Josephine Michalak was a strong woman who believed in working hard in order to provide for the needs of the family she treasured. She was a true helpmate to her husband with whom she shared more than 30 years. Life was not without adversity for Josephine, but she handled whatever came her way with a quiet strength and a timeless grace that speaks to the kind of woman she was. She leaves behind lessons in perseverance, compassion, and unconditional love amidst a beautiful tapestry of memories that will be forever held near and dear to the hearts of those she leaves behind.
The year 1917 is often remembered as the year in which our nation entered WWI, but this was not the only news of the day. This was a decade of great trial for our nation as we tried to navigate our way through issues such as unsafe working conditions, the establishment of child labor laws, and the escalation of poverty like never before. Amidst this time of great struggle, there was great joy in the family of Joseph and Mary (Labut) Barszcz since it was on March 12, 1917, that they welcomed the birth of their daughter, Josephine Mary. Born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Josephine was the middle of eight children in her family. Her parents were Polish immigrants who were looking for a better life for themselves and their children. During a decade when more children were found in the workplace than they were in school, Josephine was able to graduate from high school. By the time she graduated, our nation was in great peril due to the Great Depression and although she was a gifted student and would have liked to continue her education, Josephine went to work right after high school.
Life was never the same for Josephine after she attended a particular singles dance one fateful evening. It was there that she met the young man who would forever hold the key to her heart. His name was Vincent Michalak and after falling deeply in love, the couple was united in marriage on October 26, 1940. Not long after they became husband and wife, the couple was blessed to become the proud parents of their first of four children with the birth of Joseph in 1942. Their daughter Mary was born in 1944, their son John was born in 1947 and with the birth of Jerome “Jerry” in 1956, their family was finally complete. In order to support their family, Josephine and Vincent opened a bakery on Humboldt Avenue in 1948. During the 1950s, they opened a grocery store in the adjacent building. Not long after they opened the doors to the grocery store, there was a devastating fire in 1959 that completely gutted the store. The couple then re-opened their grocery store in the bakery, running both the store and the bakery from the same location until the repairs were completed in their store.
Although the store certainly took much of their time, Josephine and Vincent made time for their family as well. The Michalak family frequently took road trips, seeing much of what our country has to offer within its borders. Some of their most treasured trips included those to Florida, Las Vegas, Yellowstone National Park, and New York. They even went to the World’s Fair held in New York during the mid-sixties.
Great changes were in store for Josephine after the death of her beloved Vincent in 1972. She was a woman of great strength, however, and although she was deeply saddened, there were responsibilities that now fell on her shoulders. Josephine previously had her driver’s license, but didn’t start driving until after his death. She continued to operate the store, often working long hours seven days a week. Josephine could even be a bit feisty, too, as she was not afraid to confront the occasional robber who tried to steal from the cash register or items from the store. Not surprisingly, Josephine usually came out on top! She finally closed the store in 1989 after she fell and broke her hip, but continued to live in her home located directly above.
Throughout her life, Josephine made the most of the moments she was given. She enjoyed traveling, often with her children or with the church. In 1988, Josephine traveled to Poland where she was able to meet some of her relatives. Christmas was always a special time of year for Josephine, as it was a time to gather with her family. She loved hosting the entire group that grew to include eight grandchildren. Josephine always set up an extra long table so that there was enough room for everyone to fit. Her children always celebrated her birthday with her as well, usually having some sort of party in her honor.
Josephine Michalak made life such a joy for those around her. She made it seem effortless to juggle the demands of a family and a business alongside the love of her life. Josephine embraced so much of what the world had to offer while never losing sight of the true gift in each day. She was a devoted wife, mother, grandmother, and great-grandmother who will be deeply missed and warmly remembered.
Josephine Mary Michalak died at her home on September 13, 2010. Josephine’s family includes her children, Joseph Michalak, Mary (Kenneth) Kiedrowski, John Michalak, and Jerry Michalak, grandchildren, Christine, Eric, Todd, Michael, Laura, John Jr., Dawn, and Steven; sister, Leocadia Bohn; 6 great-grandchildren; as well as nieces, nephews, other relatives and friends. Josephine was preceded in death by her husband, Vincent, and her daughter-in-law, Valerie. Visit with Josephine’s family and friends on Fri. Sept. 17, 2010 at Three Holy Women Parish – St. Hedwig Church, 1702 N. Humboldt Ave. from 10:30 a.m. until time of the Funeral Mass at 12:00 Noon. Interment St. Adalbert Cemetery. Please visit www.lifestorynet.com where you can leave a favorite memory or photo or sign the online guestbook. Arrangements provided by Suminski Family Funeral Homes, Suminski / Weiss 414-276-5122.
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