Hearts Love 35

Mary E. Carpenter

December 19, 1936 ~ June 24, 2022 (age 85)


Mary Elizabeth Carpenter of Wonewoc died peacefully at her home on Friday, June 24, 2022, surrounded by family. She was 85.

A private family graveside service will be held at St. Theresa Cemetery in Union Center. The family invites friends and community members to celebrate Mary’s life with a meal at the Wonewoc American Legion Hall at noon on Wednesday, June 29.

Mary (known to her family as Oma) was born on December 19, 1936, in Chicago, Illinois. She is survived by her husband, Harold; daughters Jenny (Allan) Gehri, Sandy Deutsch, Julie (Jim) Seaton, and Jane Fry; sons John Carpenter, Victor Robles (Carol Payton-Robles), Leonard Castanon, and Joseph Carpenter (Siri); grandchildren Todd Gehri (Heather), Barron Gehri (Jennie), Brandon Gehri (Belinda), Nicole Shirley (Jeff), Julie McCoy (Dustin), Bryan Zielinski (fiancée Ashleigh Bradway), David Zielinski, Danielle Zielinski, Jessica Gardner (Robert), Jean Fry, Jacob Fry, Grace Carpenter, and Alia Carpenter; a devoted niece, Logan Storm; 14 great-grandchildren; and her lifelong friend, Julie Solfronk. She was preceded in death by her parents, George and Katharina (née Focht) Oesterreicher, and her three siblings, Anna St. Laurent (Allen), Henry (Else), and Frank (Jeanette); and son-in-law Jerome Fry.

Mary met Harold, then a corporal in the Army, at a USO dance in 1957, and there were no further questions. They married on March 15, 1958, in La Grange Park, Illinois. They briefly lived in Omaha, Nebraska and eventually settled down in Illinois.

In raising their family, Mary was determined that her home — first in La Grange, Illinois, and later in Elroy, Wisconsin — would be a welcoming social hub for her eight children and their friends. She succeeded in creating a home that was warm and bustling, and never lacked for noise, laughter, bickering, or fresh-baked bread. At least one dog was always underfoot. Mary occasionally achieved a little peace by telling the children that they had to be silent for the next hour because the bread was rising and needed to “rest.”

In 1982, Mary went back to school to become a licensed practical nurse, and she worked for numerous years at various nursing homes and at a physician’s office. With the birth of her first grandchild, Mary became Oma. She doted on her grandchildren (as well as the long line of dachshunds that she shamelessly spoiled). Throughout her life, she used her culinary, artistic, and fixer-upper talents and her firm-but-gentle (but again, firm) take-charge manner to serve her family, church, and community. She was involved in the Girl Scouts for many years. She baked truckloads of Christmas cookies every winter and found great joy in overseeing the family strudel-making extravaganza every spring. Many of her oil paintings grace the walls of her children’s and grandchildren’s homes, and her own. She helped clean up, repair, and remodel many friends’ and family members’ homes and businesses.

Oma never stopped learning and always had a library book next to her chair. She collected owl figurines like an out-of-control zookeeper and commanded a sunroom full of houseplants that might best be described as a jungle. She loved Mahalia Jackson, cuckoo clocks, and Jeopardy. She tolerated no nonsense. She couldn’t wait to get her hands in the dirt every spring and grew an ambitious garden, then spent months canning peaches, pears, beans, beets, corn, tomatoes, and more. (Only once did the whole operation explode and leave tomato residue all over the ceiling.) She was proud to receive a letter from First Lady Michelle Obama, praising Oma’s efforts to build community gardens and help people learn to can their own food. In recent years, with her daughters and grandchildren in Wonewoc, Oma served thousands of meals to community members.

In lieu of flowers, memorial contributions may be made to Second Harvest Foodbank of Southern Wisconsin, Agrace Hospice, the American Legion Auxiliary of Wonewoc, or Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin.

The Picha Funeral Home in Wonewoc is assisting with arrangements.

To send flowers to the family or plant a tree in memory of Mary E. Carpenter, please visit our floral store.

Memorial Tree
A Memorial Tree was planted for Mary

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Celebration of Life
June 29, 2022

12:00 PM to 2:00 PM
Wonewoc American Legion Hall
108 Center Street
Wonewoc, WI 53968

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