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One Researcher's Lifelong Dedication

UI scientist, mentor Katarzyna Dziewanowska
honored by home country before dying of cancer

By Tara Roberts
Photos courtesy of Chris Price and Trish Hartzell

Katarzyna Dziewanowska was 62 years old when she began working in University of Idaho biology professor Trish Hartzell’s lab. She had decades of experience as a biochemist, but the lab’s focus on microbiology was a new realm. It didn’t faze her for a moment.

“She had such good skills and understood how processes work,” Hartzell says. “She always paid great attention to details, and she always thought about what the research meant.”

Dziewanowska, known as Kasia, was a researcher at UI for nearly 20 years, continuing her lab work until a few weeks before her death of cancer on Sept. 28, 2013, at age 70.

Shortly before Dziewanowska passed away, some of her friends at the university worked together to gain recognition for her dedication to science. They contacted the government of Dziewanowska’s home country, Poland, to tell her story.

Researcher Kasia Dziewanowska receives Poland's Golden Cross of Merit from a Polish vice-consulOn Sept. 26, a Polish representative flew to Moscow to award Dziewanowska the Golden Cross of Merit from the president of Poland – one of the country’s highest honors, given to only two or three people each year.

“It was awarded for promoting Poland in the USA and for her research and her scientific achievements,” says Lukasz Knurowski, the Los Angeles-based vice-consul who presented the award.

Hartzell and Chris Price, a management assistant in the University Honors Program and longtime friend of Dziewanowska, were among a handful of people with her when she received the award.

Dziewanowska never put too much stake in honors, Price says, but was glad for the recognition as something she could leave behind for her son. Her friends, too, add it to a list of fond memories.

“The woman was utterly remarkable,” Price says.

Price and her husband, UI business law instructor Wayne Price, spent time in Poland through Wayne’s military service and bonded with Dziewanowska over their love of the country.

Researcher Kasia Dziewanowska is shown riding a horse as a young woman in Poland

Researcher Kasia Dziewanowska is shown riding a horse as a young woman in Poland

Dziewanowska often told stories of her years in Poland. When Dziewanowska was a child during World War II, her mother used to wrap messages and supplies in her baby blankets to smuggle to the resistance. When she was in her 20s, Dziewanowska and her fellow scientists helped treat the wounded during political riots.

“I remember her talking about how she could feel the bullets whizzing by,” Price says.

Dziewanowska’s younger years in Poland gave her a classical scientific training as well as a solid work ethic. Hartzell recalls stories of Dziewanowska waking at 4 a.m. to train racehorses for money before riding the bus back to the university where she completed her graduate studies.

Researcher Kasia Dziewanowska is shown in her laboratory at the University of IdahoDziewanowska was a professor and researcher in Poland before emigrating, and she worked in Canada and Alabama before she was recruited to Idaho in the early 1990s. She was known for her dedication to the labs she worked in, her depth of scientific knowledge and her close relationships with the students she mentored.

“The most important thing is that she trained so many undergraduates,” Hartzell says. “She taught them the meaning of hard work and the discipline it takes to be a good scientist.”

And, Hartzell says, Dziewanowska was always anxious to learn new things, even after a lifetime in science. “I’ll just never find anybody like her.”