American Way
Officers and Civilians Club manager Robert Schumann presents a flag to new citizen and longtime club employee Danuta Zaremba.

Danuta "Danka" Zaremba can finally enjoy the benefits of American citizenship. After two decades of residence, she formally became a citizen last spring.

Zaremba, a cashier at the Officers and Civilians Club, came to America almost 20 years ago. The turmoil of Communism in her native Poland made it necessary for her husband to seek political asylum in this country. Zaremba and her children followed two years later. The family relocated to Huntsville. Over the years, they moved several times around the nation, but always seemed to return to Alabama. Zaremba moved back permanently five years ago. Besides the economic, climate and municipal draws of the community, she said the people themselves made her want to be here.

"The people are so friendly here," she said. "On the street, they smile and say hi to you when they don't even know you."

She has been active in the local Polish-American community for some time, even teaching a class on the Polish language at a local church. Having formed close friendships with students and community members, Zaremba discussed her plans for the future with others.

"We were talking for several years about the benefits and advantages of citizenship," Ed Morfenski, longtime friend and Polish-American, said. "Danuta had expressed an interest in working on the Arsenal."
She was introduced to Bob Howell, the club manager at the time. He was looking for an employee with computer and administrative skills. Zaremba had just graduated with an administrative degree from an area college. A seemingly perfect fit, she began working at the club.

Although she now had a degree and the job she wanted, Zaremba wasn't quite done. Friends and co-workers urged her to apply for citizenship. If she hoped to go further working for the Army, she would need to be eligible for security clearances. She would need to be a citizen. She also wanted to participate in one of the most precious privileges citizens had -- she wanted to vote.

"I got to vote for the first time in the election," she said. "I voted for a president."

In addition to the forms and paperwork required in the process, Zaremba had to study for the citizenship exam. In April, she traveled to Atlanta to take the test.

"It was on American history, economy and government," she said.

After passing her exam, she took the oath of citizenship with her fellow immigrants. The experience affected her deeply.

"There were about 250 people from 50 different countries there," Zaremba said. "It was very emotional. I was crying."

Her language students and friends threw a reception for her when she returned. At the party, they presented her with an American flag, her first as a citizen. Their congratulations meant a lot to her.

"It was very touching," she said. "It was such a nice party."

To lighten an emotional evening, Zaremba was presented with a playful framed oath for Alabama citizenship. With it, she swore to use the word "y'all" and eat cornbread, among other things. She jokes that she is still working on her Southern drawl.

"I already have one accent," she quipped.

Since she now has her own citizenship, she is trying to encourage others to do the same. Her oldest son has received his citizenship as well. The younger is still a senior in high school. She is also helping co-workers prepare for the citizenship exam.

"I just want to help them," she said.

She plans to take both of her sons back to Poland to visit soon. The youngest has no memory of their time there because he left at such a young age. Of course, they will have to get new passports now.

"It's important to remember where you came from," she said. "But I am proud to be American now."

Page last updated Fri July 22nd, 2011 at 12:16