Meet EA’s Caroline Merk, Brussels to Poland Traveling the World

by | Oct 19, 2021 | EA Staff News, EA Stories, Featured Bloggers

EA: Caroline, tell us about yourself, where you grew up, schooled, worked, and have lived.
CM: I was the first American-born in my family and spent my early childhood in the NYC area. My parents spoke Polish to us at home, taught us to read and write in Polish before kindergarten. They spoke French to each other, educated in Belgium, where they met and married. We moved back to Brussels for two years while my father worked on his Ph.D. at my parents’ alma mater, the Université Catholique de Louvain. They enrolled me, my younger sister, and my older brother in French schools to become fluent in French. We traveled a lot within Europe, igniting my lifelong passion for exploring the world.Next our family of five moved to Rocky River. My father went to work for NASA where he spent the next 37 years. We attended Rocky River public schools then I attended Cleveland State University for 2 years. With no idea what to do with my life, my parents sent me to stay with French friends for the summer for perspective. I met a couple from Paris who asked me to be an au pair for their 2yo son. I moved in and enrolled at Alliance Française, French language academy for foreigners. I grew up, learned to rely on myself, be independent, and enjoy my own company.

Returning to the States, I transferred to Ohio State University, majoring in Journalism with an emphasis on Public Relations and a minor in French. For two months after graduation, I traveled the country with high school friends in an old station wagon and a tent. I applied to and was hired by Pan Am and traversed the globe from my base at JFK for a decade, a dream come true! I married Michael Merk, moved back to Cleveland, and commuted to NYC. Our wedding took place in Brussels in the same Gothic cathedral that my parents were married in, another dream come true!

EA: How long have you worked at EA and where would you call home in Cleveland?
CM: We moved to Dallas, Texas, and to Richmond, Virginia for Michael’s career. Eventually, we settled in Bay Village – our home for the next 27 years. Soon after, I began my part-time work with Executive Arrangements for over a quarter century! Every candidate is different, no two days are alike. I’ve had the pleasure and privilege of meeting so many interesting people, including my colleagues! I am proud to highlight our world class museums, orchestra, and theater district. Enjoy showing off our vast lakefront, which no one expects, least of all beaches. It’s such a pleasure to see skeptics turn into fans. I spent 10 years as Special Events Coordinator for Great Lakes Theater at Playhouse Square followed by 17 years as a writer/photographer for Currents, a monthly newspaper.During our time on the westside of Cleveland, Michael started his own business which took him to Hong Kong frequently. I accompanied him whenever I could, which of course, I relished! It became my “Asian Manhattan!” On our return flights, inevitably there were families coming back home with their adopted Chinese children. Having always wanted to be a mother, we decided “to go for it.” (I am also a stepmother to Michael’s two adult children.) Three years later, we flew to China to pick up our own toddler daughter, Gabrielle, who we call Gigi. She is my third dream come true!EA: You’ve had an eventful couple of years, becoming an empty nester, moving a daughter to college during a pandemic, AND moving yourself! Silver linings?CM: I loved every age; every aspect of being Gigi’s mother who came to us with so many inherent gifts. Gigi excelled in academics and sports, member of the National Honor Society and was named All-Ohio (soccer) Goalie in her senior year in 2020. Due to COVID, there was no graduation ceremony, prom, or our promised family trip for Gigi to Asia. And more changes during the pandemic; we decided to downsize, and found a perfect townhouse in Concord. I put lockdown time to good use by going through all the “stuff” one accumulates over the years. It was a hard move for me; change is not easy. But I believe that one must be open to change and to take risks, otherwise life can stagnate. A benefit of our new domicile is that we are 45 minutes closer to Rochester Institute of Technology, where Gigi is now a sophomore.EA: Just home from long travels will you share your extraordinary trip?
CM: I recently returned from a 3-week trip to Poland. My aunt, Walentyna (nee Stocker) Janta-Polczyńska, died in NYC at the age of 107. I took her ashes to be interred in Warsaw next to her husband, as per her wishes. She was honored with a state funeral, sanctioned by President Andrzej Duda, with full military honors including a 21-gun salute. It was an incredible tribute to an extraordinary lady.
During WWII, she was the personal secretary and interpreter for the Polish Prime Minister-in-exile, General Władysław Sikorski, head of the Polish armed forces in London. She was privy to the highest levels of intelligence, charged with transcribing and translating oral reports from the underground courier who first brought news of the existence of Nazi concentration camps to the West. Allied leaders, including Churchill and FDR, did not believe the camps existed. Along with the British, my aunt established a clandestine radio station which broadcast from Bletchley Park to occupied Poland and served as its first speaker.
After the war, as a 2nd lieutenant, she was dispatched to Germany to assist the American forces as a translator. She debriefed survivors of concentration camps and those released from prisoner of war camps. Fast forward, emigrating to the U.S., she married and settled in Elmhurst, into the home which was the gathering place for the Polish émigré elite for many, many years. In fact, a portion of the street they lived on has just been renamed in my aunt and uncle’s honor. I accomplished what I set out to do in Poland but also had a wonderful time with family and friends.EA: Could you share some of your Cleveland favorites?
CM: When asked about favorite restaurants, Johnny’s Bar on Fulton and Blue Point Grill have been on my list for years, more recently have added Astoria, Parallax and Sapphire Creek Winery. I am an art aficionado, so I greatly enjoy checking out exhibits at the Cleveland Museum of Art and the Akron Art Museum, attending art openings at the Cleveland Institute of Art and our many fine galleries. Every year I attend the Cleveland International Film Festival and the Chagrin Documentary Festival. These are among the things I like to share with our Executive Arrangements clients. There is so much to do here!