Bill and Norma Zaruba
The last time I visited with Bill and Norma Zaruba was April 18, at the first of five weddings my wife and I had the privilege to witness this year. The daughter of one of their nieces was being married. Attending that Mass at St. Athanasius in Curtis Bay brought physical challenges for the couple, but they could write a book about commitment, as they were married 68 years ago in that parish, on Nov. 1, 1947.
They were two of the most gracious folks you would ever encounter, good parents and understated patriots, and I cannot offer higher praise than to say that they reminded me of my parents. They were not blood, but I greeted them as such. Uncle Bill died Nov. 25 at age 94. Aunt Norma was too ill to attend his services. She died Dec. 8, at age 91, meaning they were apart for less than two weeks.
They were parishioners of St. Philip Neri, but the funeral Masses for both were at St. Athanasius. As their most recent pastor, Father Michael DeAscanis, put it at Uncle Bill’s funeral: They were raised in Curtis Bay; married here in its chapel; had their children baptized here; and this is where they wanted to be buried.
Father DeAscanis described them as being one of the founding families of St. Philip Neri Parish, which was founded in 1964.
This is an incredibly busy time of year for pastors and priests, and it speaks to the esteem in which he held the Zarubas that Father DeAscanis was alongside Father Rob DiMattei, pastor of St. Athanasius, when the latter offered Aunt Norma’s funeral Mass. It included an honor guard from St. Philip Neri’s chapter of the Catholic Daughters of the Americas. Aunt Norma had been a member. As her obituary noted, her volunteer efforts included serving at Our Daily Bread and supporting the Little Sisters of the Poor, “where she enjoyed visiting and enriching the lives of the elderly residents.”
Uncle Bill helped count the collection at St. Philip Neri, where he had been an usher. He had also served in that capacity as St. Athanasius, and had been assistant Scoutmaster of its Boy Scout troop. “Even when he wasn’t supposed to be driving,” Father DiMattei said, “they would show up at our rectory to make a donation.”
Uncle Bill worked at the U.S. Coast Guard Yard for 43 years, and developed a renowned apprentice ship fitter program. Aunt Norma was his engineering equal. She retired from Westinghouse, and worked on a video camera that documented the first manned lunar landing. Their four children gave them five grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.
“Part of me wants to say that Norma died of a broken heart,” Father DiMattei said during the homily at her funeral. “But I like to think it was more her desire to join Bill. This is a celebration of marriage.”