Rose "Dolly" Rita
Rose Rita “Dolly” Panella’s beauty not only shone bright on the outside, but radiated from within her beautiful heart. With boundless love and admiration, she loved her family beyond compare. Rose was a woman of fortitude and was deemed by far one of the most courageous and independent women anyone knew. She overcame the tremendous obstacles and challenges as hearing impaired, but she did so with a grace and spunk all her own. Often outspoken in the most colorful ways, she possessed the wonderful ability to sign effectively.
As the U.S. quickly advanced as a world power during World War I, the year 1917 was most certainly a time of advancement and struggle. The introduction of the moving assembly line increased America’s ability to produce goods, and it also motivated a united front among laborers for fair labor practices. The daughter of Italian immigrants Frank and Angelina Chiero, Rose was welcomed into the world on July 16, 1917. Although a twin at birth, her twin sister sadly died shortly after being born.
Their home was in a close knit Italian community on the west side of Chicago, Illinois on Chicago Avenue. The youngest of six children, her siblings included her sister, Marion, and brothers, Mike, Ralph, Louie and Frank. They were a typical Italian family who treasured their Italian heritage and family ties. Rose Rita was such a beauty that during her childhood people began calling her Dolly, a name that remained with her.
Dolly had many challenges in life. As a toddler it was discovered she couldn’t hear, and in those days it was difficult to determine the cause. It was believed her hearing impairment was the result of a fall she took as an infant down a steep set of stairs. Along with being the youngest and because of her disability, Dolly’s sister and brothers were extremely protective of her. Together they communicated through their own form of sign language and tried teaching Dolly to speak, which is often a difficult challenge for anyone who has lost the ability to hear.
Like many siblings, there was a hidden agenda on her brother’s part when they taught their baby sister popular swear words of that era. Her brothers Mike and Frank often took pride and credit for how clearly Dolly could pronounce some of their favorite “swears”.
During her educational years, Dolly attended a special school in Chicago. A likable young woman, outgoing and fun loving, she maintained many of the friendships she made over the years, especially two of her dearest and lifelong friends, Maryann and Norma who remained close well into their 80s. Both Maryann and Norma preceded Dolly in death which proved to be a heartfelt loss for her.
Over the years Dolly watched as her siblings grew up, fell in love, got married, went to war, and had families. Following school she began working in a local Chicago factory where she enjoyed the friendships of many. With a beauty all her own, Dolly’s friends and coworkers submitted a picture of her to a beauty contest, and without her knowledge. As she came to work one day, newspaper photographers and reporters were there snapping her picture. Not understanding the commotion, she finally understood when someone explained why all the fuss was being made over her and the reason for being handed a trophy. During this time, Dolly was devoted to her job, joined the Chicago Club for the Deaf and continued to live at home with her parents.
Since Dolly was such a sports fan, it wasn’t unusual for her to go to sporting events at the Club. While attending a basketball game sponsored by the club, Dolly met a handsome young man from Milwaukee named Anthony Panella. Her heart forever changed, it wasn’t long before Dolly and Tony fell in love. They were married in 1945 at St. Rita’s Church in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and it was then that Dolly left her home and family behind in Chicago. Together Dolly and Tony set-up house in Milwaukee next door to his parents and brother, Joe and his wife Ann. Like her own family, the Panella’s were a close knit family steeped in Italian tradition. Welcomed with open arms, they loved Dolly right from the start, especially her father-in-law, Nick. He affectionately referred to her as “crapetta”, which in Italian means little lamb.
In 1946 Tony and Dolly welcomed the birth of their son, Richard who brought Dolly great joy. Although most women didn’t work outside the home, Dolly did her part to contribute to the family income. She began working at Nunn-Bush Shoe Company and remained there until they closed when Dolly was in her fifties. During these years Dolly and Tony fostered many friendships. They were incredibly active in the Milwaukee Silent Club, particularly its basketball activities. Tony served as head coach for the club’s basketball team which gave him the opportunity to travel for out-of-town games. During his absence, Dolly and her son usually headed to Chicago to visit her family along with trips to St. Louis to spend time with her brother, Ralph and his family. Strong family bonds were developed during this time and continued throughout the years with “Aunt Dolly” who became a much loved and admired aunt.
Although Dolly and Tony’s marriage ended in divorce after 12 years of marriage, she remained in the area. She and her son moved down the street into an apartment above Sciortino’s Bakery which became her home for the next 40 years. Even though her family wanted her back in Chicago, she stayed in Milwaukee so her son’s life could remain without further disruption. Embraced by the Sciortino family, she remained close with the Panella’s who had her best interest at heart. The support and love she received from her siblings and their families, especially her niece Marilyn and husband Tony helped Dolly during this difficult period of her life. Her close friendships within the Milwaukee deaf community helped sustain her in the following years. During this time Dolly was especially close to her sister-in-law, Mayme and her husband Jim, who were also deaf and lived next door.
Sports remained an important part of Dolly’s life. She passed down her love of sports to her son Rich who came to be a successful coach. Dolly was so proud of her son and his family. Her love for them was endless, and it was quite evident just how much her family and friends meant to her. She never ceased in wanting them close. After Rich married his wife, Mira, they too moved to an upstairs apartment above Sciortino’s Bakery. With her beloved family within arms reach, Dolly was soon overjoyed with grandchildren. This point in Dolly’s life brought to her heart a profound contentment. She had her family, friends, and especially her son and his family. Her daughter-in-law Mira’s family also embraced Dolly and she soon became one of their own.
One of Dolly’s brightest moments came in 2005 when she moved to the Prairie Hill apartment complex, better known as the “Water Tower”. Designed specifically for the hearing impaired, she not only had a beautiful apartment, but was surrounded by her dearest friends who captured Dolly’s heart. These bonds of friendship were unique as they shared the bond of disability and challenge that only the hearing impaired can know. She shared much love, friendship and camaraderie with them. Dolly’s humor and outspoken nature was unmatched. She expressed her opinion freely, and had she been a hearing person, she’d be described as not having a filter! There was much to love about Dolly. She was artistic, creative and had wonderful style.
Although an independent woman, Dolly’s life presented much anxiety. As a single, hearing-impaired woman and mother, she was faced with her share of challenges. Her courageous spirit and forthright personality helped her rise above every obstacle. She responded to every challenge with grace and spunk which was evident to the moment of her death. When she learned nothing more could be done to help her, the realization of imminent death brought about anxiousness, but so typical of Dolly, she responded by saying, “Okay, I’m ready. I want to go now.” Just a few hours later, she peacefully passed away at the age of 93 on Thursday, December 2, 2010. Simply stated, Dolly will be incredibly missed.
She is survived by her son, Richard (Mira) Panella; grandchildren: Lisa (John) Bevington, Nick (Laurie) Panella and Tiffany (Jerry) Gambatese; great-grandchildren: Michael, Samantha, Joey, Emily, GiGi, Nick, Sal and Petey; brother-in-law, Joe (Ann) Panella; sister-in-law, Mary Rich; many beloved nieces, nephews, numerous relatives and friends and those in the deaf community in Milwaukee and Chicago.
Family and friends will gather Monday, December 6, 2010 at Three Holy Women Parish–St. Rita Church, 1601 N. Cass Street from 11:30 AM until time of her Memorial Mass at 12:30 PM. Arrangements are being provided by the Suminski Family Funeral Homes-Suminski/Weiss (414) 276-5122. Please visit www.lifestorynet.com to leave a favorite memory or photo of Dolly and to sign her online guest book.
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