The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

January 31, 2014

Sharing her time: Upper Yoder woman involved in several organizations

Frank Sojak

JOHNSTOWN — Emilie Polenik plays by the rules.

Her rule book is the Bible and Jesus, her role model.

“He showed what he wants us to do during his life on earth,” she said about the Son of God. “So I am just trying to do what he has told me to do.”

For the Upper Yoder Township resident, Jesus’ instructions call for her to serve the church, Cub Scouts and other organizations.

She became involved in many of the organizations in 1974, when she and her husband, Mike, married and moved to Upper Yoder from Heilwood, Indiana County.

At St. Clement Roman Catholic Church in Upper Yoder, she serves as a Eucharistic minister, member of the choir and a cantor.

She teaches religion and confirmation classes and prepares children for First Holy Communion.

“It’s my faith calling,” Polenik said about her involvement in the church.

As a Eucharistic minister, she takes Communion to Catholic residents of the Lutheran Home and Presbyterian Home, both located in Upper Yoder.

“It’s one of the most wonderful things that I have done,” she said about those visits. “It means so much to them.”

As a choir member and cantor, Polenik said she has come to realize the connection between the verses in the hymns and God’s message.

“We love praising the Lord through song,” she said.

“We have a wonderful choir. We have the most fantastic organist in Bryan Bazyk and a fantastic choir director in Mary Statler.”

She said all the volunteer religion teachers, with the help of the church’s high school students, are doing a wonderful job of preparing the youngsters for the sacraments.

Polenik also has been a volunteer with the St. Clement Food Pantry since the early 1990s. She has been its treasurer for the past several years.

Polenik has been serving Pack 217 of the Cub Scouts in the West Hills for the past 30 years.

“Scouting is one of the best youth programs available to our children,” said Polenik, whose five sons had been in the pack.

“I love the program. It’s an opportunity for the children to experience things to which they otherwise would not be exposed.”

Polenik currently is the advancement chairperson but has served in just about every capacity, including Cubmaster.

Polenik also has been involved with the West Suburban Little League for 30 years.

She currently is head umpire for the league, but has served on the league’s executive committee and as a team mom, umpire, coach and member of the concession stand crew.

“I am a true believer that to be a whole person, you need to experience many parts of life,” she said.

For the children, participating in a sport is a good way to become well-rounded, she said.

“They learn to hone their skills when they practice catching, hitting and throwing,” Polenik said about the league.

“They also learn teamwork. They learn that it takes the skills of many youngsters to succeed, while keeping in mind that they’re having fun.

“I’ve watched some very talented players and some children who just played in the dirt and had a ball.”

Her five sons were among the ballplayers with whom she has worked.

Polenik also has been involved in the Ladies Auxiliary of the  Upper Yoder Volunteer Fire Company for 30 years.

When she first moved to Upper Yoder, it was a way for her to socialize with he neighbors.

“As I became more involved, I realized how important it was to make sure the firefighters had the proper equipment,” she said.

“We were able to help them purchase that equipment by raising funds.”

One of the ways the women in the auxiliary raise money has been through dinners, she said.

“Betsy Reitz and Luella Lutzko are two of the best cooks in Johnstown,” Polenik said.

“They certainly have built our reputation as having some of the best dinners in Johnstown.”

In the 1990s, Polenik became involved with the Ladies Columbian Circle of Council 467, Knights of Columbus in Johnstown.

“We do projects for people in need,” she said. “We have helped food pantries and have held clothing drives for community groups.”

Several years ago, Polenik became a member of the Greater Johnstown Diocesan Festival Choir.

One of the choir’s duties is singing with their Altoona counterparts at ordination Masses in Altoona.

Another big part of her life for decades has been giving blood. In 1996, she switched from donating whole blood to platelets through a method called apheresis.

“Because of my medical condition at my birth, it was necessary for me to have two blood replacements to survive,” she said.

“Later (as an adult), it made me aware how important it was to have a blood supply available for those in need.”

Polenik said none of the organizations in which she is involved could exist without many people donating their time.

She said she could not have been active in the community without the support of her husband, sons, Mike Jr., Ken, Dave, Tom and Dan, and her twin granddaughters and one stepgrandson.

She also said that she has made many friends through her volunteer work.

Madeline Gyure, one of those friends and a member of St. Clement Church, said she is impressed with the Polenik’s energy and  organizational skills.

Polenik has touched the lives of many young people through her volunteer work, she said.

“She has kept on giving even after her children have moved on from their activities,” Gyure said.

The Rev. William Rosenbaum, pastor of St. Clement, said Polenik ministers in many ways.

“She’s a person who lives her life for other people,” he said. “She does that by sharing her God-given gifts and talents.”

Gil McDonald, a member of the executive committee of the Little League, said Polenik is knowledgeable about baseball.

In addition to running an umpire clinic every year, Polenik schedules the umpires and even calls games herself, he said.

“I think she’s just a charitable person,” he said, adding that Polenik would help anyone.

Frank Sojak is a reporter for The Tribune-Democrat. Follow him on Twitter at