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Celeste Konopka is certainly a peach. Celeste teaches music magnificently, magically to little kids. She could school the Buddha on serenity, too.

By Kevin Somers
Published September 18, 2013

It's a great name, Konopka. It's quite a family, too.

My friend, Celeste Konopka, is certainly a peach. Celeste teaches music magnificently, magically to little kids. She could school the Buddha on serenity, too.

It seemed unlikely, but, a few years back, I asked her, anyway, "Are you related to Zenon Konopka?"

She replied, "Yes, he's my brother. Do you know him?"

"Yeah. I'm on hockeyfights.com everyday."

Indeed, religiously during hockey season, I visit the site and watch the fights, seeking bliss.

Over the last few seasons, Zenon Konopka, sweet and petite Celeste's little brother, has been one of the NHL's most frequent and effective pugilists. Never drafted and not big, "Zen" has fought, in every sense, his way into the National Hockey League, the player's pinnacle.

In January, 2012, while Zenon was with the Ottawa "Zenators," the club invited Cynthia Konopka, the middle child, to sing "Oh Canada" before a game against the Jets.

Cynthia and Zenon team up for charity, as well. She said, "We are a close family. My brother and I are very involved with stopconcussions.com and have a wine called 'ZK 28' to benefit this great cause. We've always been interested in helping others, hence our frequent involvement with charities and foundations in need."

On Friday, September 16, at 7:00 pm, Cynthia, who's also playing violin, is headlining "Sacred Sounds," at St. Mary's Church, on Park St. North. Sacred Sounds is an effort to raise money for Many Mansions Spiritual Centre's wheelchair accessibility campaign.

Sacred Sounds
Sacred Sounds

Cynthia said, "I have become involved in The Many Mansions Spiritual Centre over the last year and enjoy playing violin and singing for the healing sessions the centre provides. It has opened my heart and soul to people through my music. When I heard the centre was in need of funds to install a wheelchair lift, I didn't hesitate to do benefit concert." 

Celeste spoke about her family. Their father, Zenon Edward Konopka, was born Nov. 28, 1935, in Poland. During the war, he and his family fled to Canada by way of Siberia, North African refugee camps, and England.

Celeste said, "He arrived in Canada in 1948, penniless. My father got a job working at General Motors, in St. Catherine's when his was 15 and stayed there for decades. He married my mother, Arlene, on May 8, 1965.

"My father was a workaholic. All his life he dreamed of having a farm, so he bought one, as soon as he was able to. We grew up on a 54-acre fruit farm in Niagara-On-The-Lake and all of us had to work as soon as we could walk. It's the way it was, when the apples were ready, they had to be picked. If 1000 boxes of grapes had to be filled, they had to be filled."

Family friends, The Konopka children, and a big grape picker.
Family friends, The Konopka children, and a big grape picker.

"That's where we got our work ethic."

The arts were a big part of the Konopka family, as well. Celeste played violin in the Niagara Youth Orchestra. Twice she toured Europe. She has a Bachelor of Music and Bachelor of Education from Western, where she played with the University orchestra. Eternally optimistic, Celeste plays weddings. 

Cynthia also spoke of her extensive involvement in the arts. She said, "I have been playing the violin since age 3 and the piano since six. I've been a part of various quartets, chamber ensembles, and orchestras, including the Niagara Youth Orchestra, and The Boris Brott Summer Muisc Festival Orchestra." She has studied voice and received a teaching degree from the University of Western Ontario.

The Konopkas took Polish dancing, as children, too. Celeste laughed, shook her head, and said, "Even Zen."

Tragedy hit the family when their father was killed in a tractor accident. "I was 18 and going to university," Celeste said. "Cynthia was 15 and Zenon was only 13. It was especially hard for him. He was playing Triple A. Zenon and my dad were really close because of hockey.

"It was amazing how the community came together to help him, help us all. Coaches and other parents made sure Zen got driven to all his games and practices." Another drive put him in the NHL. In ten years, since turning pro, he's played for 16 teams in four leagues.

A Zen aphorism Zenon obviously subscribes to: Before Enlightenment, chop wood carry water. After Enlightenment, chop wood carry water. Celeste said, "I'm really proud of how hard Zenon has worked to get into the NHL. He has spent years training not only the physical body with rigorous exercise and excellent nutrition, but has also prepared himself psychologically to achieve his professional level of optimism, work ethic, and leadership skills.

"Of course, he would never admit it, but he learned that from me picking apples and grapes in the fruit field," she said with a big smile.

Zenon being inducted into the Niagara-On-The-Lake Hall of Fame with Arlene, Celeste, and Cynthia.
Zenon being inducted into the Niagara-On-The-Lake Hall of Fame with Arlene, Celeste, and Cynthia.

Cynthia has her own music studio, where she teaches piano, violin, and voice. She said, "Music is a method of expressing oneself and a unique way to speak to the soul."

Cynthia is looking forward to Friday's performance at St. Mary's. She said of her fellow musicians, "Robert Bruce and I perform together often. I enjoy playing his original works, which include solo violin. I've performed with Igor Saika-Voivod, a phenomenal musician, composer and conductor and with Mate Szegeti, a wonderful flutist and conductor, previously, as well."

For tickets, please call 1-905-325-9733 or 1-289-396-7699.

Kevin Somers is a Hamilton writer.


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