FAIR OAKS/MANHATTAN MANOR — Viola Dolle used to wonder why God let her live so long. Her daughter would say that God must still have work for her.
In recent weeks, as Mrs. Dolle was in failing health, her four children came from all corners of the country to visit her. Earlier this week, they gathered together to share memories of her long and happy life.
"I think Mom's final assignment on earth was to bring her children closer together," said her daughter, Barbara Prinzi.
Mrs. Dolle passed away Oct. 8 after a short illness. She was 99 years old, but had been active and in excellent health until a couple of months ago.
Seen from a distance, Mrs. Dolle's life may have seemed ordinary. She was a homemaker and a devoted mother who loved to cook. She bowled a nearly perfect game more than 30 years ago, and her family still touts that as one of her great achievements.
It was her attitude about life that made her exceptional, her children said. She cherished every moment of her life and did her best to make sure everyone she met enjoyed their lives, too.
"To know my mother was to love her," said her son Jeff Dolle. "She was a legend at the Publix on Neptune. Everyone knew her. The woman in the deli would come around from behind the counter to hug her every time she came in."
Mrs. Dolle often spoke of how much she admired the people at Publix, who worked so hard and got no recognition. Every Christmas, she would give a personalized card and gift of cash to several Publix employees.
That was typical of the way she lived her life, her family said.
Mrs. Dolle was born and raised in Cicero, Ill. She was a gifted musician and dreamed of becoming a concert pianist.
But in 1929, right at the beginning of the Great Depression, her father died. Mrs. Dolle, then 19 years old, gave up her piano studies and took a clerical job.
"She earned $22 a week," Jeff Dolle said. "She kept $2 and gave $20 to her mother to help support the family."
In 1934, she married Peter Dolle, a home builder. They had four sons and a daughter together. The family moved to Sarasota in 1952, and Mr. Dolle developed one of the largest communities in the area at that time.
They moved back to Illinois in the 1960s, and Mrs. Dolle came to Tampa shortly after her husband died in 1982.
She had always been a devout Catholic and attended Mass at St. Patrick Church near her home every day.
When she was 90, she traveled to Rome for an outdoor Christmas Eve Mass celebrated by Pope John Paul II. It was pouring rain, but Mrs. Dolle smiled the entire time.
"It was absolutely one of the high points of her religion," her son Adam Dolle said.
In recent years, getting to church had become difficult. She watched Mass on television every morning, and even though she seldom got to St. Patrick, she would send her donation every week and make sure the money reached the church.
"Whether it was good times or bad, she always turned to prayer," her daughter said. "She prayed for sick friends, and she prayed for baseball games."
Baseball had been a passion in her life since her husband's death. She had never cared about it until then, but became a devoted fan of the Rays. She watched every game, and even stayed up until 2:30 in the morning watching playoff games that went into extra innings.
Her grandson, Peter Prinzi, is a coach for the St. Louis Cardinals. Mrs. Dolle would pray for a Cardinals' victory before every big game. Just after her death, the Cardinals got knocked out of the National League Divisional Series.
"We lost our good luck charm," her grandson said.
Besides her daughter and her sons Adam and Jeff, Mrs. Dolle is survived by her sons Peter and Thomas, six grandchildren and one great-granddaughter.
Marty Clear writes life stories about Tampa residents who have recently passed away. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.