In 1973, to celebrate Polish astronomer Nicolaus Copernicus’s 500th birthday, University of Michigan Sociology Professor Peter Ostafin (Ph.D. ’49) joined with several others to organize a symposium and establish the Copernicus Endowment to honor the man’s intellectual and scientific legacy.
Today, over four decades later, Ostafin's daughter Marysia Ostafin (A.B. ’74) is now the program’s executive director, and she’s giving back to ensure that her father’s hard work—and this important program—continue long into the future.
Ostafin, who is also the program manager of the Weiser Center cluster, didn’t always know that she’d be involved with the fund her father began. Although she had always believed in the importance of the endowment, she began her studies as an English major at U-M. But during a study abroad experience in Krakow, Poland, while pursuing her degree, she fell in love with Eastern Europe. Upon return to the United States, she decided to start studying Russian, Polish, and Slavic culture, and in 1985, she returned to work at her alma mater in its burgeoning Center for Russian and East European Studies and hasn’t looked back.
Although the Copernicus Endowment originally began as a lecture series, thanks to Ostafin and many others’ work, it has expanded enormously over the years and is now one of the top Polish studies programs in the world. In 2014, it was recognized by the University as an official program, an accomplishment that Ostafin thinks was well deserved.
“It was a great achievement that after so many years of being a fund, we achieved program status,” she says. “It was a culmination of many years of hard work and absolutely the correct recognition for the effort and contributions of so many.”
The Copernicus Program in Polish Studies now supports lectures, symposia, mini-courses, Polish language instruction, undergraduate and graduate student fellowships, education abroad opportunities, and an annual newsletter. It has also hosted many influential Polish leaders and scholars.
Ostafin’s pride and belief in the program inspired her to establish the Hubert-Ostafin Fund which will support the Copernicus Program in Polish Studies at Michigan. Ostafin chose to make her gift through a charitable gift annuity and a charitable remainder trust, which provides a lifetime income stream, as well as support to the University in the future. Through this gift, she will help ensure that the program continues to flourish, producing scholarship and knowledge in perpetuity.
“I’m someone who has been dedicated through my job to faculty and making their lives easier,” says Ostafin.
For Ostafin, choosing what to support was not complicated, but she recommends that others interested in giving find something at the University about which they’re similarly passionate.
“I’d suggest to anyone considering where to put their support as they retire to consider gifts that mirror their own interests and passions and support them with whatever contribution they can,” she says.
No matter the size of a gift, or where it is designated, Ostafin believes that giving can help sustain programs, departments, and projects that are important to LSA staff members.
“You don’t have to give a lot of money—it’s easy to add to something that already exists,” Ostafin says. “I’ve been inspired by the faculty and students. For me, I’m glad to be able to continue to provide them with the resources needed to do their important work.”