“Yummm… you made stuffed artichokes!” This is how Marilyn’s family would greet her on Mother’s Day, and she would not have wanted it any other way. Marilyn Calvagna, age 91, Rockford, passed away on January 27, 2023. She was preceded in death by her husband Mario Calvagna, by her parents Oscar and Hulda Swanson, and her brothers Donald and Roy. She is survived by her son Paul, wife Lisa, granddaughters Meghan Carranante (Enzo) and Rebecca Avant (Jordan) and great grandchildren Cecelia, Wesley, and Baby Avant; her son Phil, wife Michele and granddaughter Elena; her son Peter; as well as many cousins, nephews and nieces, and granddogs Annie, Winnie, Frankie and Freddie.
The youngest surviving daughter of Swedish immigrants, Marilyn was dedicated to her family and proud of her Swedish heritage. She attended a one-room school that was located at what is now the intersection of Illinois Hwy 2 and Gleasman Road, which she would often reach via horseback! When she was a teenager, she traveled to Sweden and created close ties with cousins, aunts and uncles that remain today. She graduated from Hononegah High School in Rockton, IL. She met Mario Calvagna at the 615 Club on State Street in Rockford, IL, and soon after they were married.
Her skills in the kitchen were unparalleled, ranging from the Swedish cooking of her childhood (pepparkakor cookies and Swedish pancakes were family favorites) to traditional Sicilian meals like Taganu D’Aragona that she mastered by the side of her mother-in-law. She made birthday cakes and wedding cakes for family members and friends. She received recognition for her culinary prowess, winning trophies in the annual Rockford Register Star cooking contests.
In addition to cooking, Marilyn’s hobbies included ceramics, always keeping the house decorated for every holiday with bowls and jars filled with all sorts of goodies for the grandkids. She was an avid Chicago Cubs baseball fan, and attended as many games as she could, especially trips with the various senior groups of which she and Mario were members. She developed a love for travel, returning to Sweden to see family. She also traveled to Great Britain, Italy and Hawaii.
Marilyn’s greatest joy was her family. She loved being with her kids and grandkids, patiently helping them with homework, teaching them to cook, sharing family recipes, and painting ceramics or crafting with them at every opportunity. She did not let a birthday, anniversary, or other special occasion slip by without sending a card to the celebrant. Whether on a family vacation or overseeing the preparation of a family holiday dinner, Marilyn could always be found amid family. She filled Christmas stockings until they overflowed and hid eggs every Easter for decades. She never missed an invitation to attend a school program or special event for her grandchildren: from preschool art shows to Christmas programs to college graduations, she was always there with lots of hugs, smiles and praise. Every birthday was celebrated, and every milestone cheered. She and Mario led by example with a marriage filled with love that lasted 64 years until Mario’s passing.
Marilyn was an active volunteer throughout her life. As a young woman, she helped in the WWII effort by collecting milkweed seed silk for parachutes. This work was celebrated on a Vets Roll trip that she took as a “Rosie” with Mario in 2016. As a member of St. Bernadette’s Catholic Parish in Rockford, Marilyn served as Commentator, volunteered with the senior organization, served in the volunteer Ladies of St Bernadette’s, helped organize and lead the annual church health fair, and for many years was a grade school room mother. Marilyn made and donated lamb cakes for the St. Joseph’s Altars at St. Anthony Catholic Church. In the community, Marilyn and Mario served as election judges.
“Where there is great grief, there was great love.” Marilyn loved greatly and was loved greatly in return. She will be greatly missed as well.
Funeral Mass will be held on Friday, February 3, 2023, at St. Bernadette Catholic Church, 2400 Bell Av. Rockford. Burial will be in Calvary Catholic Cemetery. Visitation will be from 5:00 PM until 8:00 PM on Thursday, February 2, 2023, at Fitzgerald Funeral Home and Crematory, Riverside Chapel, 3910 N. Rockton Av. with the Rosary recited at 7:45 PM Share online condolences at www.fitzgeraldfh.com.
Posted online on January 28, 2023
Published in Rockford Register Star