This article appeared in the Standard-Times of New Bedford, Massachusetts, on 1/30/05,
Page A1, Main news/cover; Copyright 2005 by Beth David

Farmer's estate goes to animals

Standard-Times correspondent

ACUSHNET -- What kind of farmer lets her chickens die of old age instead of eating them?

There are two possible explanations why Acushnet dairy farmer Valeria Wolanski did that.

The man who bought the farm from her said she just got to an age where she could no longer do the job herself.

But her friends across the street say she loved animals so much she couldn't bear to kill the chickens.

Both explanations seem appropriate for the frugal, hard-working, fiercely independent woman who only stopped cutting her grass when she could no longer change the oil in the lawn mower herself.

And she "loved her animals sometimes more than people," according to Maria Otocki, a good friend and neighbor.

So it shouldn't surprise anyone that she left her entire estate -- worth nearly half a million dollars -- to charitable organizations, most of which benefit animals.

"She told me she was going to do that," said Joe Pereira, who bought Ms. Wolanski's farm in 1998.

"All she said was all her money was going to the animals," said Ms. Otocki.

Ms. Otocki and her husband, Henry, invited Ms. Wolanski to live with them because Ms. Wolanski and Ms. Otocki's mother became good friends, and she asked her daughter to take care of their neighbor. "So I kept my promise," said Ms. Otocki.

According to Mr. and Mrs. Otocki and his sister Irene Parker, Ms. Wolanski also insisted on selling her property to someone who would farm it.

Before buying the Main Street property, Mr. Pereira rented the fields for several years to graze his beef cattle. During that time, he had many talks with the elderly woman.

Ms. Wolanski moved to the farm, along with her parents, Frank and Anna (Gula) Wolanski, and her two brothers, Adam and Stanley, in 1931, when she was 15.

Adam worked as a truck driver, while she and Stanley worked the farm with their parents, milking cows by hand and selling milk for as little as 11&Mac218;2 cents per quart.

When Ms. Wolanski graduated from New Bedford High, she entered nursing school. But soon the family farm needed her. She never voiced any regrets.

"She was proud of what she did with the farm," said Ms. Parker. "She was happy working outside, with her horses Tom and Jerry," said Ms. Otocki.

By all accounts, Ms. Wolanski was a tough, outspoken woman who chopped her own firewood, sold fresh eggs well into her 70s, and loved a bargain. She started her first bank account at the age of 10.

She read voraciously, everything from Time Magazine to Harry Potter. In her later years, she traveled, used the all-women gym and the Senior Center once a week, and loved to shop, but only for bargains.

"When Ames (department store) closed, it was like taking a lollipop from a baby," said Ms. Parker. "We used to go every Tuesday."

Which was, of course, senior citizen discount day.

Neither Ms. Wolanski nor her brothers had children. So, in her will, she left everything she had to charities. In the end, her estate totaled more than $495,600 with $467,900 going to 11 different charities, including The Humane Society and Shelter of New Bedford, and the Animal Control Department of Fairhaven.

"She was a very hard-working lady," said Mr. Pereira. "Whatever she said, that's exactly what it was." And she always said her money would go to the animals.

"It's not that unusual for people to adopt that attitude," said Harvey Mickelson, president of the Humane Society.

There are no restrictions on spending the money. "It's trust," said Mr. Mickelson. "It's trust that the money's going to be used for the caring and well being of animals in the area."

In Fairhaven, they will try to honor that trust, according to Selectman Winfred Eckenreiter.

"You have to look at the intent," said Mr. Eckenreiter. And looking at the details of her giving, he sees someone who put a lot of thought into it. "When you look at the depths of that, it's to do good, so it shouldn't supplement a department," said Mr. Eckenreiter.

"In other words, we won't allocate less because of it. It should be to go beyond the call of duty type of thing. Because if it doesn't create anything, you might as well give it to the town. The intent was to do good to animals."

This frugal, independent woman who lived on a Social Security check of less than $200 was "perfectly happy being a spinster," according to Ms. Otocki. "She didn't need anyone. She could take care of herself."

So what else can you say about Ms. Wolanski?

"Just make it sound good," said Mr. Pereira. "She deserves it."

This story appeared on Page A1 of The Standard-Times on January 30, 2005.