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A Life Remembered: Mary Santo Paolo |

A Life Remembered: Mary Santo Paolo

Editor’s note: Each Monday, the Kenosha News takes a look at the life of a Kenosha County resident who recently died. We share with you, through the memories of family and friends, a life remembered.

Mary Santo Paolo had an eye for design — indoors and outdoors.

With degrees in both landscape design and interior design, she worked magic with trees and flowers and was a whiz with a sewing machine.

She made prom dresses for her daughters, coats for her dog and provided tailoring and accessories for weddings. She also fashioned blankets (for people and dogs) and “project bags” for her daughter’s knitting accessories.

She could whip up new curtains and throw pillows or refinish and reupholster thrift store furniture, said daughter Katie Verbick.

“I always loved seeing the stuff Mom would come up with. She’d say, ‘I just finished this chair,’ or ‘Hey, check out this dress I made,’” said her daughter Nicole Verbick.

For a wedding of hunting enthusiasts, Mary crafted boutonnieres from shotgun shells and incorporated antlers into the bride’s bouquet.

Gifted with a green thumb, Mary once rescued a nearly dead house plant and kept it thriving for 23 years, Nicole said.

Mary Catherine Santo Paolo, 58, of Kenosha, died Aug. 11 after a stroke. Her survivors include her daughters; two sisters, Dyan Santo Paolo and Judith (Mark) Zwolinski; and her faithful dog, Lola.

Mary was born on Sept. 30, 1958, the youngest daughter of Frank and Lois Santo Paolo. She attended local schools and graduated from Tremper High School in 1976.

Mary’s proclivity for sewing was evident as a girl, said her sister, Judie Zwolinski. “We both got it from our mother, who sewed and knitted,” she said.

Two degrees

She attended the University of Wisconsin-Parkside for two years, but switched to Gateway Technical College to pursue horticulture. She attained an associate’s degree in landscape design, and in her early 50s went back for a degree in interior design.

At Parkside, she worked in the chancellor’s office and with the Parkside Activities Board. She and Judie helped organize student social events, from rock concerts to a spring break trip to the Kentucky Derby.

In 1983, Mary married Christopher Verbick, and they had two daughters. The marriage later ended in divorce.

During her life, Mary worked “days jobs” that played to her primary interests: in the gardening department at Lowe’s, the greenhouse at the former Hillside Hardware, the kitchen and appliance department of J.C. Penney and at Cenni Carpet and Tile, Zion, Ill.

On her own

Mary also went into business for herself. Her first entrepreneurial endeavor was a landscape and interior decoration business called Inside Out.

In 2014, Mary established Not From the Store, a sewing business, fulfilling orders for Halloween costumes, wedding alterations and reupholstered furniture.

“She did lots of tailoring — some weird stuff,” said Nicole. Among these were a gorilla suit and covers for amplifiers made from old ties.

Mary’s skills were also of the nuts-and-bolts kind, Judie said. “In school, she took classes in small engine repair and welding.”

Some years later, with the guidance of a neighbor, Mary built a porch with stairs for one of her homes.

Home renovations

She loved redoing her homes — from redecorating the bathroom to punching a hole in the wall of the kitchen for a pass-through to the dining room, said her daughters.

“Our bathroom décor changed every year, and she was always rearranging furniture,” Nicole said.

Exercising her creative talents — and keeping redecorating costs down — Mary often scavenged the streets for cast-off furniture.

“There have been plenty of times we were driving somewhere and she had to pull over to pick things up from the side of the road,” Nicole said.

“I actually still find myself looking at furniture on the side of the road and thinking, ‘I wonder if my mom would like to do something with that.’”

Keeping in touch

Staying in touch with family was important to Mary.

“We’d text every day and send each other funny pictures,” Katie said. “She sent me one where her hair was a mess and texted, ‘I was in the store like this and nobody told me!’”

After her daughters left home, Mary adopted a 50-pound pit bull-labrador mix named Lola.

“I always said that (Lola) took my place,” Katie said. “Mom would call her pet names that she had used for me.”

When Mary broke her ankle while playing with Lola, Mary quipped, “‘She’s lucky she’s cute,’” said Nicole.

This attitude summed up Mary’s nature, said family.

“She was a kind person,” Judie said.

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