Smart and independent, Celia Ann Suminski was a woman with a mission. Whether it was pursuing a graduate degree, selflessly serving families during her long career, or enthusiastically facing new challenges in her retirement years, Celia pursued everything with a purpose and vigor that was guided by her compassion.
On March 8, 1923, John and Anastasia (Landowski) Suminski were privileged to introduce their newest baby girl, Celia Ann, to their already large family. Delivered by Dr. John Schneider at St. Mary’s Hospital in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Celia was the youngest of six children. Her siblings, Elizabeth (Betty), Angeline (Ange), John, Raymond, and Edward would lend her a helping hand as needed, and she in turn was grateful for their love and support.
Growing up in a three-bedroom flat above the family’s funeral home on Milwaukee’s Lower East Side, Celia learned how to share, how to pitch in, and how to be part of a supportive community. Her parents encouraged all of the children to look out for each other and for those who were hurting around them. In later years, Celia credited them for helping develop her servant’s heart, a trait that would guide the course of her entire life.
At the tender age of three-and-a-half, Celia started walking the half-block to grade school at St. Hedwig, the family parish. She graduated from the eighth grade in January of 1936. Celia continued her education with a two-year scholarship to Mercy High School and then transferred to Messmer High School, graduating with the class of 1939. During her school years, Celia learned to play the piano and accordion and accompany her brothers who also played multiple instruments.
Around the time of her high school graduation, Celia’s mother died. She was just sixteen. She continued to live with her dad and brothers Ray and Ed in the flat while she attended Marquette University. While brothers Ray and Ed were serving in the military, she had access to Ray’s car, but since she didn’t have a license, she often persuaded her friend Dorothy Olson to drive her down Wisconsin Avenue or to the Lakefront. Her father died suddenly in 1944, the same year Celia graduated with her BA in Philosophy.
Ray, Ed and older brother John managed the family funeral home. Celia helped out where she could, until leaving for St. Louis University to pursue graduate studies in Social Services in1946 & ’47. By 1949, Ray and Ed had married and started families. Celia’s older sister Betty had been living in California for several years and Celia followed, with Betty driving her to the coast in the car Celia had purchased but didn’t know how to drive.
In July of 1950, she was hired by the Holy Family Adoption Agency (HFAA) in downtown Los Angeles and fell in love with her job as a caseworker for adoptions and children’s services, including foster care. She earned her Masters in Social Work from the University of Loyola in Chicago in 1959, then as HFAA expanded, Celia transferred to a management position at their Santa Ana office and the sisters moved to Orange, California. In between studies and work, she carved out the time to sew many of her own outfits for work. She also spent time knitting and crocheting sweaters and afghans for herself and family members.
Celia found fulfillment in her job because of the direct impact she was able to make on the lives of others. She was available to anyone with any sort of family need, whether it was pregnancy, family conflict, or child placement. Her willingness to listen with sincerity and wisdom made her a perfect fit for HFAA’s philosophy of empathy and service to parents who faced difficult decisions. She considered it a privilege to train and counsel prospective adoptive couples and loved to see healing take place among the hurting.
Celia’s call to be a comfort to people rang again when her oldest nephew Bill Druml Jr. “Bo” passed away at 33 in Concord, California in 1971 while attending law school.Bo was a Civil Engineer. He and wife Mary had 3 small children. Celia provided support and comfort to the young family through Bo’s illness, his passing, and their eventual transition back to Wisconsin.
Celia and Betty traveled back to Milwaukee by train every Christmas to visit family; they stayed with their sister Ange. Sadly, those trips together ended when Betty died from cancer in 1966. It was painful for Celia to watch her sister suffer, but she was grateful for the time they had spent together in California for more than a decade. Celia remained in Orange until her retirement in 1988.
Celia did take vacations sometimes, although work was never far from her mind. As a girl, she had acquired an appreciation for travel when she visited the southern and southwestern United States with her father. She went on a color tour in 1977 to the East Coast and Canada. She also traveled to Europe by ship in 1961 and toured the continent for thirty-five days. She went again in 1980 with her sister-in-law to visit a nephew in Germany to experience the Passion Play in Oberammergau, an elaborate production that the small town traditionally performs just once every ten years.
Celia retired from HFAA in 1988, but that was just the beginning of new adventures for her. Over the years, she had become like a second mother to her niece Margaret and nephews Richard and Robert who had moved to California; in 1990 she moved to Oceanside in order to be closer to them. She demonstrated her strong religious faith by attending mass daily at her new parish, Mission San Luis Rey, and immediately began volunteering there. She answered the phone, worked in the Mission Museum, served on the Bereavement Committee and as Wedding Coordinator, was a member of the St. Claire Small Christian Community, was a Eucharistic minister to the sick, and helped in social services. She remained close with her HFAA family that included Sister Bertille, Sister Susan, and many others. She would meet with her former colleagues to enjoy lunch or a special occasion. When she wasn’t volunteering at the Mission Parish or meeting with friends, she was either out shopping for bargains or kept busy by reading.
She also enrolled in classes including Chinese brush painting, watercolor painting, calligraphy, and computer. She was a firm believer in exercise and practiced her preaching that “motion is lotion” by attending exercise classes regularly. She added to her many travels with another extended visit to Europe as well as trips to Mexico, China, and the Holy Land. She enjoyed road trips with her niece Mary Angela and RV excursions with friends Betty and Marge which were a highlight for her. The trips included stops in Branson, Missouri; Bend, Oregon; New Mexico, Lake Tahoe, Las Vegas, and Death Valley. Celia especially enjoyed local casino trips where she loved playing the nickel slots. She visited Milwaukee for Suminski family reunions in 2001 and 2005, where she enjoyed catching up with several nieces and nephews and their families.
Celia looked forward to frequent visits with her family. She was a gracious hostess, known for her hot chicken casserole topped with potato chips, potato casserole, and dump cake. Those from out of town were treated to interesting local events that Celia had scouted out in the newspaper rather than just standard tourist attractions. Every Christmas she shared her favorite homemade desserts with friends and family including peanut butter ice box cookies, melting moments, rum balls and Jewish coffee cake.
Celia moved to an independent living center in Vista, Ca in the last few years as her health began to decline. She celebrated her 90th birthday on March 8th, commenting to all, “I have had a good life.” She died peacefully at home on May 22, 2013.
Her lifetime of service to those struggling to find answers is a shining example to all who knew her. She stated that the reason her work was rewarding was because she was able to give hope to others. Her greatest satisfaction came from seeing others succeed. She leaves a great legacy for her precious nieces, nephews, many great and great-great nieces and nephews, and dear friends.
A Memorial Mass will be held Wednesday, June 19, 2013, at 1:00 PM at Mission San Luis Rey Parish Chapel, 4070 Mission Avenue, Oceanside, CA, 92057, with a reception to follow. An additional service will be held in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, in September, followed by internment at Holy Cross Cemetery. Please visit Celia’s personal memory page at www.SuminskiFuneralHome.com where you may share a favorite memory or photo and sign the online guest register.