Strang Funeral Home of Antioch - Antioch
1055 Main St.
Antioch, IL 60002
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1917 - 2014 | Obituary Condolences
Emma Grabarski died peacefully during her sleep, with family members at her side, on January 17, 2014 in St. Paul, Minnesota. She was 96 years old. Emma Louise Gray was born in Beloit, Wisconsin on August 7, 1917. She grew up in Central Wisconsin, marrying Tony (Antone) Grabarski on January 5, 1932 when she was 16 years old. She was preceded in death by her parents, Carroll St. Clair Gray (1937) and Lillie May (Reece) Gray (1970); her husband (1983); her daughter Catherine P. Pyles (Don) in 2004; and all eight of her siblings, Walter Gray (1904), Pearl Gray (1906), Claire Gray (1953), Josephine Secoy (1969), John Gray (1974), Frank Lavern Gray (1983), Annie Norlin (1984), and Ethel Thurber (1999). In their early years, Emma worked for 12 years in a boarding house in the Wisconsin Dells, while Tony worked for the regional conservation department, proudly earning his radio operator's license to serve as a tower ranger outside the Dells. Emma and Tony moved to Waukegan, Illinois in the early 1940s. They lived at various times 520 May Street, 711 -- 10th Street, 405 and 312 McKinley Avenue, and 722 Atlantic Avenue. Her husband started a successful cement contracting business, and they had two children, Catherine and Sam. Emma took breaks from being a homemaker to work at Abbott Laboratories, the Lake County Tuberculosis Sanitarium, and for over a decade as an admitting clerk at Victory Memorial Hospital on Sheridan Avenue in Waukegan. No one knows how many cooks she would have dethroned as champions at various fairs or festivals had she entered any of her famous pies, cookies, or main dishes in competitions. At first a self-taught cook, she became her family's best known chef, mastering nearly every aspect of cooking from soups, stews, roasts or desserts. Her pancakes were revered by anyone who ever ate them. No chili was complete without her canned tomatoes as a key ingredient. Emma was an avid quilt maker. For a period spanning several decades, each and every family member at birth, or during their years of growing or knowing her, received several. Her grandson Sam estimates his household has a dozen. She loved playing cards (especially Euchre), fishing, casino gambling, and reading. She read on average 100 novels per year, revisiting favorites from time to time based on her own critical ratings posted inside their covers. She loved cats, with her final pets named Charlie Brown, Casey, Cokey, and Baby. Her operatic way of calling cats in from outside the house still echoes in the wind on McKinley Avenue in Waukegan. Emma took great pride in the accomplishments of her two children. Catherine's career included 30 years working for the U.S. Government as an analyst for MET COM at Great Lakes and Fort Sheridan, during which time she received several important awards or acknowledgements. Sam earned a doctorate from the University of Illinois, and recently retired after nearly 17 years as President & CEO of the Minneapolis Downtown Business Council. Emma loved a decades-long tradition of joining her family for a fishing, gambling, and shopping spree during the week of her birthdays in the Lac du Flambeau-Little Crawling Stone Lake area of Wisconsin. Favorite Merchants on Oneida and Chippewa Streets in Minocqua catered to her annual visits for clothes, shoes, or purses, particularly if they were red. Emma was a nurturer, a personal trait not easily gained by anyone facing the circumstances of her youth. She was born into a time of scarcity, to parents who lost their first children at early ages and separated in sadness while she was a child. She spent some time in a children's home while her mother regrouped, rejoining her after Lillie remarried. Emma married young, rode out The Great Depression, and built a life from scratch with Tony. From all this, she became a wellspring of kindness, generosity, and unwavering affection that her extended family relied upon during the decades that followed. Emma lived in recent years in Antioch, Illinois with her beloved son-in-law Don Pyles. In honor of her 90th Birthday, the Mayor of Antioch declared it officially as "Emma Grabarski Day in Antioch." During 2013, she moved to Keystone Senior Community in St. Paul, Minnesota, and enjoyed her remaining days with her son Sam and daughter-in-law Lisa. Surviving in addition to Don Pyles and Sam Grabarski (Lisa Meyer) are grandson Sam Grabarski, Jr. (Lori Grabarski), great grandchildren Katelyn Grabarski and Sam Grabarski, III, as well as nieces and nephews located throughout the Midwest. A private interment ceremony will be held at Ascension Cemetery on January 25, 2013. Friends and family are invited to a Memorial Celebration of Emma's life at Dockers North (955 Illinois 59, Antioch) on Sunday, January 26, at 2 PM. For more information, visit the website for Strang Funeral Home of Antioch at Donations in lieu of flowers should be made to The Salvation Army or the ASPCA, or any charity that helps people or animals in times of need.

Published in Chicago Suburban Daily Herald on Jan. 23, 2014
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