The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA

May 3, 2013

Mary C. Wilk, 96, Danville


The Daily Item

— DANVILLE — Mary Claire Wilt (née Soranno) died peacefully Saturday afternoon, April 27, 2013, in the home of her daughter and son-in-law, Dr. Elaine Maria Schwartz and Dr. Jan Arthur Schwartz, in Danville. Mary was 96¼, the last survivor of Vincenzia (née Panico) and Francesco Soranno’s six children: Anne, Rose, Pauline, Rocco and Angelo “Pete”.

Mary’s father remarried after the death of Vincenzia in 1925, and had two more children by his second wife, Angelica, Francis Fornaro (deceased) and Genevieve “Jennie” Munson.

Mary was born on Jan. 6, 1917, in Morristown, N.J. Her parents had immigrated from Montescalioso, Italy, sailing on the Ancona from Napoli in March of 1913.

Mary’s husband of 60 years, Chester, died in Dallas, Texas on June 14, just 13 days after Chet and Mary’s 60th wedding anniversary. Mary then returned north to live with her daughter Elaine’s family.

Mary is survived by her three children, Guglielmo (AB, MS, JD), John (AB, Transoceanic Multi-Engine, Heavy), and Dr. Elaine Maria Schwartz (pediatric surgeon, ret.) Dr. Jan Arthur Schwartz (anesthesiology); 11 grandchildren, Bill’s children Sam (BA, MS), Guy duT. Sliker (BA), Max C.F. Wilt (AB, August ’13), Hannah and Zoë; John’s son Billy (BS, June, ’14) and sisters Mollie and Alison; Elaine and Jan’s children Eben (MD), Kate (BA), Isaac (MD), Elyse Michelle Leevan (June 9, 2013), Mollie (BS, MS), David (MME, Lt., Joni (BA); great-grandsons, Paul and Henry (Sam’s sons); and Eben’s daughter and son, Margot and Asa.   

Mary (RN, BA) was proud to have cracked through the olive barrier at Columbia Presbyterian School of Nursing — that is, she was the first Italian to be admitted to the school, Class of 1940, at a time when the school was, according to Mary, a stepping stone for New York City debutantes seeking a suitable spouse.

As she told her children, she only voted for a member of the Democratic Party once, and the candidate was Franklin Delano Roosevelt. She was almost a life-long Republican, very active in politics in the Finger Lakes Region of New York state, until the party drifted away from the US Constitution. My favorite Mary quote: “If all these male politicians want to prevent women from having abortions, there is a simple solution — castrate them all.”

Mary and Chet’s first child, Bill, came along in April, a mere 11 months after their simple wedding (not that anyone was counting), John two years later, and Elaine three years after that. Though all of her births were by C-section (this in the mid-1940s, mind you), she said she would only stop after having a girl, if it killed her. Damned near did.

So Mary’s “unencumbered” career lasted a mere 25 months, but she pieced together a whole career nonetheless, as a night nurse at Strong Memorial Hospital, Rochester, school nurse at Harley Day School, and for many years the nurse-office manager of surgeon Dr. Edward Wood, who was killed in the wreck of a high-speed German train while on a skiing vacation with his wife, Helen (who survived).

Thereafter, Mary focussed her attention on getting things done for women and the elderly via political action in Irondequoit, Hemlock, Springwater, Geneseo, Wayland and the rest of “her” Western New York state and federal legislative districts, and later volunteering at Abigail’s Attic in Danville.

By all accounts, Mary could fairly be said to have made a success of Having It All, or at least, Having Both — a successful career and a family, well before the need developed to have discussions about whether it was necessary to choose one path and exclude the other.

Did I forget to mention that Mary got her bachelor of arts degree from Empire University in 1987? Majoring in women’s studies? (Who’d have guessed?)

Services are private, but donations in lieu of flowers (or in lieu of political donations to pols who don’t support women’s rights) may be made to Mary’s eponymous scholarship fund at: Empire State College Foundation, Alumni House, 28 Union Ave., Saratoga Springs, NY 12866-4390, www.esc.edu, and described by SUNY as: The Mary C. Wilt ’87 Scholarship.

Established by alumna Mary Wilt ’87, this scholarship is available to an undergraduate student enrolled at the Genesee Valley Center of Empire University (NYState) who demonstrates academic excellence and community and civic involvement. The student must have an approved degree program at the time of application.