JAN Stepek was one of the most remarkable examples of an immigrant’s ability to survive and prosper in a foreign land, in his case Scotland. He was born on a farm in Maczkowce, Poland, on 13th September 1922 and his early years, during which his father Wladyslaw and mother Janina struggled to bring up their three children Jan, Zofia and Danuta, were happy ones.
This hard but happy childhood was shattered in September 1939, when Poland was caught in a pincer movement. The Nazi invasion from the west was bad enough, then Stalin sent the Red Army in from the east. Wladyslaw was on a Red Army “hit list” of potential resistance leaders, so he fled to Southern Poland. Jan was never to see his father, who died from cancer in 1943, again.
Jan later enlisted in the Polish army but was struck down by typhus and had to leave for a short time. He recovered, rejoined the Polish army, but in early 1943, training in Basra, he contracted a tropical illness in Iraq, so he transferred to the Polish navy.
In February 1943 he sailed for Liverpool, before first setting foot in Scotland when sent to Kirkcaldy for training, then moving to Plymouth for further training as a radar operator.
He studied electronics at the Royal College in Glasgow and also undertook an agricultural course, before putting his war-time radar training to good use, buying parts and repairing radios. He quickly established a reputation as a reliable radio mechanic. At this time he also met, courted and in 1949 married a Rutherglen girl, Teresa Murphy. With her support, he entered the television supply business in 1952.
In 1960, a year after he took out British citizenship, the Stepeks moved to Hamilton and he branched out into car sales, travel agencies, property and financial services, while his name became known beyond his business heartland of Lanarkshire and Glasgow, through his company’s STV advertisements in association with other independent electrical retailers, Glen’s, Robertson’s and Hutchison’s.
In 1970 he was invited to join the board of Hamilton Academical and almost immediately he was plunged into a battle for survival as he helped stave off the advances of Clyde, who wanted to merge the two clubs. Accies were struggling at the foot of the old Second Division; Mr Stepek became chairman and set about taking Accies to the Premier League. In 1987, having achieved that aim, he stepped down as chairman, to become honorary president of the club.
He suffered three strokes in 2002, when aged 80, but recovered and was soon back on the golf course and tending his garden, before the ill-health which blighted his final two years forced him to stop.
Jan died 26 October 2012, Sadly his wife Teresa died less than a month after Jan, going into a coma less than a week after his funeral. He is survived by his 10 children, 22 grandchildren and 8 great-grandchildren.
One of his sons, Martin Stepek contacted Historic Hamilton and kindly donated some family pictures. This is his story:
“Hi, there are three photos of our family business shop in Quarry St. The slightly torn one is the mid to late 1960s and the middle one is when it first opened in 1959 or 1960. The last pic is my Dad (left) with I think Larry Marshall and definitely Jimmy Logan on the right. These two were at the height of their fame so caused a bit of a stir when Dad managed to get them to come and open the Quarry St shop.”
In the days before large super markets dominated the High Street Stepek’s was the place that you went to buy or rent your TV. I can recall walking into the store, looking around and seeing all of these amazing electrical objects like food blenders and American fridge freezers etc, the store was massive.
Once again I would like to thank Martin Stepek for sharing his father’s photos. They are a real snapshot in time and it allows our young people of Hamilton to gain a small insight into how a real family business was set up and ran in the town.