Over nine decades, from Chicago to Paw Paw, Mich., there was never a lonely neighbor, a household pet or a niece, nephew, cousin or friend who left Margurite Bellware’s table hungry or unhappy. A child of Italian immigrants, Margurite (who was alternately known as “Maggie” or “Aunt Marge”) spent her life devoted to the comfort and care of her friends and family. She was best-loved for her cooking, closely followed by her warm touch, which typically showed itself in the form of a tight hand squeeze and kiss on the face. Her kindness made it easy to underestimate Margurite’s cleverness and irreverence; she once talked herself out of a traffic ticket by making the officer laugh so hard at her explanation for making an (apparently) illegal U-turn.
Margurite Doreen (Fiocchetti) Bellware died peacefully on Wednesday, Dec. 12, attended by her family. She was 95. Margurite was born amid the Great Depression on Feb. 3, 1923 on a farm north of Paw, Paw where her parents Giuseppe (Joe) and Rose, grew asparagus and grapes and raised Margurite and her two sisters. The lean years of her childhood shaped her outlook for years to come: She was thrifty and hated waste; when visiting restaurants, she was prone to wrapping leftover bread in a napkin and tucking it into her purse. She also valued hard work and self sufficiency, aware that her family had fared better than friends in the city as they were able to grow their own food. Her early years also made her intensely grateful for all blessings, material or otherwise.
She attended Paw Paw High School, graduating in 1941. Her brilliant smile nearly became her ticket to New York City when she was scouted by an ad-man for Colgate, but her mother, wary of the city and the business, squashed the idea. Instead, she went to Chicago where her family had first lived upon arriving in the United States. She worked for Butler Brothers, the mail-order wholesaler, and would spend her lunch breaks window shopping at Marshall Field’s.
On a visit home to Paw Paw, she had her dress ruined by John “Jack” Shirley Bellware, a local dry cleaner. To make it up to her, he offered to take her to breakfast; she later learned that meant boarding his small plane and flying to another city to eat. They ended up marrying on Feb. 4 1945 in Paw Paw where they raised two children, Joanne and Jack.
In Paw Paw, Margurite grew active in the community, working as a “Gray Lady” volunteer at the Lakeview Community Hospital and at the Van Buren County District Library. She later worked as a deputy clerk for Friends of the Court at the Van Buren County courthouse. She also lent her talents to Lucille’s Doll House, a local dress shop for women, modeling outfits during fashion shows.
With her husband, they ran a small airport where Jack instructed World World II pilots on the G.I. Bill. They later turned the airport hangar into a tavern where the Saturday night draw was a massive spaghetti and meatball dinner cooked by Margurite’s mother. Throughout her nearly 50-year marriage, she assisted (or sometimes merely tolerated) her husband’s various business ideas. As her reward, when he built Bellabrook subdivision in Paw Paw, he named a street after her.
When Margurite and Jack weren’t in Paw Paw, they were traveling the globe, making stops around Europe and Asia; she was especially fond of Sorrento, Italy and Singapore.
After her husband’s death in 1992, Margurite kept busy traveling with her girlfriends, taking road trips and spending time with her four grandkids. She also became the perennial host of family holiday dinners and could be found in the kitchen for hours, or in the living room peeling potatoes into a giant pot that came from an Army mess hall. In her 80s, she was recognized throughout the region for her pizelles, the lacy Italian cookies she made nearly year-round and often gave as gifts.
Margurite was a lifelong parishioner at St. Mary’s Church in Paw Paw and attended services until her later years. Her devout Catholicism and superstition led her to pull over and say a prayer whenever she saw a passing ambulance. She prayed regularly for those around the world experiencing danger, hatred or strife. She would let stressed or aggrieved loved ones know she would light a candle for them.
Margurite is survived by her children, Joanne Lucas of Paw Paw and Jack Bellware (Gloria) of Kalamazoo; her four grandchildren, John (Stacia) Lucas of Jacksonville, Fla, Kathy (Jason) Hopkins of Trumbull, Conn., Michael (Lindsay) Bellware of Beverly Hills, Mich. and Kimberly Bellware of Chicago; her five great-grandchildren, Lucas, Sidney and Brody Hopkins and Jack and Hannah Bellware; and her many nieces, nephews, relatives and friends. She was preceded in death by her husband John “Jack” Bellware;’ her parents, Joe and Rose Fiocchetti; her older sister Theresa Cekola and her younger sister Gilda Rubino.
Visitation will be at Adams Funeral Home in Paw Paw on Monday, Dec. 17 from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. Funeral service will be at St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Paw Paw on Tuesday, Dec. 18 at 11 a.m. In lieu of flowers, gifts can be made out to the Kalamazoo-based hospice home Kairos Dwelling and the Paw Paw-based Eleanor’s Pantry.