Seems like a lifetime
Wally Wozniak quickly became a friend to so many
PLYMOUTH -- There's an extension telephone in the laboratory office in the Plymouth branch of the Saint Joseph Regional Medical Center.
On the front is a sticker that reads "Walter Wozniak."
"We just don't have the heart to take it off yet," said Julie Gilley, a lab assistant. "We all loved him so much."
Wally worked part time as a courier for the hospital for eight years, delivering reports and picking up specimens for area doctors.
Marcia Harris said he also "couriered" doughnuts and coffeecake for the lab workers. "He'd come in saying, 'the cupboards are bare!'" she said.
A few days after Wally died, his son, Jay, brought a cake into the lab.
He said, "The cupboards are bare."
Julie, her eyes misting -- said, "We couldn't catch our breath, we were so touched."
Wally is a perfect example that you don't have to live all of your life in a community to become an integral and beloved part
Wally was like that.
He had only been in Plymouth for 12 of his 76 years before his death this past November, but he is sorely missed by everyone he knew.
Born in Chicago, he was the "bonus" baby of his grocer parents.
Eventually, he graduated from Morgan Park Military Academy and attended Northwestern University, studying accounting.
In 1953, he served as a sergeant in the U.S. Army in Germany. An assistant to the chaplain, whenever the GI families had babies, they chose Wally as the godfather for the christenings.
Wife Rosemarie said Wally was literally godfather to hundreds of service-born children.
After his discharge, Wally came home to Chicago and got a job at the People's Gas Light and Coal Co. He was 24 years old.
Rosemarie Palumbo was 17. They met sharing lunches in the commissary. Rosemarie shared: Wally ate.
He loved the food Marie, Rosemarie's mother, made. And he loved Rosemarie.
They didn't date for a year.
Rosemarie was tiny with beautiful features and dark, shiny hair. She was Italian and he was Polish.
Not physically prepossessing, he wasn't very tall. And he wasn't very handsome.
But he was funny and kind and honest and decent, and she loved him back.
Their first date was for bowling and pizza. Rosemarie said she pretended that one slice was enough in order to impress Wally, but "I went home hungry," she said.
Wally and Rosemarie were married on Jan. 26, 1957, in the Chicago Parish of the Church of the Resurrection.
He worked as a car salesman for 15 years. He had a natural gift of gab and never knew a stranger. "He was good at that," Rosemarie said.
The Palumbo family had a farm in West Township in Marshall County for generations. Every summer, Rosemarie and her parents and siblings would visit for months. She knew Plymouth and the surrounding area well.
After their marriage, for 30 years, Rosemarie and Wally and their three children, continued the tradition, with Wally commuting to Evanston to manage a shoe store, Voses Bootery.
In 1976, doctors found a tumor in Wally's jaw, removed it and rebuilt most of his lower face.
It gave him even more of a quizzical look.
In the late 1980s, when it came time to think about retiring, Wally was leaning toward settling in Wisconsin. Rosemarie wanted to come to Marshall County.
As with most things of that nature, she won.
In 1994, they built a beautiful home on the Plymouth Country Club golf course, designed and decorated by Rosemarie.
He told her later, "It was the best thing we have ever done. I love it here."
And Plymouth loved him.
He volunteered for just about everything. The Heart Association, the United Way, March of Dimes, the hospital's Life Line.
Anytime anyone needed help, they called Wally.
Living on the PCC golf course, he also was always doing things around the grounds and the clubhouse: painting, cleaning the pool, picking up limbs.
He loved card tricks and telling jokes -- never raunchy -- sometimes not funny, if he got the punch line wrong. And his getting the punch line wrong was often funnier than the joke itself.
Wally couldn't be said to be light on his feet himself, but he admired good dancers -- particularly Jim Beckham. He kept asking Jim to dance with him to show him the moves.
Beckham said at Wally's death: "I've lost my dance partner."
Wally enjoyed people and loved playing card games and dominoes.
Mostly, he loved Rosemarie -- and their family of three children and nine grandchildren.
Married nearly 50 years, he was enthusiastic about everything she did.
Tap dancing with the high-stepping Red Hatters in a Senter Stage dance recital, Rosemarie was (only slightly) embarrassed by a raucous fellow in the audience whistling, stomping his feet and calling for an encore.
He sounded for all the world like a patron at a strip club instead of a dance performance.
"Who is that?" Helen Glaub, fellow dancer, asked.
"That's just Wally carrying on," Rosemarie said blushing.
It was last September while he was playing in the bi-monthly gin rummy game, when his hands suddenly spilled his cards out on the table.
Spaced out, he was unable to see or talk.
Rosemarie rushed him to the E.R. While waiting for the MRI results, he told her "what a wonderful day he had had."
It was glinoma, a fast-growing inoperable brain tumor. Trips to the Cleveland Clinic confirmed the results. Sometimes when the tumor shifted, he would act and sound fine. Other times, he would be totally paralyzed and unconscious.
Wally told Rosemarie he wanted a funeral just like his friend Pat Flynn had earlier in the year.
"Don't be ridiculous," Rosemarie chided her husband.
"That's impossible. We'd have to manage to have three more children and 20 more grandchildren!"
He had a few favorite old hats. One was a white cotton close-fitting hat with a narrow brim. When it was out of his sight for more than a day, he'd accuse Rosemarie of throwing it away.
Actually, she'd have loved to but she explained that it was necessary to wash the old thing once in awhile!
That hat had a place of honor on the edge of his coffin at his funeral in St. Michael's Catholic Church.
"So he'd know right where it was," she said.
Wally Wozniak was a very special man who will always be remembered for his love of life and his deep devotion to his family, friends and community.
He wasn't here very long.
Not nearly long enough.
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