Former Polish President Lech Walesa arrived in New Waverly Monday afternoon with the screaming sirens of a law enforcement escort. He slipped quietly out of Huntsville Wednesday morning, pausing in the rain to lay a bouquet of flowers at the statue of Sam Houston.

In between were public and private events that touched many in the community, and in turn seemed to touch the man who had traveled so far to receive the Sam Houston Humanitarian Award at Sam Houston State University.

Walesa was mobbed by admirers in the aisle of St. Joseph's Catholic Church in New Waverly, after attending a benediction service with the congregation of Polish-Americans. He received several standing ovations at the award presention on the Sam Houston State University campus.

Walesa's story of rising from a humble shipyard laborer to lead the movement that toppled Poland's communist government and inspired similar overthrows throughout the Soviet system, was not lost on his Texas hosts.

At several events during the visit--by SHSU regent Jane Monday at a Monday evening dinner and by SHSU President Dr. Bobby K. Marks at the Tuesday evening award presentation--Walesa's accomplishments were compared to those of Sam Houston.

Walesa got quite a lesson in Texas history, about how Houston's achievements had a far greater influence on the United States and world history than he might have suspected at the conclusion of the Battle of San Jacinto.

Sam Houston had won a great victory against almost impossible odds, as had Walesa, it was pointed out.

Those words, coming to him through his interpreter, were not lost on Walesa. He had seen the Houston statue from Interstate Highway 45 on his trip to New Waverly.

On Wednesday morning he and his traveling group that included Jerzy Kozminski, Polish ambassador to the United States, were having breakfast with Vic and Alicia Lukaszewski. They were preparing to leave for the Houston Intercontinental Airport, for their flight to the West Coast.

Vic Lukaszewski, a professor of political science and a native of Poland, said that Walesa told him, "'We've got to stop at the statue and leave some flowers.'"

With the rain falling and a schedule to keep, the idea of stopping anywhere was far from the mind of anyone except Walesa, said Lukaszewski.

It was too early for a flower shop to be open, so they took a bouquet of carnations that had been used as a decoration in the Lukaszewski home.

"It was completely his idea," said Lukaszewski. "We left a half hour early and he laid the flowers at the base of the statue." Lukaszewski snapped his picture, and they made it to the airport on time.

The carnations were red and white--Poland's national colors.

Lukaszewski said that Walesa told him how impressed he was with his welcome by the people of Walker County--describing it with the words "joy" and "love" and "sincerity."

"He was very touched by the warmth he received here and he was very grateful for the award," said Lukaszewski. "He said several times, 'I want to come back.' And he meant it."


Media Contact: Frank Krystyniak

Oct. 17, 1996