Greg and Marie Samanisky
At the 1975 Puppeteers of America Festival in St. Charles, MO, Greg and Marie receive the Trustee's Award , which is presented for service to the organization. Mike Oznowicz, P of A President that year, congratulates them.
By 1952, Greg interested Marie in making hand puppets and a few marionettes. They started performing shows at churches, schools, and private gatherings in Minneapolis. They became known professionally as the Balalaika Puppeteers, and performed only with puppets they had made themselves. The Balalaika, is a Russian instrument that resembles a mandolin. Greg was Russian, and could play the instrument well. He could also play the piano and organ, and was a talented musician and composer.
Greg and Marie joined the TCP in 1953, and both held offices many times. They performed skits for the TCP club many times, including a turn of the century parlor theater with small cardboard people. In 1960, Marie was working at the U of M, and gave puppet demonstrations on the St. Paul campus. The students watched Marie manipulate some of her 75 puppets at the Agriculture library.
Greg and Marie made puppets from recycled objects, and also used traditional methods, such as clay models, plaster casts, paper mache and plastic wood. Greg did the building, and Marie sewed the costumes. Sometimes, Greg said that she would sew marionette clothes too tight, and he would say, "I can't move the puppet." Greg wrote an article about their performing days for a past newsletter:

"Christmas Time", by Greg Samanisky
A call comes in-"We just have to have someone perform for our Christmas party." When? "The 15th of December ." (It is now the 8th). What to do? Tell the caller it's too late, too short notice? Oh my no! Maybe raise the price? Doesn't matter; she's desperate and will pay! You have no real plan, your puppets need refurbishing, no time for that! The tape needs to be redone, you are going out of town until the 12th-but guess there is time enough; they don't really care. The weather is miserable, you know you will be tired, but the show must go on....must it? Why? You know your show is good, and if the program needs to be longer, just splice a few carols into the tape. Or, maybe have a couple of elves or candy canes do a dance. No sense in rehearsing because you did a similar show last year! I wonder where my stuff is? I hope they have a power outlet. You finally are now packed, and ask, "What time was I supposed to be there?" Oh well, if I'm early, I can set up leisurely, if I'm late, then they will have to wait. I don't want to do the show, but if I don't, someone else will, so here goes.

Around 1961, Marie was the main force in encouraging our club to become a chartered guild of the Puppeteers of America. A designated percentage of the club had to become P of A members to get the charter. Marie with her knowledge of library work, did the research. In 1962, our club received the charter and they were two of the 29 members who signed. That same year, Greg was named Vice President of the P of A. He served two terms; one of which was during Jim Henson's term as President.
Greg and Marie were two of our ten members who worked on and performed Ali Baba, Greg was director, and Marie was performer, The show was performed in 1962, 1963, and finally in 1971 for our first regional festival at the Pick-Nicollet Hotel in Minneapolis. Greg played the piano with Paul Eide, following evening pot pourris at the festival.

In the summer of 1971, the P of A asked Marie to take over the Puppetry Store, which was rapidly growing. Marie with Greg's help, used their home as the base for ordering supplies. A room held the stacks of books. There were weeks when they mailed out books everyday. Nancy Lohman Staub, Rena Prim, and June Hendricks were several of the P of A members who worked with Marie at national festivals in the store.

Working in the Puppetry Store at the 1975 Festival, Left to right: Adah Ruth Ballard, June Hendricks, Jean Jeffers, Marie Samanisky, Virginia Rivers, Florence Weber, Paul Eide, ???, John Miller. Peeking through the back, center, is Bill Hendricks.

In the 1970's, Marie and Gregg occasionally gave shows at the Minneapolis Public Library during book fair week, where they also displayed their puppet collection in window cases. They were members of the Gilbert and Sullivan Society in Minneapolis, which was one of only five founded in the United States. In 1974, Greg directed "The Gondoliers". June and Bill Hendricks became good friends, as they were also members. Bill made the sets and they all sang in the chorus. The four of them made hand and rod puppets, and performed several excerpts from "Trial by Jury", an operetta. Our TCP guild worked on and performed "Jack and the Beanstalk", which was performed several times. Greg and Marie worked on the show, along with other members.
Marie and Greg worked on their own production of "The Country Mouse and the City Mouse". Greg built the marionettes and Marie did the sewing. They built an all aluminum marionette stage, which Paul Eide later bought.
In 1975, Greg and Marie received the "Trustees Award" from the P of A. The award, established in 1974 to honor people for their service to the organization, was given for their work with the Puppetry Store. At our 1979 festival at St. Stephen's Church in Bloomington, Greg was in charge of a shadow puppet workshop, and Marie worked in the store with helpers. At the banquet, we presented Marie and Greg with our own award for their years of service to the club. That summer, Marie resigned from the P of A Store, following the National Festival at Kent State.
Marie passed away in 1980, and our club holds fond memories of an active and dear member. Greg continued attending meetings. In poor health, he still attended the Ames Festival in 1983, and managed to enjoy it taking lots of pictures. He passed away the day after returning home.
Greg and Marie were life members of St. Mary's Orthodox Church, and Greg was president several times. Marie baked for the bake sales, and organized the church projects. Greg gave church operettas, taught their bell choir, worked on Christmas programs, and led a Balalaika orchestra of eight musicians. He made a puppet replica of the orchestra which was a unit of eight mechanized puppets, dressed in Russian costumes, sitting in a row, and all strumming Balalaikas as they turned their heads. Paul Eide bought the unit from the estate after Greg's death.
They were also puppet collectors. The second floor of their home held a huge collection of at least 400 puppets of many types. Some were commercial, and many were made by professionals around the country, including Tony Sarg. It also included Virginia Houghtaling's set of bride marionettes, that were made in the 1940's for Dayton's department store. After Greg died, Gary Busk of Dallas came to town and bought a large number of their puppets.
There is a plaque on a bench out at the University of Minnesota Landscape Arboretum that reads: Greg and Marie Samanisky; in loving memory from the Minnetonka Herb Society. We loved Greg and Marie, also, and will always miss them, as they were there sharing their knowledge and goodwill with everyone who asked for help.

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Greg was born in Minneapolis, and the youngest of eight children. He attended Schiller Grade School in North East Minneapolis, and graduated from Edison High School. He went on to receive a music degree at the University of Minnesota. He taught music at high schools in Pipestone and Deephaven, Minnesota, where he also gave many community operas.
While teaching music, he went back to the U of M during evenings to work on a degree in social work. There, he met Marie, a librarian at the U, who later became a cataloguer in the University's Walter Library.
Marie, born in 1909, grew up in Minneapolis and was an only child. She once commented to June Hendricks; "Greg could have had any girl, but he married me!" They were married, and lived on Tyler Street, N.E. in Minneapolis for many years.
Greg received a degree in social work, and was employed by the Hennepin County Social Service Agency in the Adoption unit, where he worked for 28 years as a case supervisor.