For a woman born in the early 1930s, JoAnne Politowski led a classic, if unremarkable, Pittsburgh life.
Besides her family, her paid obituary notes one achievement: "JoAnne was awarded 1st place by the People's Choice for her homemade pierogies."
But she cooked and did a lot more than that, as her loving sons and daughters can tell you.
They recount that JoAnne Pusateri was born in Penn Hills, which was then "the country" where her Italian dad worked as a huckster, trucking and selling farm products, such as vegetables and fruit and Christmas trees. The mixed family -- her mom was Polish -- moved into the city, to East Liberty, and JoAnne attended Westinghouse High School and was head majorette.
Later in life, she wound up on the South Side, married to a Polish guy -- Robert R. Politowski, whose family ran a tavern there -- and raising what would become a family of four children, who mostly would grow up in a house in Carrick.
"They were Polish, Italians, Slovaks -- they were just a mix of people," recalls her son Bob Politowski. He remembers his Slovak grandpap Vojtas and his "Gimme a highball" -- his term for a shot and a beer.
His mother's job was mostly in the kitchen, feeding the family. She made golumpkis (stuffed cabbage) and kishka, a mix of buckwheat and pork blood that he remembers as looking like asphalt. She even made czarnina -- duck blood soup.
"Unlike these kids today, we had to eat what they made," he said, remembering fried jumbo (bologna) sandwiches for breakfast and dinners of halushki, or cabbage and noodles, with the noodles made from the dough leftover from making pierogies.
Those would be his mother's award-winning pierogies.
The family isn't even sure of the year or other details, but Mrs. Politowski wound up being one of the ladies working the National Slovak Society's booth at what had to be one of the Great Steel Valley Pierogie Festivals that started in 1996 at Sandcastle Water Park in West Homestead. Her son Bob's wife, Mary, worked the booth, too -- the whole family was active in the Pittsburgh-based Slovak group.
Whatever year it was in the 1990s, after fest goers had voted for their favorites, the pierogies Mrs. Politowski made were declared the People's Choice.
She was happy. Besides bingo, her thing was cooking -- "always cooking, always" her son said. "She didn't like things in jars. Ragu would have been a complete, total insult."
Thinking about his mom's life, he summed it up: "Lot of good weddings, lot of good food."
Mrs. Politowski, 79, died this past week of complications from pneumonia in Bartlett, Ill., where, after her husband died, she'd been living with her daughter Sandi Infantino. In addition to her and to son Bob, who lives in Baldwin Borough, she is survived by daughter Korky (Helen) Savoia of Bensonville, Ill., and son Booy (Bruce) Politowski of Baldwin Borough; her brother, Anthony "Pogie" Pusateri of Natrona Heights; 10 grandchildren and six great-grandchildren.
A Mass of Christian Burial was celebrated Saturday, in Carrick's St. Basil Church, with funeral arrangements made by Boron Funeral Home.
Bob Batz Jr.: firstname.lastname@example.org, 412-263-1930 and on Twitter: @bobbatzjr.