Crested Butte native Mary Apolona Stefanic-Armanini was born in Crested Butte on July 18, 1922. Her parents Mike (Misko) Stefanac (1879-1926) and Katarina (Kata) Stefanac (1884-1959) were immigrants from Croatia. The last name was somehow “Americanized” to Stefanic through misspelling.
Mary was given the middle name Apolona after her Godmother, Apolona Spritzer, who was a close friend of Mary’s mother. Noteworthy is the derivative of the name Apolona. It comes from the name Apallonia, which means feminine, and is the name of a third Century saint and martyr from Alexandria, a city in Egypt.
Around 1906, Mary’s father migrated to Crested Butte to work in the coal mines. He left his wife Katarina and infant son, Mary’s brother Mike, Jr., in Croatia. After working in the coal mines for five years, he qualified to become a sponsor. He had a job, a place to live and he had saved his money! He arranged for his wife and five-year-old son to come to America. Mary’s mother, Katarina, her brother Mike and an aunt, Katherine Sneller, boarded a ship in France. Upon arriving at Ellis Island, they came to Crested Butte by train.
Mary became one of seven siblings: her oldest sibling Mike, (1906-1975) followed by Steve, (1911-1989); Tony, (1913-1994); Katie, (1916-1919); John, (1919- 1956); Mary, (1922-2018); and Joe (1925-2010). While Mary’s mother stayed at home and took care of the family, her father worked in the coal mines. The Croatian family was finding its way in their new homeland called America.
Then tragedy struck the family two months prior to her brother John being born. The date was Sept. 4, 1919. Mary’s older sister Katie, age three years and three months, tragically died as a result of being badly burned. Some boys had been playing with matches in the alley behind the family home and Katie’s starched dress caught fire. After the loss of Katie, the family was blessed by the lives of John, Mary and Joe. However, that joy was cut short due to the death of their father. Mary was three years old and Joe was nine months old when her father Mike (Miska) was gravely injured in the Buckley Mine. He was brought to the family home where he died in the living room on Jan. 11, 1926.
Somehow with the help of her two oldest sons, Mike and Steve, who had gone to work in the coal mines, and perhaps with the help of the Catholic Church and the Croatian Lodge, Mary’s mother and her children survived. There was no insurance from the Mine, no widow pension, no social security and no welfare! As the years went by, each of the children helped with her care. Mary’s mother never remarried and she never learned to speak English. She raised chickens and sold eggs to support her family. She continued to live in Crested Butte until 1955 when Mary’s youngest brother Joe moved her into his home in Pueblo. She died in 1959.
Mary attended school only through the third grade. One day, early in her 4th grade school year, a neighbor came to the family home asking to borrow matches. Mary’s mother stood on a chair in the kitchen to get the matches. Apparently she tripped on her untied shoelaces, fell from the chair and broke her arm. When Mary came home from school for lunch, her brother Tony, now the male head of the household, told her that she was not to return to school because she was needed at home to help their mother. When Mary was told that she could return to school, she refused because she missed too much school and felt that she was too far behind her classmates. Thus, she remained at home with her mother, helping with the household chores, cleaning and cooking, and helping take care of her younger brother Joe.
Mary remained in the family home until she married a local boy John (Johnny) Armanini, in St. Patrick’s Catholic Church in Crested Butte on July 1, 1950. Johnny was born Aug. 30, 1908 to first generation Italian immigrants. After completing two years of high school, he followed in his father’s footsteps and went to work in the coal mines. He was physically strong because of the strenuous work mining coal by hand, thus the nickname “Hefty.” He became skilled in operating mining machinery in the “Big Mine,” the CF&I coal mine in Crested Butte.
When World War II began, Johnny enlisted in the Army on June 20, 1942 and stayed in the service of his country for the duration of the war. He was 34 when he started his military career. His base of operation was Pueblo. From there, he was sent overseas and fought in several of the war’s major battles. At the completion of the War on Sept. 2, 1945, Johnny returned to Crested Butte and went back to the “Big Mine.”
After Mary and Johnny were married, the Big Mine closed a short time later. They moved to Trinidad where he found employment in the Allen Coal Mine. While Johnny worked in the coal mine, Mary worked as a housekeeper. When Johnny was diagnosed with black lung disease, he was taken to a hospital in Raton, N.M., where he died two weeks later on Aug. 12, 1980. Mary had him buried in the cemetery of their home town of Crested Butte.
Following her husband’s death, Mary’s brother Steve moved her to Pueblo to be near him and her brother Joe. She lived in her apartment until Jan. 21, 2012 at which time she moved into The Willows, the assisted living facility in Gunnison. Mary enjoyed her life at The Willows. The staff treated her kindly and she made friends. Until recently, she delighted in taking care of the plants and flowers. She was an honest, frugal, neat and hard-working lady. She had an incredible memory and remembered details of her family and events in her life. She was concerned about any debts owed, and wanted to make sure that all of her bills were paid on time! Following a short illness, Mary entered Eternal Life March 26, 2018 while under Hospice care in the Gunnison Health Center.
Her funeral services were held at St. Peters Catholic Church in Gunnison, with Fr. Andres Ayala- Santiago officiating. The Vigil and Rosary were held April 6, 2018 and the Mass of Christian Burial April 7, 2018, followed by interment in the Crested Butte Cemetery beside her husband. Despite the many hardships Mary endured, she always held God and her Roman Catholic faith close to her heart. Fr. Andres Ayala prayed with her shortly before she died asking, “Mary, do you believe in God the Father almighty...” She responded in a strong voice, “I do!”
She is survived by numerous nieces and nephews, great nieces and nephews and great-great nieces and nephews; including nephews Marty and John Stefanic and niece Kay Stefanic-Flint, and great niece Dr. Laurie Garren, all of Gunnison. Memorial contributions may be made to St. Peter’s Development Fund, 400 W. Georgia, Gunnison, Colo., 81230. (Obituary composed by Frances Kay Stefanic-Flint, niece).