Estelle Phyllis von Wachtel-TorresThe Autobiography of Estelle Phyllis von Wachtel-Torres, M.D.
October 11, 1919 - May 12, 2012
Estelle Phyllis von Wachtel-Torres was the only child of Pioneers of the Professional Polish Stage in the United States and Pioneers of Polish Radio Broadcasting in Detroit, Michigan. She was born in Chicago, Illinois, as was her mother, Getrude Irene Wickowska. Her father, Stanley Zenon Wachtel, however, was born and educated in Lwow before arriving in this country in 1912. When Estelle's parents met they realized that they were ideal for each other in the amateur theatrical circles where they first performed. Without much ado, they got married in 1914 and set about establishing professional reparatory acting troupes with whom they acted full time in the Polish Theaters of Chicago which there were twelve in that day. When their baby, Stasia, was born in 1919 (October 11), the young family ventured forth to try new venues in Detroit, Cleveland, Newark and Buffalo. At each fresh location they encountered audiences thrilled to witness plays in Polish performed by such exhilarating young actors. Stanley took on the mantle of producer, director, actor and playwright, while Gertrude assumed the multiple tasks of logistics, properties, costuming and acting. Their stage life became the life of their daughter. She felt part of the troupe performing and reacting on command. Fellow actors treated the little one among them affectionately and she thought them part of her family.
Not unexpectedly, she knew no English until she started kindergarten. In 1928, the Government of Poland awarded Stanley Zenon Wachtel its Polonia Restituta Medal of Honor in recognition of his role in the preservation of Polish Culture and Language in the United States. The Wachtel family effected a major life style change when they embarked on careers in Polish language Radio work in 1933. Stanley debuted on Detroit's Station WEXL on the Ted Zajac Evening Program with a series of his original detective mysteries. The plays became wildly popular and quickly engagements on the Jarosz Morning Program on Station WMBC followed, then the Leskiewicz morning hour at WJBK. This was the heyday of Polish radio and Stasia found herself in the thick of it. At 15, teenager Stasia was the moderator of a Saturday children's program, "Przyjaciolka Stasia". In her best Polish, she entertained youthful listeners with scripted stories, poetic recitations, educational quizzes and cleverly worded riddles. After a whole summer's run, the Lutnia Cultural and Singing Society of Detroit presented Stasia with a handsomely engraved medal for her work with Polish American Children. The premier Polish Radio program, hit the air about 1939 when John Lord Booth of Station WJLB called upon Mr. Wachtel to literally conjure up a spectacular Morning Variety Program for the new station. He was given a full studio orchestra, magnificent vocalists, Reiter connected news commentators and a cast of experienced actors to work with. The resulting enterprise was a commercial and cultural triumph. But it came to an abrupt end in 1944 when all foreign programming was suspended for national security reasons.
It was also, time for Stasia, Estelle now, to pay attention to her new obligations at Wayne State University College of Medicine. Estelle's studies did not entirely preclude her involvement with Polish American organizations. She continued membership in such Fraternals as the Polish National Alliance and the Polish Falcons; she had been an officer in the Filaret Society for three years and remained actively supportive of it. At Wayne, she met classmate Raul Marcelino Torres whom she married in their senior year. After completing medical training, they established their practices in Detroit. They raised four daughters who attended their Alma Mater in that city.
Aside from their respective medical societies, they became active members of the Polish American Medical Dental Arts Club, The Friends of Polish Art of Detroit and the Kosciusko Foundation. Estelle Wachtel-Torres, M.D. became custodian of the Wachtel vast library of manuscripts, plays, professional photographs, and theatrical/radio artifacts after the demise of her mother, Gertrude Wickowska Wachtel. Estelle capably assisted Dr. Emil Orzechowski of the Jagiellonian University in collating material for his book published in Poland, "Teatr Polonijny W Stanach Ziednocznych" in 1989. All matters relating to works of Stanley Zenon Wachtel are archived at the Burton Historical Library of the Main Public Library of Detroit. The Stanley Wachtel Collection is catalogued at the US Library of Congress. Estelle Wachtel-Torres again provided the primary source material about Polish Radio Broadcasting in Michigan to Joseph Migala for his thorough review published in the United States in 1987.
The organization AMERICARES offered Dr. Estelle in 1990 a vital opportunity to assist the poor and disadvantaged in Poland. Jan Wydro, its Polonian coordinator, invited her to join in its Christmas Airlift of gifts and candy bars for children in hospitals and orphanages in Warsaw. She was enjoined on that first visit to help implement a program of distributing gluten free mile to children with phenylketonuria. Following fundraising, publicity events, and two visits to the Poznan Pediatric Institute of Endocrinology, the distribution system was successfully launched and maintained. In retirement, Estelle served on the Board of Directors of the Friends of Polish Art for three years where she initiated the first Short Story Competition. She was a sustaining member of the Michigan Opera Company, The Founders Society of the Detroit Institute of Arts, The Copernicus Society at the University of Michigan, The Ambassador's Club at Orchard Lake, the John Paul Foundation of Michigan, and the American Institute of Polish Culture in Miami.
After moving to Virginia, Estelle became a board member of the Polish American Arts Association of Washington, DC, and its president in 1999, 2000, 2002, and 2004. She was editor of the PAAA Bimonthly illustrated Newsletter for seven years. The Polish American Congress presented Estelle with a Certificate honoring her leadership of the PAAA. Estelle von Wachtel-Torres, MD, the title, she adopted socially in retirement, was involved with the American Council for Polish Culture since 1986, serving on the Board of Directors for 7 years. In 2002, the Council honored her work with bestowing upon her its prestigious Founders Award. She served on the Board of The American Center of Polish Culture for 5 years. In 2004, the Polish American Historical Society recognized her with a certificate for "her contribution to understanding the Polish Experience in the United States". She maintained a sustaining interest in The John Paul II Foundation, The Polish Library, The Polish American Health Association, The Polish American Congress (Metro Division), and The Polish Institute of Arts and Sciences. Later, the activities she attended to included The Literary Competition Committee of the ACPC which she had chaired since its inception in 1996 and the PAAA Scholarship Award project which she had chaired annually since 1999.
(On May 12, 2012 Estelle died with her family present at the Evangelical Home, Saline Michigan. Her remains are interred in Grandville, Michigan alongside those of her husband and her parents.)