Matilda Kaarle Szaroletta
Matilda “Tillie” Kaarle Szaroletta has peacefully completed her earthly walk and begun her eternal life. At the time of her passing, she was a resident at the Wellsprings Lutheran Assisted Living campus in Saginaw, Michigan. To those left grieving, the pain of her departure is eased knowing that she did not travel alone, as her friend Jesus held her hand and escorted her through the gates of Heaven. “Do not let your hearts be troubled. My Father’s house has many rooms. I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.” John 14:1-3
Born in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula near Houghton on February 15, 1928, Matilda was raised in Ontonagon, Michigan, where her Finnish/Swedish parents, Peter Olaf Kaarle and Mary Matilda Kaarle (nee Hendrickson), settled after immigrating through Ellis Island.
Matilda was preceded in death by her father (1947); her mother (1949); her beloved husband Frank Richard Szaroletta (1989); her brother Ernest Kaarle (1976); brothers-in-law Michael Clore (1983), Peter Szaroletta (1996), and Richard John Szaroletta (2016); sister-in-law Merle McNee Kaarle; cousins Henry Larson (1985), Mildred Postlethwaite (2010), Ruth Parolini (2011), and Leonard Wood (2020). Her children rise up and call her blessed. Proverbs 31:28
Left to mourn her passing are her sons Howard Frank Szaroletta (Laura Hanley Szaroletta) of Saginaw, and William Kaarle Szaroletta (Elizabeth Jane Kuuttila) of Albuquerque, NM; and daughter Mary Nettie Rodriguez (Porfirio Sergio Rodriguez, M.D.) of Rio Grande City, TX. Six grandchildren for whose well-being she fervently prayed, with whom she created indelible memories, and who will dearly miss their “Grandma Tillie” are Raudel Szaroletta Rodriguez, M.D. (Brittany Kildow Rodriguez) of San Antonio, TX; Mary Anastasia Perez (Orlando Joel Perez) of Mission, TX; Rachel Lee Szaroletta of Bridgeport; Samuel James Szaroletta (Kelley Brennan Szaroletta) of Saginaw; and Susanna Szaroletta Kuuttila (Andrew Alexander Roerick) and Sarianna Lee Szaroletta Kuuttila-Webert (Wesley John Kuuttila-Webert) of Albuquerque, NM. Seven great-grandchildren who survive her are Lorenzo Raudel Perez, Orlando Benicio Perez, Phoenix Sylver Perez, Knox Alexander Rodriguez, Alexander James Szaroletta, Aria Szaroletta Kuuttila-Webert, and Christian Sergio Rodriguez. Her nephews Lyle Leonard Kaarle (Jeannie) of Phoenix, AZ and Marco Koslovich (Jamie Dull) of Mass City, MI; many nieces in the Detroit area; Carolyn Fulcher Szaroletta, Samuel and Rachel’s mother, of Bridgeport; two dear exchange students Per Andres Ovin of Sweden and Hannele Louko of Finland; and a wide circle of new and lifelong friends with whom she built lasting relationships.
A 1945 graduate of Ontonagon High School, Matilda participated in 4-H, Glee Club, Chorus, and the Junior Red Cross while helping maintain the family dairy farm business on Ontonagon’s Norwich Road after her father’s debilitating stroke and learning to drive a tractor at the age of twelve. After graduation, work as a dictaphone and switchboard operator in Chicago led to employment in Western Union’s Milwaukee teletype office.
Matilda married Frank Richard Szaroletta in 1948, upon returning to Ontonagon. The newlyweds famously traveled in Frank’s Waco bi-plane to golf tournaments spanning the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. As secretary to the Ontonagon First National Bank president, her responsibilities included calculating loan interest, posting daily transactions, and auditing the bank safe.
In 1958, Frank accepted a position as Blissfield Supt. of Utilities in Michigan’s Lower Peninsula. It was there that, ever the lifelong learner and voracious reader, the thirty-year-old wife and mother of three enrolled at nearby Siena Heights College in Adrian, from where she earned a bachelor of science degree. When Frank’s work took the family to Bridgeport Township, her collegiate studies continued. A master’s degree in Special Education from Central Michigan University, advanced teaching certifications in fiber art and gifted education from Michigan State University, and a National Science Foundation scholarship to study mathematics teaching methods at the University of Cincinnati contributed to a fruitful 28-year career as a public school teacher that touched thousands of lives in kindergarten, algebra, art, and philosophy classrooms across Bridgeport-Spaulding classrooms. She took great delight in frequent encounters with her former students, many of whom she counted as close and dear friends at the time of her passing.
Her professional responsibilities extended beyond the classroom as a delegate to the NEA Representative Assembly, Chairperson of the MEA Art Acquisition Committee, and to the BEA where she served as President for four consecutive terms, Vice-President, Treasurer, and six terms on its contract negotiating team.
“Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms.” 1 Peter 4:10 Generously sharing her time and talents, Tillie demonstrated the art of spinning wool on her hand crafted spinning wheel at the annual Bridgeport Pioneer Christmas celebration and held decades of active membership in the Bridgeport Village Home Extension group. Twenty years of service on the Bridgeport Twp. Water Supply System Board underscored her lifelong advocacy for water conservation. Tillie continued her passion for reading as a charter member of the Bridgeport Library Book Club and The Sunday Book Club for over 25 years, highlighted by participation in a teleconference with author Ann Patchett and an invitation to attend the Oprah Show.
From 1979 through 1990, she held various positions on the Saginaw County Public Health Board, including a double stint as Board Chairman and Acting Health Officer. She also served on the Environmental Appeals Board, Rehabilitation Board, Mental Health Board, and Substance Abuse Commission.
Matilda’s deep integrity and energetic leadership was acknowledged by several organizations. She was awarded the 1989 Sister Anne Joachum Distinguished Alumnus Award from Siena Heights College and the 1992 Edgar A. Guest Community Service Award from Bridgeport’s Masonic Lodge. In 2011, for her contributions in furthering Finnish-American heritage and traditions, the Mid-Michigan Friends of Finland organization unanimously selected Tillie to receive its most prestigious award, Finnish-American Citizen of the Year. A lifelong Finnish speaker from whose kitchen emerged delicious Finnish-Swedish culinary creations, she masterfully translated colorful vistas of the Overtornio Scandinavian landscape into stunning rya woven masterpieces.
Matilda joined the family of Bridgeport’s Faith Lutheran Church in 1962, a congregation she deeply loved and supported as a soprano in the choir, board of education and Board of Directors member, and Stewart Minister. She searched God’s Word through years of Bible study and participated in several Via de Cristo /Emmaus teams, holding her precious Reunion Group Sisters-in-Christ dear to her heart. Her deep faith came into sharp focus in 2016 when, at the age of 88, she suffered a broken neck from a motor vehicle accident. Her recovery was miraculous, testament to a deep spiritual strength which sustained her long rehabilitation and extensive physical therapy.
Tillie and Frank were blessed with the spiritual gift of generous hospitality for cherished family members and a lifelong treasured circle of friends who enjoyed their strong coffee, hot meals, and stimulating conversation. Together, they modeled a special skill set and brand of warmly welcoming guests into their home, establishing a legacy for her children and grandchildren to continue.
Her edified and well-lived life included perfecting a wide range of cooking and baking skills; studying the violin and piano in her retirement; Serendipity Club membership; Bridge, Euchre, and Cribbage; sewing, quilting, knitting, weaving, and smocking; and memorable travel experiences across the United States, throughout Europe, to the Arctic Circle, and on an art history study tour at Russia’s Hermitage. Her curiosity and adventure seeking nature became hallmark characteristics.
Though she prospered in so many of life’s broad arenas, Matilda Szaroletta’s most outstanding achievement was a strong devotion to her faith, family, friends, and community. Her unique tool kit of love, humor, loyalty, prayer, dedication, kindness, generosity, and respect was a light to those in her world, and a North Star to many. She has left a trail that will always be remembered by those whose paths were intertwined with hers. She loved. She was loved. She will be missed dearly. Well done, good and faithful servant.
A funeral service will take place at 12:00 p.m. on Wednesday, December 23, 2020, at Faith Lutheran Church, 4241 Williamson Road, in Bridgeport. Additionally, the service will be live-streamed at www.faithlutheranbridgeport.org for those mourners not able to attend in person. Family and friends may visit in the sanctuary from 11:00 a.m. until the time of the service. Those considering a memorial contribution honoring Matilda’s life and lifelong passion for reading are invited to consider a gift to The Bridgeport Public Library, 3399 Williamson Road, Saginaw, Michigan, 48601.
Brothers and sisters, do not be uninformed about those who sleep in death, so that you do not grieve. Jesus died and rose again. God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in Him. Thessalonians 4:13-14
Composed by loving daughter, Mary.