For Irene Pogorzelski, nothing in life was more joyful than time spent with those she loved. An honest and caring woman, Irene lived her life with great faith, and was a true encouragement to those around her. A beloved wife, mother and grandmother, Irene will be dearly missed.
The 1920’s swept into the United States bringing great change to the nation. Shaken from the terrors of the First World War, the United States showed resilience, entering into an era of prosperity and social change known as the Roaring Twenties. The beginning of prohibition, the 1920’s were an age of adventure and rebellion, a time of speakeasies and jazz, flappers and bobbed hair styles. In Portage County, Wisconsin, Charles and Susie (Palash) Sopa were kept busy through the 1920’s as they joyfully anticipated a new addition to their family. One cold winter day, on December 17, 1925, they welcomed a new life into their home, a baby girl who they named Irene Elizabeth.
Irene spent her childhood on her family’s farm, growing up with her seven brothers and four sisters. Irene was the fourth of the thirteen children in her family, and the oldest daughter. The Sopas were a large Catholic family, and Irene had Catholic values instilled in her at a young age. She continued to stay true to these values throughout her life, and cherished her beliefs. Most of Irene’s early childhood was spent during the Great Depression, with Irene and her siblings working on the family farm. Fortunately, their large family provided many farm hands. Each of the children had chores to do. Being the oldest daughter, Irene often helped her mother care for the younger children. One of her least favorite tasks was helping in the slaughter of chickens. She never enjoyed participating in that chore, but as she would later tell her own children, “If you wanted to eat, you had to kill it.”
Irene attended grade school in a one-room school house in the Portage County Area, and completed school through the eighth grade. She found great pleasure in being part of a farming community, and enjoyed taking part in cooking meals for neighborhood wedding celebrations. When she was young, Irene and her cousin Jeanette were quite close. Irene was often referred to as Jeanette’s twin. The two of them spent much time together, getting into trouble every now and then. Once, they got hold of a pot of chocolate pudding that had been prepared for a wedding celebration, and together they finished off the whole thing. After that incident, Irene would never eat chocolate pudding again, even refusing to make it for her children.
In 1942, Irene moved to Milwaukee where Irene found work at a lithographic company. She moved into a rooming house on Milwaukee’s east side owned by Roman and Mary Pogorzelski. One night, Irene was settled down for the evening at home in her nightgown and her hair set in pin-curls when her landlady Mary knocked on the door. Mary insisted that Irene come down, as her son had just returned home on leave from the Army. Irene was reluctant to leave her room especially dressed as she was, but did so anyway. And she never once regretted it as that was the night she met Frank Pogorzelski, the man who she would marry. After that first meeting the two entered into a great love affair. In March of 1946, Frank was discharged from the service. On May 8, 1948, Frank and Irene were married at St. Mary’s Church in Fancher, WI. Their union was met by a three day celebration on the family farm, where Irene’s parents supplied half a cow, a full pig and homemade chicken noodle soup for all the guests.
Irene and Frank started their family in 1949 with the birth of a daughter, Carol. Over the next ten years, Irene gave birth to five more children, Eugene, Mark, Janice, Marcia and Joyce. Having developed great homemaking skills in her childhood, Irene was a wonderful mother. She enjoyed making meals from scratch for her family, and cared for her children lovingly. Always a hard worker who disliked laziness, Irene instilled this value in her children, assigning chores to each child. Family life on Astor Street was very structured, with lunch at noon and dinner at 5 PM every day, a schedule Irene continued to follow through the years. Irene was hearing impaired for most of her adult life and required the use of hearing aids. Often, when the kids were being too rambunctious or loud, Irene would simply turn down her hearing aids to give herself a break. She used a similar tactic to sleep through Frank’s snoring during the night, as well.
When her children reached school age, Irene rejoined the work force, taking a job at Boston Store as a sales clerk. Through working in a number of departments, Irene grew into a great shopper, often combining her employee discount with a sales price to get a marvelous deal. She was an effective negotiator, and often commented that Boston Store should pay her to shop for them! Irene loved the chance to socialize with friends and family. She enjoyed dancing, playing cards and bingo, gardening, cooking and baking. Irene was a faithful and active member of St. Hedwig’s Church. You could always count on her to help with rummage sales and the Christmas Cookie sale. She would regularly assist with the cleaning of “God’s House”. Irene was involved with the Home & School Association, the Altar Society, and the Christian Women’s group.
As they both grew older, Frank’s health began to diminish and Irene became his primary care giver. On May 8, 1998, Irene and Frank joyfully celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary. Frank died on September 17, 1998. The following year, Irene began to develop health issues as well, beginning with a mild cognitive disorder. Irene suffered a fall which resulted in a slow to heal spinal injury and she later developed dementia. She continued living in her home until 2008 at which time she moved into the Jewish Home and Care Center. Although as a strong Catholic woman she could not be convinced that this was true. Irene was endeared to her caregivers at the Jewish Home where she received very loving and compassionate care. She entered eternal life on Saturday, February 12, 2011.
Irene was a caring and honest woman who believed in the power of love, which was driven by her faith. With a deep love for God and her children, Irene was a wonderful role model for her family, and a true blessing to those around her. A beloved wife, mother, and grandmother, Irene will be dearly missed, but fondly remembered.
Irene was preceded in death by her beloved husband Frank. She is the cherished mother of Carol (Lee) Potrykus, Eugene (the late Sharon), Mark, Janice, Marcia (Jeff) Edgar and Joyce Pogorzelski; loving grandmother of Christopher (Joanne) Swanson, Adam (Lori) Potrykus and Bryan (Crystal) Pogorzelski; great- grandmother of Christopher II, Isabel, Maxwell, Joel, Haley and Ethan; dear sister of Mike (the late Mary Ann) Sopa, Lorraine (Rhody) Studinski, Bernice (Steve) Haka, Marian (George) Donovan, Charles (Jan) Sopa, Ernestine (Ronald) Kontney, the late Donald (Sharon) Sopa, the late Harry (the late Phyllis) Sopa, the late Gregory (the late Joanne) Sopa, the late Richard Sopa and the late Clarence Sopa. She is further survived by other relatives and friends.
Friends may greet the family on Thursday, February 17 at Three Holy Women Parish – St. Hedwig Church 1702 N. Humboldt Ave. from 9:00 AM until time of the Mass of Christian Burial at 11:00 AM. Private entombment at Holy Cross Cemetery. Irene’s family wishes to extend a special thank-you to all of Irene’s caregivers for their loving, compassionate care and friendship. In lieu of flowers, memorials to Three Holy Women Parish Legacy Fund would be appreciated. Please visit www.lifestorynet.com, where you can leave a photo or memory and sign the online guestbook.