Saturday, June 26, 1993

Obituary: Francesca Paratore - Class of 1927

A Part Of Old Madison Has Died
By Julianne White, The Capital Times

In the heat of the day, they slowly climbed the steps of St. James Catholic Church. Many of them were childhood friends, bound by their heritage, their faith and the neighborhood of their youth, the Bush.

Today the Bush lives only in their memories. Never have blocks of a city been remembered so fondly. These once carefree youngsters are silver-haired now. Years of life experience are recorded in their faces, lines worn with pride. Their eyes light up as they greet each other. The abiding affection, peppered with nicknames and teasing, is evident.

Silently they filed into the wooden pews, framed by exquisite stained glass windows. And as the ceiling fan whirred above them, Mass began.

"We are here today to celebrate the life of Francesca Paratore,'' said the priest.

Francesca Paratore died last month. For the first time in her life, she left behind her younger sisters and brothers: Angela, Josephine, Anne, Tony and Vito. It took the gentle hand of death to separate her from them.

Bits and pieces of recollections from family members and friends tell her story.

"The hardship,'' said her sister, Anne, "began in Sicily. Our mother would often say, 'If we had been among the wealthy of Italy, why would we have left such a beautiful place?' But peasants were paid for their labor with produce. If the crops failed, you ate nothing.''

Francesca was 3 years old when she and her mother, Antonia, left their homeland. Her father, Theodore, an indentured railroad worker, had preceded them to Madison. It took two years for him to save enough money to pay their passage. In 1909, mother and daughter arrived at Ellis Island.

"They were put on a train, supposedly going to Madison, Wis.,'' said Anne. `"When they arrived at Madison, Ind., there was no one there to meet them. Speaking not a word of English, they sat there and cried. At last, an interpreter at the station re-routed them here.They walked from the Milwaukee Road depot to Regent Street, where our father was living.''

Francesca learned English at Longfellow school, which was filled with the children of immigrants. Her mother, who didn't attend school beyond the second grade, was determined her children would be educated.

After graduating from Central High School, Francesca sought work and was highly recommended to a local dairy.

"Your name, is that Italian?'' asked the prospective employer.

The young woman nodded.

"Then you need not apply,'' he said.

"She was bitterly disappointed,'' said Anne. "Our mother said, `All right. We live near the university. You'll go there.' ''

Francesca Paratore earned a bachelor's degree in Italian, French and American history, the first female Italian immigrant from the Bush to graduate from the University of Wisconsin. She worked in federal service for 31 years, editing educational materials for the U.S. Armed Forces Institute.

And always she remained in Madison, caring for her mother in their home at 818 Regent St., the homestead Francesca would maintain for over 60 years.

She never married but she collected friends, plentiful as morning dew. And many of them were present at the memorial service.

And when they talk about Fran Paratore, certain phrases echo: "wonderful woman,'' "devoted to her family,'' "like an older sister to me.''

Her obituary allowed all of us to know her better. It said she was known as` `the best breadmaker in town,'' that she missed only 12 UW football games in 57 years, that she was a shrewd bridge partner and that, in addition to her loving family, she is survived by a 1957 Buick Skylark.

Her last years were spent at Attic Angel Nursing Home. Rose Krueger, admissions director and social worker, says, "Fran always wanted to be doing something or helping someone. She took long, long walks, often pushing another resident in her wheelchair. And she spent many hours in front of the TV watching sports. Fran added spice to our facility. We'll miss her colorful wit. We loved her dearly.''

As Francesca Paratore's life drew to a close, one of her nephews, Phillip Shallat, flew in from Seattle. He said his Aunt Fran knew she was dying, and when he asked if she was afraid to die, she said she was not. He fed his aunt her last meals and told her what a gift her kindness had been. And he assured her she needn't worry about those she was leaving behind.

Antonia Paratore died on Mother's Day in 1970 at the age of 86. Francesca Paratore died on Mother's Day in 1993 at the age of 86 when, said her obituary, "she peacefully joined her best friend and mother.''

Originally published as a new story in The Capital Times on June 26, 1993

Note: Frances Paratore's class year is based on information in the 1927 Tychoberahn, where she is pictured among the graduating seniors.