Peter K. Gessner, UB director of Polish studies - The Buffalo News

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Peter K. Gessner, UB director of Polish studies

May 3, 1931 – June 27, 2014

Peter K. Gessner, of Williamsville, a retired pharmacology professor who was director of Polish studies at the University at Buffalo, died Friday in Harris Hill Nursing Home, Lancaster, after a battle with pancreatic cancer. He was 83.

Born in Warsaw, Poland, he survived the Nazi occupation during World War II and took part in the 1944 Warsaw Uprising as one of the Polish Boy Scouts who served as couriers between fighting positions manned by the Polish Home Army.

After the war, he studied at the University of London, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in chemistry and a doctorate in biochemistry.

In 1958, he began three years as a postdoctoral fellow in the research division of the Cleveland Clinic, then became an assistant staff member.

Mr. Gessner accepted a position as assistant professor of pharmacology at UB in 1962, became an associate professor in 1967 and a full professor in 1975. He published more than 90 scientific papers before he retired in 2006.

He was invited to be director of the UB summer program at Jagiellonian University in Krakow, Poland, in 1990 and later became director of the academic exchange program between the two schools. He served as director of UB’s Polish studies program from 1997 to 2006.

In 2000, he also became director of the Polish Academic Information Center, a joint project of UB and Jagiellonian University, and oversaw the development of its website,, into a leading source of information about Poland.

He also served as president of the Polish Arts Club of Buffalo from 1992 to 2005, dramatically increasing its membership, organizing numerous cultural programs and helping preserve the work of local Polish-American artists, notably the sgraffito murals of Jozef Slawinski.

In 2007, he was invited to become a member of the National Advisory Committee for the Kosciuszko Foundation and had been a board member of the foundation’s Western New York chapter since 2008. He served as president in 2012.

He received Jagiellonian University’s Order of Merit in 1995 and was presented with the Officers Cross of Merit of the Republic of Poland in 2006 by the Polish ambassador to the U.S.

He was the AmPol Eagle’s Man of the Year in Culture and Heritage in 1993 and Citizen of the Year-Culture in 2012. He also was honored for his work in cultural affairs in 1996 by the General Casimir Pulaski Association and the Chopin Singing Society, and in 2000 by the Western New York Division of the Polish American Congress.

Survivors include his wife of 55 years, the former Teresa Kikal; two daughters, Julia and Monica; and three grandchildren.

A celebration of his life will be held at 9:30 a.m. Tuesday in Windows on the Green at Westwood Country Club, 772 N. Forest Road, Williamsville.

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