On Sunday, Dec. 5, 2021, our beloved mother at nearly 100 years of age, Anne Mary Olsen, fell asleep in Christ while participating in the live-streamed Divine Liturgy at Nativity of the Mother of God Ukrainian Catholic Church in Springfield.
Mama was born on Jan. 14, 1922 at her parents’ homestead farm near Ituna, Saskatchewan, Canada. She was the second of five children born to Onufriy and Kataryna Kowal.
Her father tragically died in an automobile accident when she was 5 years old. Various relatives as well as the Sister Servants of Mary Immaculate who ran an orphanage in town offered to take the children but Baba (Grandma Kataryna) would have none of it: “They are my children and I will raise them!” Mama surely inherited her strength and determination. Over the years she shared lots of stories from her childhood in Ituna and as the day of her passing drew near, she would have visits with many of her loved ones from her past.
Mama worked her way through St. Anne’s academy in Yorkton, Saskatchewan and after graduation went on to Saskatoon to study business administration but less than a year into her studies, she traveled to Vancouver, B.C. to be a bridesmaid for her cousin’s wedding. While there she discovered that Boeing was hiring women to build planes for the war effort. This was in 1940 and Canada was already in the war and so Mama became an early Rosie the Riveter and in recent years she was a proud active member of the Rosie the Riveter Association!
Sometime later she and some girlfriends were on their way to a Halloween event at a dance hall on Granville Street in Vancouver when a dashing young American sailor offered her and her friends a ride in his dad’s Model A (how they got everyone in that car is another story!) Well, one thing led to another and a couple months later Dad proposed. They were married in a Catholic service in Everett, Washington on March 15, 1942. Three days later Dad shipped out for the Atlantic aboard the USS Block Island, an aircraft carrier in a Hunter-Killer group.
Dad’s mum continued to receive the family portion of his pay but when it came time for mama to go cross-country to Portsmouth, Va. to be with him on a trip back “States-side,” it turned out that Grandma had saved all that money and then at the train station pinned it to the inside of Mama’s bra!
In Virginia, Mama found a job at Penny’s and began working in the record department. She knew nothing about records and equally nothing about forms of racial segregation that existed there at that time. She was delighted to sell records to all comers regardless of race and soon was made manager of the department because of her ‘record’ record sales! We were always so proud of Mama, this little 4-foot-6 Canadian girl who refused to go along with the racist practices of that time and place! You go, girl!
When Dad’s ship was sunk by a German U-boat near the Canary Islands while steaming to support the D-Day invasion, she waited anxiously for news of him and learned that he had survived and they would soon be reunited to travel back to Everett where he was reassigned to a new carrier of the same name.
With the surrender of Nazi Germany, Dad’s assignment changed and they, along with their first-born Warren, traveled to 29 Palms, Calif., where he and thousands of others were training for the invasion of the Japanese home islands. The odds of surviving this invasion were not good but with the surrender of Japan, Dad’s ship turned around mid-ocean and he was reunited with his small growing family in a now peace-time and thriving United States.
Dad went back to his old job hanging awnings in Seattle but they wanted something more. By now Kenneth was born and soon thereafter Ralphie. Mama and Dad took their young family to Oregon where they soon founded the Eugene Canvas Products, which they owned and operated until they retired, when they handed the business over to their son Warren and his wife Nancy. Their son Kenneth went on to be ordained a Catholic priest.
Starting a business was hard work but they were hard workers and did very well for themselves. Tragedy struck in 1965 when their youngest son Ralph Jr. was killed at age 12 in a freak accident. Similar tragedy struck when their grandson Danny also died in an accident in 1987. Mama never really got over those deaths and I think somehow was looking forward to the family reunion with her own passing over.
While she and Dad were still young enough after retirement, they traveled extensively in their motorhome. They had a memorable train journey across Canada pulled by a historic steam locomotive. Other travels included two cruises through the Panama Canal, cruises to Alaska and Hawaii, trips all over Canada and the U.S. as well as a motorhome caravan trip through Baja, Calif. When Dad died a very peaceful death in 2014 at age 96, Mama and Kenneth came to live together. Mama did not lose her sense of adventure after Dad’s death and continued to travel frequently till the pandemic came along. In the year before the pandemic, she flew to Germany for the wedding of dear friends Monika Rogatzki and Klaus Neugebauer in Darmstadt. Mama loved her casinos and, after a boat cruise of the Rhine, Monika took her for a “girls’ day out” and they ended up in a German casino where she had a blast!
Mama is predeceased by almost everyone she ever knew but is survived by two sons Warren (Nancy), Fr. Ken, grandchildren Stacy (Anthony) Blanco, Heather Floyd, great-grandchildren Marcus, McKayla and Nicholas Blanco, as well as Hayden and Weston Floyd.
Her passing, though bringing sorrow to her family and friends, also put an end to much pain which she suffered toward the end of her life; due to years of hard toil her back was almost destroyed but she kept insisting on walking. She used a walker but we only very rarely got her into a wheelchair. Throughout her last years she was able to do everything for herself, dressing, bathing, and even work around the house including preparing the occasional meal. Remember that Rosie the Riveter Motto? We can do it! She did it in spades all her life!
She even managed her passing: on the evening of December 4 after she had settled into bed, her son Kenneth went in to bring her a glass of water and found her out of bed struggling to put on a pair of socks. “Are your feet cold?” “No, but the boys told me to get ready because they are taking me out dancing.” She didn’t mention who ‘the boys’ were, but they could only have been Dad, Ralphie and Danny. She was still wearing those socks when she stepped away to join the boys the next morning, during the Divine Liturgy.
The Funeral Liturgy “Parastas” will take place at 10 a.m. on Saturday, Dec. 18 at Nativity of the Mother of God Ukrainian Catholic Church, 704 Aspen Street in Springfield. Fr. Richard Janowicz will be the main celebrant and Fr. Ken Olsen will be the homilist. The service will be followed by a meal hosted by the Catholic Daughters of the Americas and served at Nativity church. Interment will take place at Mt. Calvary Cemetery. Members of the Rosie the Riveter Association are the honorary pallbearers. “They Can Do It!”