Wanda Wilk (1921-2009) was responsible for the establishment of the Polish Music Center at the USC Thornton School of Music.
Mrs. Wilk earned her bachelor’s degree in music at Wayne University in Detroit in 1943, specializing in Music Education. After teaching several years in Detroit, she moved with her family to Los Angeles in 1949. Though she originally enrolled in a master’s program at USC at that time, she interrupted her studies to teach and continued to perform at numerous charity benefits and Polish functions. In 1952 she married Dr. Stefan P. Wilk, and in 1955 became a full-time mother and homemaker.
When she returned to USC to complete her master’s degree in 1974, she researched her thesis, which was a bibliography on Polish Music. This led to a summer session at the Jagiellonian University in Kraków. In 1976 Mrs. Wilk completed her thesis and graduated from USC with a Master of Music degree, but the lack of reference materials on Polish music at USC and throughout the U.S. had planted the seed of an idea that would eventually become the Polish Music Reference Center.
In 1980 Mrs. Wilk received the Mayor’s Certificate of Appreciation for her participation in the Polish Cultural Exhibit at the California Museum of Science and Industry in Los Angeles, for which she organized the music section and presented seventeen musical programs. In 1981 she secured the sponsorship of the USC School of Music for a Szymanowski Centennial. There she established the Friends of Polish Music and organized a week-long series of symphonic concerts, recitals, lectures, discussions, a banquet and an outdoor festival. Between 1983 and 1984 she prepared a travelling exhibit on Szymanowski which was shown in 24 university libraries throughout the U.S. and Canada.
In 1985, the Polish Music Reference Center (now: Polish Music Center) at USC was established with a joint endowment gift from Dr. Stefan and Wanda Wilk. Mrs. Wilk was appointed the Director of the PMRC by the dean of the USC School of Music and in this capacity was invited to give lectures at the Los Angeles Music Center, local universities, music organizations, and Polish-American associations including the American Council of Polish Cultural Clubs.
She wrote the first monograph (Karol Szymanowski, 1982) in the Polish Music History Series, on which she subsequently served as Editor. She is also the author of articles about Polish women composers, and many other subjects pertaining to the history of Polish music, for various Polish-American media. In 1993, the Wilks established Ars Musica Poloniae, which funds efforts to promote Polish music throughout the U.S., and in 1994 Mrs. Wilk initiated the creation of the Polish Music Center website, now recognized as an important tool for scholars world-wide.
In 1988, Dr. Stefan and Wanda Wilk were awarded the Polonia Award from the Southern California chapter of the Polish American Congress, and a Gold Medal from the Polish Composers’ Union (ZKP), an organization of which Mrs. Wilk is an honorary member. Mrs. Wilk’s efforts at USC have been lauded by the University many times, including the Director’s Award from the USC School of Music (1982), the Torchbearers’ Award (1992), and the President’s Commendation (2005).
In 1996 Wanda Wilk retired as Director of the PMRC, but continued as the Center’s Honorary Director and President of the Friends of Polish Music. In the same year as her retirement, her devotion to Polish music earned her the highest state award of Poland: the Polonia Restituta medal. Wanda Wilk’s enthusiasm and achievements have encouraged the awareness and appreciation of Polish music both nationally and internationally, and will continue to be an inspiration for generations.