Mary "Dolly" J.
For Mary Colla, nothing in life was more important than seeing smiles on the faces of her family. Living a life filled with care and compassion, Mary was devoted to showing love to those around her, and was dearly loved in return. A wonderful cook who always encouraged her family to eat more, Mary was a beloved wife, mother, grandmother, aunt, and sister.
In 1922, Anthony and Maria (Pizzo) D’Amato were busy preparing their home in Milwaukee for the arrival of a new life. One summer day, on July 22, 1922, they welcomed a new precious baby into their family, a daughter who they named Mary Jane.
Mary spent her childhood in the Third Ward neighborhood of Milwaukee’s east side. The middle child of her large Sicilian family, Mary grew alongside her siblings Jake, Tony, Betty and Peter. While her father, “Nino,” was a professional musician, Mary’s mother worked as a homemaker. When Mary was a baby, she gained a new nickname—her cousin Josie claimed that she was so cute she looked just like a little “Dolly.” Over the years, the name stuck. As a child, Mary became a local celebrity after her amazing story of survival was published in the newspaper. She fell out of a second story window, and survived by hanging on the telephone lines! Mary attended Cass Street Grade School, and went to St. Rita’s Catholic Church with her family. At Lincoln High School, Mary continued to study Italian, which she had first become fluent in at home. An active teenager, Mary loved spending time with her friends and family. In her free time, she never passed up the opportunity to go dancing at The Eagle’s Club or to attend a beach party at Bradford Beach on Lake Michigan.
After high school, Mary and her sister, Betty, went to work at Sunlite Manufacturing, where they made parkas for soldiers fighting in WWII. Though they were hard workers, the sisters were often late for work. As the family learned of their persistent tardiness, they became know as Laverne and Shirley after the popular TV show aired. When Mary was still living in the Jackson Street neighborhood, she met her neighbor, a young man named Peter Colla. He became so interested in Mary that he would often sit on his porch, waiting for her to walk by each day. After a time, Peter decided to take the next step: he arranged for his mother to bring him on a visit to Mary’s home. During the visit, Peter asked Mary out on their first date. A short time later, Mary and Peter were joyfully joined as husband and wife. They exchanged vows of marriage in 1953 at St. Rita’s Catholic Church.
Mary and Peter soon decided to start a family, and Mary gave birth to her daughter, Christine. As a homemaker and mother, Mary showed a great love for caring for people, especially children. Mary showed her love through cooking, and not only to her immediate family, but to everyone, always encouraging everyone to “eat more!” Her most famous dishes were her Italian chicken, pasta with peas, and especially her Italian cookies. Mary started the tradition of baking the special cookies at Christmas, Easter and for weddings in the family.
Mary and Peter enjoyed taking an active role in their daughter’s life, particularly at her grade school at St. Hedwig’s Church. There, they helped with fundraisers and ran the church festival for 20 years. They were instrumental in renovating the school’s gymnasium through their fund-raising efforts. When Chris was a teenager at St. John Cathedral High School, Mary and Peter continued to help raise money for the school. Once, Mary even made homemade pizza for 200 people at one of the high school’s band concerts. She and Peter also raised money for the school’s athletic department through the Dad’s Club.
For Mary, family always came first–she absolutely adored her entire family. Mary treated her nieces and nephews as her own children, and was thrilled when Chris gave birth to her two grandchildren, Stephanie and Bryan. She always considered the births of her daughter and grandchildren to be the best days of her life. Mary always looked forward to Christmas and other special celebrations, which they spent with Betty’s family. She also loved the annual D’Amato Fourth of July picnics and the yearly family golf outing.
Though Mary was not enthusiastic about traveling, she enjoyed chaperoning field trips. She even “chaperoned” Chris’ 10-year high school reunion. During trips to Muskego Beach, Mary was often distraught—it was difficult for her to watch Chris and her nieces and nephews ride the roller coaster there, which Mary considered to be dangerous. At one family reunion in the Wisconsin Dells, Mary and Betty were so concerned for the children’s comfort that they slept sitting up in chairs so that the kids could have the beds.
As Mary grew older, she continued to show great compassion. When Peter was confined to a nursing home in 1991, Mary visited daily to care for him. She was devastated by his death in January 1999. In her later years, when Mary had caretakers of her own, she cared for them in return, always reminding them to take their breaks and to be sure to eat their meals.
Mary lived life to nurture and care for her family. Her nurturing was most evident in her teachings of cleanliness. Her most famous phrase was “Wash your hands!” She was meticulous about hand-washing long before it was something that the medical community emphasized to the general public. A beloved wife, mother, grandmother, aunt, and sister, Mary was dearly loved, and will be greatly missed.
Mary died on April 27, 2011. She was preceded in death by her beloved husband Peter F. Colla. Cherished mother of Christine (Steve) Schantzen. Loving grandmother of Stephanie (Derek) Van Riper and Bryan Schantzen. Special aunt of Colleen (the late Michael) Berry, Eileen (Russell) Ilk, Patrick (Kathleen) Higgins, Kathleen Sivilotti, Marilyn (Steven) Roufus and Donald Sivilotti. Dear sister of the late Betty (the late James) Higgins, the late Jake (the late Betty) D’Amato, Tony (Joanne) D’Amato and Peter (Nancy) D’Amato. Further survived by other relatives and friends.
Visitation will be held on Sunday, May 1 at the Funeral Home from 4‒7 PM, with a prayer service at 7 PM. Funeral Mass will be on Monday, May 2 at 10:00 AM at Three Holy Women Parish – St. Hedwig Church 1702 N. Humboldt Ave (MEET AT CHURCH). Entombment at Holy Cross Cemetery. Mary’s family wishes to lend a sincere “Thank You” to Dr. Larry Dean for his many years of tender, loving care. Also a special “Thank You” to Rosemarie and the staff of Anew Healthcare, as well as the staff of Franciscan Gardens and Francis House for their compassionate care and support. And a final “Thank You” to Odyssey Hospice Care at the end of her life. To learn more about Mary, leave a photo or memory and sign her online guestbook, please visit www.lifestorynet.com.
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