beyond simply translating or purchasing a new car. He was also there for the Tatars to co-sign for loans, as those weren’t easily available to new immigrants in those days. 

“He co-signed our first loan at the bank,” said Wanda. Bill also was there to help when it came time for the Tatars to buy new furniture. John recalled he couldn't get the financing to purchase new furniture, but Bill came to the rescue. He would pay, and the Tatars would pay him back. 

“We bought it and we paid him, every week,” John recalls. It extended to other items, too, like food. “But it was nothing free, we always paid him back. Always,” said John Tatar.  

He noted there were numerous items they couldn’t buy because “the banks never, ever gave you the money.” 

Wanda adds that nowadays the situation is a lot easier. The banks will check on where you are working and you get the loan. Even in the old days $250 was hard to get.

The Tatars know there were others Bill helped in a similar way. He helped out a co-worker at Ulmer’s who was also an immigrant and helped other immigrant families as well. 

He was also generous with local First Nations. His son Brian recalls there was a First Nation family that had lost their home in a fire and Bill personally supplied furniture to them.

People who’ve known Bill well cite a number of reasons he was so generous when it came to others in need. Bill was born in Saskatchewan, but his family had arrived from the Ukraine, so he knew something of the struggles of immigration. 

He also knew struggles from personal loss. He and his wife Pauline lost their home in Mayfair in a fire in 1956. 

It was a shattering experience, but his son Brian recalled that Bill also saw the generosity of others at the time. 

People offered furniture and other items to help Bill and Pauline back on their feet, and it’s believed that may have been the motivation for Bill’s generosity to others in their own times of need. 

“Maybe that’s why he was so nice to other people,” John said, with Wanda piping in “he knew life is hard when you don’t have anything and don’t know anybody.”

Bill himself was not a well-off man, but he had a strong work ethic, and worked steadily at a number of jobs until his retirement. 

Mark Tatar feels that Bill’s story of generosity is timely, given that immigration is back in the news in a big way due to the Syrian refugee situation. 

Today, they can point to more supports in place to help immigrants land on their feet, including the Battlefords Immigration Resource Centre. 

Bill, who had four children, died in 1994. The Tatars just wanted to show their own appreciation for someone they described as a “good man”.  

“Anybody would ask him anything he would do it,” Wanda said. “That was just the way he was.”