Maria and Tony Strukelj moved to Emily from Chicago after they were married in 1959 to own and operate Emily Super Market. They owned and worked at the store together for 32 years, and for five of those years Maria ran the store by herself.
Although Maria Strukelj lives in the small town of Emily, she has a big story to tell.
Maria and Tony Strukelj settled in Emily in 1959 after being married in Chicago, and they owned Emily Super Market for 32 years.
But Maria's story began far, far away in Slovenia.
Maria was born in 1921 in the town of Novo Mesto, the oldest of three sisters. Maria's father was an engineer on the railroad, and her mother was a dressmaker.
"My mother used to make the clothes that my sisters and I would wear, and we would match sometimes," Maria said.
Maria went to grade school and high school and took two years of classes at a business school where she learned to type, do office jobs and do shorthand.
While Maria was working in a law office, war and conflict came to Slovenia with the rise of Adolf Hitler and the Communist Party in Slovenia.
Maria and her entire family were anti-communists, and she joined the cause to fight against communism.
"I worked in the propaganda office, and we put out anti-communism pamphlets. It was a fun time. I really liked the people that worked in the office. But the communists, they didn't like us so much," Maria said.
The communists actually put Maria in jail, where she stayed for a month until a connection was able to get her out.
"My cousin was a big shot communist, so I was lucky. My mother went to my cousin because she helped him study for many years, and she said, 'You know Maria is in jail?' and he said, 'Sure.' And then my mother told him to do something about it," Maria said.
After being released from prison, Maria went back to work for the propaganda office until she received word that she was on a list to be shot because of her involvement.
Maria escaped with her sisters, but her parents refused to leave their home.
"They never left Slovenia. They said that it was their home, and they weren't going anywhere," Maria said.
The sisters escaped to Austria. Although they were able to ride the train most of the way, the sisters had to walk part of the way.
"We traveled to Austria because the English and American armies would protect us. We knew we would be safe there," Maria said.
When they set out for the refugee camp in Austria, Maria didn't know where they were going, but she said they never got lost.
"There were so many people going, it was like a procession. They were so close together that you couldn't get lost - we just followed the people in front of us. It was just like the gypsy life," Maria said.
In Austria, the refugee camp was in a schoolyard, and Maria estimates there were easily 20,000 people camping out at the school.
The sisters relocated to different refugee camps in Italy, where Maria worked to register the refugees that were in the camp.
A priest Maria knew then got her a job in Rome to be the center for immigration for Yugoslavian people. Maria was in charge of typing and cooking all the meals, and she lived in Rome for three years.
In 1949, Maria decided another move was in order.
"I had an uncle in Akron, Ohio, my mother's brother, and he always told us that we should come because he wanted to know us. And we decided that there was a lot of opportunity in America," Maria said.
After working for about a year in Akron, Maria moved to Chicago.
"My uncle cried because he said Chicago was a bad city. I said, 'Look where I come from. I'm not afraid of anything,'" Maria said.
So after about nine years in Chicago, Maria got a call from a priest who told her about a little grocery store in Emily that he thought she should run.
"I told him that I didn't know the language very well, but I could do the numbers, so the priest told me to marry Tony because he knew many languages. He told me I could have the bookkeeping - Tony hates the booking," Maria said.
So Maria and Tony got married and moved to Emily to run their grocery store, which they continued to do for 32 years.
In those 32 years, Maria became very involved in the community through the church, chamber of commerce and as a fire warden.
She is now retired and is still living in Emily directly behind the store she and Tony owned for so long.
pineandlakes.com ©2013. All Rights Reserved.