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No joke: Media consultant champions Polish heritage, challenges ridicule

Barry ZeVan displays his merchandise with slogan 'Being Polish it's not joke (never was)' FranklStreet Bridge Thursday November 15 2012.

Barry ZeVan displays his merchandise with the slogan "Being Polish, it's not a joke (never was)" on the Franklin Street Bridge on Thursday, November 15, 2012. I Stacie Scott~Sun-Times Media

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Updated: December 26, 2012 6:34AM



Did ya hear the one about the Polish guy walking into the bar?

Well forget it.

Barry ZeVan, of Minnesota, wants to put a lid on Polish jokes and hopes to accomplish his mission one T-shirt (or mouse pad) at a time.

“I began thinking about how Poland has been the doormat so many times in its history,” said ZeVan, who is one-eighth Polish. “I began thinking of all these giants in the world – Copernicus, Chopin, Pope John Paul II – who have contributed so much to society … For all the people who have contributed so much to this world who are from Poland, the Polish jokes aren’t valid. The world needs to be told Poland is not a joke and never was.”

And that’s how he came up with the two slogans: “Being Polish: It’s not a joke. (Never was!)” and “Poland: It’s not a joke. Never was.”

The two phrases are emblazoned on mugs, sweatshirts and even iPad sleeves for sale on the website beingpolish.com.

ZeVan hopes the large Polish population in the Chicago area will take notice. In Cook County alone there are nearly half-a-million people of Polish ancestry, according to U.S. Census data.

ZeVan, a former Twin Cities weatherman who has extensive broadcast experience, also plans to donate a percentage of the funds collected through the sale of the merchandise to Polish orphanages. ZeVan and two Polish pals created the Optivus Foundation, which is officially recognized by the Polish government, to handle the donations, ZeVan said.

“When I created this, I said ‘Wait a minute, if we have merchandise with the slogan on it ... we give a minimum of five percent to start,” ZeVan, 75, said. He hopes to one day to donate at least half of the funds.

“We’re not going to be rich on this, we’re not going to be millionaires and we don’t want to be. We want to make sure this is distributed well,” he said, adding that the dispersion of the money is monitored by accountants. “There won’t be funny little parties. It will be very, very closely watched.”

ZeVan, now a media and public relations consultant who has worked with Polish companies, got the idea for the slogans while working with a Polish green energy consortium.

He hopes his campaign rebrands the perception people have of Poland.

“This really punches somebody in the face and says ‘Guess what? We’re not a joke,’” he said.



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