obit template2018-11-29T12:10:12+00:00

Josephine Mary

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 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.

Past Comments

Dawn Warpechowski

I do remember, as a child being so excited to get to go by Grandma’s house. It was always an adventure; from being able to eat as much candy as I wanted from the grocery store, to getting to feed her pet bird, to touring the “butchers” basement and winding stairs to the attack. At Grandma’s store is where I learned how to work a cash register and how to be nice to customers coming in. These are only a few of the many memories that I will hold and cherich forever. Thank you Grandma, you will be missed.

Love always and forever ~Dawn.

John A. Michalak Jr.

Being introduced to Now & Laters, Lemon Heads, those little flying saucer waffers with the bead candy inside them, boston baked beans. The Kitchen, the bird, eating rice krispy’s in the kitchen. Getting pushed on a crate down the steel ramp that was attached to the semi when food deliveries came to stock the store. The scary basement. Wandering around the scary basement finding all sorts of strange tools and machinery. Sleeping over for the first time and having the Coo Coo clock keep me up all night. The garden out back and picking fruit off the plants. The grand Chirstmas meals. The sign on the wall behind the register that said “shop lifters will be beaten stabbed and shot, survivors will be prosecuted” or something like that. Working the cash register. Listening to my grandmother tell me how she picked up the cash register and threw it on a would be robber while then chasing him and throwing cans at him. I always liked going over by her. She never had any bad information for me. I remember when she took me to play bingo at her church. It seemed like everyone knew her. I remember going to church with her and thought how cool the church was. I always like going down by her place with my friends in my car and say look at the sign, “Michalak’s Food Store”. I still do that today with the firedepartment if I am working in that area. I feel so proud that she was responsible for a landmark in Milwaukee with our name on it. These are the many things that stand out to me when I think of my grandmother. I will miss you and you will never be forgotten. Love always, your grandson John.

John Michalak Sr

Memories — Some of my earliest —

She kept the home warm – carrying a five gallon oil pail from the basement storage area to the kitchen oil heater. Place a pot of water on top (the era’s Aprilaire).

She eventually forgave me for Carving “John” into the bedroom wall.

As we walked to the Brady Street A & P, she showed me how to skip (Didn’t know a grown-up could do that).

She rescued me from my first day at St. Hedwig Grade School where I cried so disruptively the nun had to send me home.

Co-signed for my first car. (Too trusting I think)

Too many memories to handle right now.

Thanks for being my Mom. Miss you — Love you forever .


Bea Bratkowski

Jo — I will always remember how you took me under your wing when Gene died. You were the friend I wished for all my life — and now I lost you. But you will always be in my heart. We had good times going to Vegas, Canada, and on cruises. We shared many private thoughts to console each other. I will miss you. Say hello to Gene for me. Love Always, Bea

Fr. Ronald Crewe

Josie, Reggie Quigley, Fr. Mel Breit and I went to Paris, did the pilgrimage starting in Paris at the Tour S. Jacques on to Tours and then on to Compostella and the great Shrine of St. James in Spain. We went on to Fatima and some relaxing in southern Portugal. When we arrived in Paris the cab driver on the way in from the Airport told us that there was a good restaurant across from our hotel. I’ll say. It was marvelous and expensive. The next day Reggie suggested we go back and Josie said, “Well, when the money’s gone it’s gone.” Reggie treated for that dinner. At the seaside hotel in Portugal we were having lunch and looking out at the beach just outside the window where topless mothers tending their kids playing in the sand. Josie didn’t bat an eye and felt that things were different there. Josie was a good friend in my years at St. Hedwig. I loved her and will always think of ther fondly. I’ll offer Mass for the repose of her soul soon.

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