RANTOUL — A great many people lost their “second mother” this week with the death of Pauline Poremba of Rantoul.
Mrs. Poremba, a longtime Rantoul Press columnist known for her giving spirit, died early Wednesday morning from congestive heart failure. She was 77.
Mark Poremba, one of her four sons, said the family has received countless comments from people who called Mrs. Poremba their “second mom” — friends and family alike. She and her husband, Mike, were also foster parents to more than 300 children.
Perhaps it was a tough childhood that helped to shape Mrs. Poremba.
Things weren’t easy for her in early days. She grew up a poor Italian girl in Brooklyn who met an affluent Polish boy from The Hamptons, N.Y.
It was a classic tale of rich boy meets poor girl. They wanted to marry, but his parents wouldn’t allow it because she was not Polish, nor of the same social standing.
Both were 18 when they decided they wanted to marry. In those days, Mike Poremba said, a young man had to be at least 21 to get married in New York unless his parents signed papers allowing it, and a young woman at least 18. But his parents wouldn’t sign the papers. His mother even offered to buy him a Corvette if he would forget about the girl.
So they waited three years to marry. It happened Aug. 10, 1963. His mother and brothers attended the wedding, but not his father.
Mike Poremba said it wasn’t just their economic status that made them so dissimilar. It was also their personalities.
“She taught me a lot,” he said. “I was 180 degrees (different from her). I was rough, and she was a sweetheart. She taught me to be kind. I wasn’t so kind. She mellowed me out. She’s been working on me for 56 years.”
One of those who thought of Mrs. Poremba as her second mom was Michelle Clayton.
“It hurts me deeply,” Clayton said of Mrs. Poremba’s death. “I knew I could confide in her and it wouldn’t go any further.
“Pauline was one of the most giving, caring persons. She lived to help others. She was loyal and so easy to talk to.”
Clayton said she and Mrs. Poremba liked to head to Arthur for shopping at Beachy’s Bulk Foods, a grocery store run by the Amish, and then to Yoder’s restaurant for lunch.
Whenever Mrs. Poremba couldn’t go, Clayton would bring her back cinnamon rolls.
Mrs. Poremba used her Rantoul Press column — Pauline’s Corner — in part to find items for people in need. If someone needed a microwave or a refrigerator, she would find it for them. That work, which she did with the help of her husband, continued after her column-writing days had ended.
Mike Poremba said they stored items given to them to give to others.
Janna Horsch, store manager of the Seek and Find thrift store in Rantoul, said the Porembas frequently brought in donations. If someone needed to get rid of an item, they would call Mrs. Poremba.
“We kind of worked together” to find items for people, Horsch said. “She and Mike even brought in a whole trailer full of small furniture items. Somebody was moving, they would refer people here all the time.
“She was a wonderful lady. She had a beautiful heart. From the inside out, she radiated love.”
Kathleen Cooper got to know her good friend when they worked in the fabrics department at the old Walmart store on east U.S. 136. They continued to work together in the apparel department when Walmart opened its new store in west Rantoul.
She called Mrs. Poremba “Rantoul’s angel.”
“Everybody that knew her, if they didn’t think she was an angel and helped Rantoul a lot, they didn’t know her,” Cooper said.
Mrs. Poremba also worked at Vetter Fairing, ran the Mister Donut shop and a furniture store.
Sister Sara Koch of St. Malachy Church, Rantoul, said Mrs. Poremba was unique.
“She was just an ordinary citizen, but she did extra achievement in caring for the needs of the community and the people,” Koch said. “I just thought she was phenomenal and a very faith-filled woman who really cared for everybody in the community.”
Mrs. Poremba’s niece — Dona Nieto of Southampton, N.Y. — said Mrs. Poremba thought of Nieto as “the daughter I never had.”
Nieto said she spoke to her aunt every day on the phone, sometimes more than once.
“My dad died nine years ago,” Nieto said. “She has been my rock ever since. I would call her with anything. She was a really loving, caring person and would help anyone.”
Nieto called her aunt her “best friend.”
“Everybody called her ‘mom.’”
Mike Poremba joined the Air Force, which is what brought them to Rantoul in 1960.
From the beginning, Mrs. Poremba got involved in the community.
Her philosophy was, “I’m just a giver; I’m not a taker,” he said.
He said she knew she might not be paid back right away for her good deeds but would in the long run.
Mrs. Poremba also liked to sponsor bus trips for friends and area residents to the Par-A-Dice casino in Peoria. Everyone on the trips called her “mom.” Even the bus driver.
Mike Poremba said his wife suffered several health issues. In latter years she was living with “half a heart”
He said his wife didn’t want any services to be held and didn’t want an obituary.
In addition to her husband, she is survived by three sons, Mark, Alan and Michael. She was preceded in death by one son, John.