Pat Belczak educates about history, antiques

By Jeff Smith

Jason Peters, Hill City Area Chamber of Commerce board president, hands the Lifetime Achievement Award to Pat Belczak, of Heart of the Hills Antiques, Firearms and Collectibles at the Chamber Awards Banquet on April 21.

Pat Belczak has been a long-time community member and business owner in Hill City. 

At the 2018 Hill City Area Chamber of Commerce awards banquet Belczak received the Lifetime Achievement Award. She started clapping and didn’t even realize that she was the one who had received the award.

She was shocked and surprised.

“I thought that it was wonderful people think that much of me,” Belczak  said.

Belczak and her son, Joe, moved to Hill City in 2005. Together, they operate the Heart of the Hills Antiques, Firearms and Collectibles.

Belczak said the people that they meet are phenomenal.

“I enjoy it completely and I intend to get back to it as soon as I can regain my health,” Belczak said.

She has had to limit her time spent in the shop due to issues with her health.

To her, antiques are a way to remember history. She likes people to understand what the antiques mean to her.

“Once they are gone we’ll never see them again,” Belczak said.

Antiques are a way to keep history alive.

She always enjoys telling people what they have and what it’s worth. She and Joe constantly study history and stay up-to-date with the latest trends in antiques.

The most interesting part of working in an antique shop, Belczak said, is telling people what they have.

“A lot of people don’t realize that they have treasures,” Belczak said.

Many people come in with a family heirloom and they are able to hear the truth about what they have. It might be something that they have wondered about for years.

Joe is also an appraiser and also works for the 1880 Train/Black Hills Central Railroad throughout the year.

Kathy Skorzewski is her daughter and is serving on the Hill City common council.

Belczak has been coming to the area for 40 years. Her great-grandparents homesteaded in the area beginning in 1913. She has always loved the Black Hills and the people here.

Before she settled down in Hill City, Belczak was an office manager for a business handling international and American concerns. She previously lived in the Chicago area. Coming to the Hill City area was a totally different environment.

“Everytime I wake up, I look out that window and thank God that I’m here,” Belczak said.

The Antiques show put on by the South Dakota Railroad Museum and the Heart of the Hills Antiques, Firearms and Collectibles was formed 11 years ago.

“We started it to encourage funding for the senior center and the railroad museum,” Belczak said.

Although there is usually not that much raised for the senior center and museum, the event lets people know what antiques are about.

The event, held in March, opens up the town. The people who attend also become interested in Hill City.  A lot of people come through town to see antiques, either as collectors themselves or as supporters of the event.

The event started at the Hill City senior center with seven tables and it has expanded to have around 30 tables of antiques.

Belczak came up with the idea of the Antiques Show to promote not only antiques but also the community.

“It was not just about antiques but an event that the community could share and enjoy,” Mills said, who has helped organize the event.

The event has always been a way to help out the city because people come through the town to go to the restaurants and sleep in the hotels. People also find their way to the shops.

Rick Mills, executive director of the South Dakota State Railroad Museum, has known the Belczaks since they came to Hill City.

Mills said Pat is like a mother hen, willing to help and offer advice.

He said she is a joy to be around and anything that needs to happen she can be counted on to make it happen.

“She also generally enjoys it,” Belczak said.

When Mills was developing the museum about 10 years ago, he and the Belczaks clicked right away. Mills said that she was always someone who became a part of the community right away.

“She is generous with her time to help put on the antique show and other events,” Belczak said.

Janet Wetovick-Bily, Hill City Area Chamber of Commerce Executive Director, said Pat Belczak has long-championed Hill City, its merits, its businesses and happenings. 

“I have only known Pat since I’ve come to work here in Hill City but know she has been a long-time advocate for the main street merchants,” Wetovick-Bily said.

Mills said even though she is from the Chicago area, moving to the Black Hills was like coming home for her. Mills said Belczak appreciated the community for what it is before she came here.

Pat Belczak is somebody who is community-minded and had her hand in the Main Street marketing group. Outside of Hill City, she has had decades of business experience.

She and Mills have always gotten along well. He said it is a blessing to have her in this community and a part of the museum.

“I always got along with her family,” Mills said.“Personally, she is really kind and generous person.”

The education that she gives people is important. She wants people to know about history and the value of items that might be sitting on their mantelpiece.

She said the people are wonderful and she enjoys working with them. A lot of good people have come through the doors of the Heart of the Hills Antiques, Firearms and Collectibles.

She has been involved in the Hill City Merchants Association since the beginning. This is the group that promotes Hill City Main Street businesses.

Even when it’s the off-season they encourage businesses to be open. She pushes businesses to be open and do different things.

She would like Hill City to be a year-round tourist destination.

Her own antiques shop is open year-round.

Belczak has also collected antiques for 55 years. Her son has collected antiques for 40 years.

“I came from the southside of Chicago and we lived in an old three-story. My grandparents were there and I saw a lot of antiques growing up there as a child,” Belczak said.

Even though she is from Chicago she has strong feelings about South Dakota and South Dakotans.

“The finest people come from South Dakota,” Belczak said.

“I have many friends here and they have all been very good to me.”