WESTFIELD — Last month, local business owner Petrina Fondakowski was recognized during a Westfield State University Black History Month celebration. Fondakowski could also be feted this month for Women’s History Month. She could also be lauded every day for her community contributions.

Westfield State University celebrated the inaugural Keeper of the Dream dinner at Shaker Farms Country Club, where six individuals were honored for their significant social, academic and communal contributions to their communities. The program reflected the late Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and his address from July 1962, where he remarked “We must accept finite disappointment, but never lose infinite hope.”

Fondakowski, president of Japolies Inc. and Northside Creamery in Westfield, was recognized along with Ronald Gibbons, director of emergency management in Westfield; Mustafa Thompson of the Veterans Advisory Board of West Springfield; Addison Thompson, a student at West Springfield Middle School; Tania M. Barber, president and CEO of Caring Health Center in Springfield; and Joan E. Fuller, retired director of the Urban Education Program of Westfield State University.

Petrina Fondakowski, one of six honorees at Westfield State University’s Keeper of the Dream celebration.
Photo credit: Andrew Fondakowski

According to a statement from WSU, they “were all recognized for their many accomplishments that have demonstrated integrity, resilience and drive, all of which are ideals that align with the spirit and legacy of Dr. King.”

Fondakowski said her company’s name, Japolies, refers to her heritage and her husband Andrew’s.

“I’m Jamaican and he’s Polish,” she said.

Andrew Fondakowski also owns Lynx Specialty Tapes.

Petrina Fondakowski, who is a chef, was looking to open a business but did not expect to buy an ice cream parlor. She said she grew up cooking with her family in Jamaica and has always wanted to have her own restaurant.

“I wanted to open a breakfast place,” she said.

“We were looking to open one where Tribeca is opening, but then COVID hit and it put a halt on that,” said Andrew Fondakowski.

One day, he was speaking with the owner of Northside Creamery about opening a restaurant of their own when the topic of purchasing Northside Creamery came up. It wasn’t something the Fondakowskis planned for, but when the opportunity was presented, they went for it.

“Why not start with dessert first?” said Petrina Fondakowski.

Andrew Fondakowski said they dove into the business, keeping many of the ice cream recipes the same and using local vendors, such as Kosinski Farms, for fresh ingredients as often as possible. The couple is committed to the community, which is why Petrina Fondakowski was selected for one of the inaugural Keeper of the Dream awards.

Janine Fondon, a scholar and curator of the Voices of Resilience Exhibit, gave the opening remarks at the Feb. 21 ceremony, calling for unity and progress among peoples of various backgrounds.

“As we gather today, we represent thousands of people along the timeline of history, in honor of history,” said Fondon. “Our history is shared, and the quicker we learn that we’re inextricably linked to each other, the quicker we can move forward.”

Following Fondon, Westfield Mayor Michael McCabe said, “It’s important to recognize where we come from but just as important to recognize where we’re going. We’re only going there together … we have to get there together.”

Petrina Fondakowski said working together is the key to a successful community.

“It doesn’t matter where you come from or what color you are, if you need help we will be there to help you,” she said. “That’s Dr. King’s legacy — helping each other.”

The Fondakowski family, which includes children Josie and Noah, is active at St. Mary’s Church and schools, and contributes to charitable organizations through the parish, as well as other organizations in the city.

For their family, giving back is an everyday part of life. They said they don’t consider their efforts to support others as special, so when Petrina Fondakowski was approached by McCabe to attend the Keeper of the Dream ceremony, she initially had no idea she would be honored.

“We thought she would just say a few words. It wasn’t until the week before that we found out about the recognition,” Andrew Fondakowski said.

Petrina Fondakowski said she was honored and humbled, and she was happy to see that Black History Month was being celebrated. But soon she was back to business, planning for the spring opening of Northside Creamery on March 23.

“We will be open every day from 3 to 8 p.m., then starting Mother’s Day we are open daily from 2 to 9 p.m.,” she said, adding that she is happy to be part of the community, supporting its schools, sports teams and other organizations.

“We just want to help our neighbors,” she said, “that’s what Dr. King did.”