Ethnic Heritage Museum honors five outstanding women

Staff Report

March is traditionally “Women in History Month.” During March and April, Rockford’s Ethnic Heritage Museum (EHM), 1129 S. Main St., will celebrate five “Women of the Year” honorees. Each of these unique women will have a special Sunday afternoon program during a 2-4 p.m. open house. The 2013 honorees are Beatrice Taylor (African-American, April 14), Maria Hawley (Hispanic, March 21), Pat Riggins (Irish, March 17), Rose Sheridan (Italian, April 7) and Stella Kubiak (Polish, March 10).

Stella Kubiak

March 10, the Polish Gallery will honor Stella Kubiak. Stella was born Sept. 21, 1936, in Stefanow, Poland, to Aleksandra and Ignace Kubiak.. Stella’s father died during the war, and Stella and her mother were sent to work camp in Germany in 1942. After the war ended, they stayed in Germany until 1952 in various Displaced Persons Camps. Stella attended grade school in Germany at the various camps.

In February 1952, she and her mother made a journey over the Atlantic. Frank Jefko, a Rockford native, sponsored Stella and her mother, and they came via New York to Rockford. Stella continued her education in Rockford, graduating from East High School in 1956. After Stella received her high school diploma, she was employed by City National Bank (presently PNC), where she worked for 39 years until her retirement in 1995. During retirement, Stella took a part-time job at Kohl’s, and she was with the company for more than seven years. When her mother’s health was declining, Stella quit her job to stay home and take care of her. She was her caregiver until her death in 2005.

Taking care of her ill mother prepared Stella for the next stage of her life; in 2006, Stella joined Heartland Hospice as a volunteer. In this program, Stella regularly goes to patients’ homes and sits with them, drives them to appointments if they need a ride, and never forgets them by bringing them special treats.

Stella is very involved in St. Stanislaus Kostka Church. She always is willing to extend a helping hand wherever help is needed. There is no job too big or too small for her to take. For many years, Stella has helped with making pierogi for the annual Polish Fest; she is the one who spends numerous hours in the kitchen over a hot stove in the heat of summer, boiling them. She helps with making various Polish sweets for the Polish Fest, Easter, and Christmas Bake Sales.

Stella is an active member of the Women’s League in the parish. She offers her help with many social events organized by the League, including setting up, serving, decorating and cleaning after the events. When she is not volunteering at the hospice or church, Stella enjoys her retirement. She likes to read books and crochet. Stella’s Polish heritage is very important to her, and she shares that heritage with those around her. St. Stanislaus Church and Heartland Hospice are both very lucky to have a person with so many talents and the time to share them.

Pat Riggins

The Irish Gallery is honoring Pat Riggins as the 2013 Irish Woman of the Year. The museum will host an open house for Pat from 2 to 4 p.m., Sunday, March 17, with a presentation at 2:30 p.m. A display honoring Pat will share the gallery with the ongoing exhibit about Saint Patrick and his namesake church in Rockford.

Patricia (Boothe) Riggins is the administrative assistant for Armoloy of Illinois, Inc., in DeKalb, Illinois. Prior to that, she was with OSF St. Anthony Medical Center for 22 years. Pat grew up in Rockford, attending Franklin and Haskell grade schools, Roosevelt Junior High, West High School and Rock Valley Community College. She has been an active volunteer with the Irish Marching Society for more than 20 years, and has held various board positions for the past six years. She currently serves as president.

Pat’s mother, Sarah Catherine Barclay, grew up in Convoy, County Donegal, Ireland, and Catherine’s siblings and extended family remained there in the same town and still farm the same land. Catherine married an American GI during World War II and arrived in the United States with her first child in 1946 on a ship carrying GI wives and children. Pat’s parents moved to Rockford in 1953 for a job opportunity at Greenlee Brothers.

Pat’s parents have passed away, but her six brothers and sisters all still live in the Rockford area and enjoy getting together often, especially at the St. Patrick’s Day parade and party planned by the Irish Marching Society. Pat and her husband David have two children, Melissa Coleman (Bob) and Nathan (Jaclyn) Riggins, grandchildren Niklas and Theoren Nystrom. Pat loves to travel and to volunteer for many special events and projects for various worthy causes.

Rosie (Scalise) Sheridan

Rosie (Scalise) Sheridan was born June 13, 1952. Her parents are Martha (DiBenedetto) Scalise and Carl John Scalise. Rosie’s grandparents on her father’s side were Rosalie (Abate) Scalise, from Sambuca, Sicily, and Carlo Scalise, from Bisaquino, Sicily. Her grandparents on her mother’s side were Sam DiBenedetto from Vicari, Sicily, and Carmela (Allotta) DiBenedetto from Tickfaw, La. Rosie has four siblings: Carl John (Sonny) Scalise, II, from Rockford; Samuel Alex (Buddy) Scalise, from Rockford; Daniel Richard Scalise from Brush, Colo.; and a twin sister, Patricia Ann (Scalise) Steinkamp, from Longmont, Colo.

Rosie married Craig Thomas Sheridan on May 31, 2003. Rosie’s two daughters are Crystal Louise Wolford from Wheeling, Ill., and Trisha Lynn Wolford from Annapolis, Md. Craig’s two children are Chad Thomas Sheridan from Denver and Tricia Ann Sheridan from Rockford.

Rosie is active in her church and serves the community with the following groups: a member of St. Anthony of Padua Church Catholic Women’s League Board Member, CWL Charity Guild co-chairman, Member of Altar & Rosary Society of St. Anthony of Padua Church, a member of the Ethnic Heritage Museum Advocacy Board, St. Mary’s Good Time Club member, GRIAA (Greater Rockford Italian American Association) board member, Amici Italiani Dance Troupe member and director, Belvidere Girls Craft Group member and Ya-Yas Book Club member. Rosie enjoys spending time with her family, traveling, reading, crafts and gardening. Rosie’s Sicilian passion is to promote and continue the tradition of the St. Joseph Altars. She is eager and willing to teach and work with anyone who would like to have a St. Joseph Altar. Rosie and her family host a St. Joseph Altar in their home every other year.

Join the Italian Gallery from 2 to 4 p.m., Sunday, April 7, to celebrate all the contributions Rosie has made to improve the lives of Rockford’s citizens.

Beatrice Taylor

Join the African-American Gallery from 2 to 4 p.m., Sunday, April 14, in celebrating the 108th birthday of its African-American honoree, Beatrice Taylor.

Beatrice Taylor was born April 19, 1905, to the proud parents of Lottie and Clem Smith in the Gypsum Hills of Blain County, Okla. The eldest of three children, her two siblings were Christine and Lorentha. Her brother passed away at an early age, but her sister Christine lived to the ripe age of 100 years old. Beatrice graduated from high school in Kingfisher, Okla., and then moved to Wichita, Kan. In 1923 she married her first love, Ira Anderson. Out of this union came three beautiful daughters — Loretta and twin daughters Yvonne and Lavonne — and six living generations with more than 80 in her lineage.

Shortly after the passing of her husband, Ira, when her children were teen-agers, Beatrice move to Rockford in the 1940s to be closer to her mother, who had moved there from Oklahoma. In Rockford, she met Thomas Jarvis Taylor “Daddy Tom,” whom she later married. Together, the two of them worked for the Todd family, who owned the Rockford Register Star. From the mid-’50s to 1965, she and her husband resided in Rockford but traveled to Palm Springs, Calif., with the Todds for their October-May winter residence, where she was their personal cook. While she resided in Palm Springs, she also worked as a personal cook and housekeeper for Maurice McDonald, one of the founding brothers of McDonald’s Restaurant. Cooking was one of her biggest joys, and she was known as one of the best cooks in Rockford. Beatrice holds the bragging rights of driving several times by herself from Rockford to Palm Springs on the historic Route 66.

Church has always been a big part of Beatrices’ life. She is a proud member of Pilgrim Baptist Church, where she has been for well more than a half century. She served as president of the Debrans Auxiliary club for many years. Beatrice is also a past Worthy Matron of the Order of The Eastern Star Princess Zora Chapter 20, where she served more than 50 years, and is now a lifetime member. She was also the founder of “The Afternoon Art Club,” a women’s group that met weekly to make quilts, knit and crochet, which they sold or donated to help the less fortunate in the Rockford area. She was an active member for more than 25 years.

Beatrice has had many milestones in her lifetime, but one of her most memorable came just recently when she voted in her 20th presidency. She met President Barack Obama when he was a senator for Illinois, and she was invited to the White House last year. She was unable to make it, but still wishes to visit the White House one day. Another great moment was meeting Oprah Winfrey for her 106th birthday. She was a member in her audience, along with her three granddaughters. She was able to speak to the audience, and she was the star of the pre-show. Oprah greeted her and took several pictures with them. At 108 years old, her memory is going strong. She can recite a poem that she learned in the third grade called “November.” She still has many remarkable stories to share about her 108 interesting years.

Maria del Carmen Castro de Hawley

Maria del Carmen Castro de Hawley, the Hispanic Gallery honoree, was born in Mexico City, Mexico, in 1969. She married Manuel T. Hawley, and in 1972 they came to Rockford. They have six children and 17 beautiful grandchildren.

Maria attended the Universidad Autonoma of Medicine in Mexico City. Fresh from the university, her first job was with Community Action. She found this job through the OIC. She was the first Latino Social Worker in Rockford, and came to understand the needs of the community while working in a variety of programs that dealt with low-income families. In 1970, the Rev. Edgar Perez and some nuns from St. Elizabeth Center encouraged her to assist in forming the first Hispanic organization called “La Voz Latina.” Maria became a Girl Scout leader and, at times, a leader for the Boy Scouts. The meetings were held at Booker Washington Center. In 1974, Maria organized a group of children that performed Mexican folkloric dances. Her goal was to bring some Hispanic traditions to our community. Then, in 1976, she helped organize a group of children, mostly of Mexican origin, to participate in the Fourth of July parade. Maria also participated in CCD classes at St. Stanislaus Church, and in the 1980s, she volunteered at many schools such as Rockford Jefferson High School. There, she helped develop programs for Hispanic students.

In 1984, Maria became a board member for United Way. In 1996, she worked for the school district’s administration department. She presently serves as the president of the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce of Northern Illinois. In her many years of working in our community, she has had the privilege of meeting different people in and outside of our community, including politicians from Washington, D.C., New York, Houston, Chicago and Mexico. Maria has always tried to give back to our community, and hopes that she has inspired both kids and adults to strive to be good citizens and to give back to the community.

Join the Hispanic Gallery from 2 to 4 p.m., Sunday, April 21, to celebrate the accomplishments of Maria.

Ethnic Heritage Museum

The Ethnic Heritage Museum (EHM) is unique in its blend of ethnic groups: African-American, Italian, Lithuanian, Irish, Polish and Hispanic. A visit to each of the six galleries will enlighten visitors of the cultural history of each of these groups and their contributions to life in Rockford. EHM is open every Sunday from 2 to 4 p.m., and admission to help celebrate the accomplishments of the five honorees is free to the public, but donations are appreciated. Admission after celebration is $3 for children, $5 for adults and $10 for families. Group tours can be arranged by contacting the museum at (815) 962-7402 or e-mailing The museum is handicap accessible. For more information, visit

From the March 6-12, 2013, issue

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