Tessie “Tess” C. Zimmerman was a feisty, independent woman—in some ways ahead of her time—yet grounded by her family and faith. She was involved in the life of her church and community through acts of care and skill, using her abilities to mentor and guide young people. Though tragedy robbed her of a lifetime of parenting, she was mother to many who freely gave back the love they received from “Aunt Tess.”
Tess’ story began just months before the conclusion of the First World War, “the war to end all wars.” She came of age during the Great Depression in which many Americans suffered economic hardship. Yet, through it all, citizens learned what it meant to sacrifice for the good of their families. One family in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, was prepared for anything when they welcomed baby Tess into their hearts and lives on September 24, 1918.
Little Tess was born prematurely and not expected to live. Her parents, Zygmund and Mary (Jozwiak) Cyranowicz, cared for her intensely, making a bed out of a shoebox and keeping her near the furnace to stay warm. Tess not only survived but lived for many decades retelling the story of her first weeks of life spent in a miniature crib.
Tess, her two younger brothers, Edwin and Stanley, and her older sister, Regina, were raised in a proud Polish Catholic home. She was inspired by nature, books and art, becoming a voracious reader and skilled in handicrafts.
Like many young women in her generation, Tess’s education was cut short by the economic needs of her family. During the first semester of her senior year in high school, Tess’s mother pulled her out of school in order to work full-time. During WWII, Tess was able to serve her country on the home front, and worked for the Department of the Navy. She lived with her sister and brother-in-law, Regina and Walter, in Washington DC, and spent her days tracking ships.
While she was living in DC, Tess was introduced to a young man named Ernest Zimmerman through her brother-in-law. It was a blind date at a roller rink, and even though Ernest was “snookered” (he had been drinking), he skated very well. Their second date was also at the roller rink, and although Ernest was sober this time, his skating skills seemed to have deteriorated! Tess was a graceful skater throughout, as her mother had paid for skating lessons years ago.
Tess and Ernest gradually fell in love, and soon became man and wife. They were blessed with a son, William, who was born in Washington DC. As a young man, Bill also served in the military. Tragically, he died in service on August 5, 1965, and Tess and Ernie were heartbroken. Still, they continued to view Bill’s fiancé, Carolyn Wimmer, as a part of their life and stayed in close contact with her. When Carolyn later married, her husband James and their children, Patrick, Christine and Karen also received Tess’ love and attention. Ernie and “Aunt Tess,” as she was known to them, were godparents to Christine, and all were treated as family.
Tess and Ernie had an abundance of love to give that spilled over to many others. They provided a home and family for several foster children. They also opened their doors to a series of foster babies, caring lovingly for more than fifteen infants over the years. As members of the Catholic parish of St. Hedwig, they were involved in various church functions and organizations, including the scouting program and S.H.A.D.Y. (St. Hedwig’s Adults Dedicated to Youth). Tess offered her artistic talents and shared crafting activities with the young girls she helped mentor.
On March 6, 1980, Tess lost her beloved Ernie and turned to her faith and family for comfort and encouragement. She continued her involvements with church, neighbors, friends and relatives. Often times, she visited Carolyn and her family in West Peoria, Illinois. She especially enjoyed going for the 4th of July parade, probably because she was able to ride in it as a passenger on the fire truck. For over 25 years, Tess made that trip and participated in the parade. Even the journey itself was an undertaking that told something about Tess. If she went by bus from Milwaukee to West Peoria, she was known to share her lunch with the bus driver. That’s just the kind of person she was.
Experiencing some decline in recent years, Tess died Wednesday, December 12, 2012 at the age of 94. She will be remembered and cherished as a loving woman who gave of herself for the benefit of others.
Tess C. Zimmerman (nee Cyranowicz) was preceded in death by her beloved husband Ernest and son William, sister Regina and brothers Edwin and Stanley. Special aunt to Rose Jones, whom Tess and Ernie raised. She was a dear sister-in-law of Ardice Cerny, special friend of Carolyn (James) McCarter, “Aunt Tess” to Patrick, Christine and Karen Jeschke. She is further survived by other relatives and friends.
Visitation is scheduled for Sunday, December 16, at Three Holy Women Parish – St. Hedwig Church, 1702 N. Humboldt Avenue, from 4:00 PM until time of the Funeral Mass at 6:00 PM. Interment will be at St. Adalbert Cemetery. Suminski LifeStory Funeral Homes. Suminski/Weiss (414) 276-5122. Please visit Tess’s personal memory page at www.SuminskiFuneralHome.com, where you can learn more about her life, share a favorite memory or photo, and sign the online guestbook
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