Irene Anne Panzica, 95, passed peacefully in the embrace of family on November 10. She was born July 25, 1924 in South Bend, IN to Samuel (“Xavier Gembarzewski”) and Elizabeth (Markowski) Gember. On June 5, 1948, at St. Hedwig Catholic Church in South Bend, she married Anthony J. Panzica, whose death preceded hers by 100 days. Irene was also preceded in death by sisters Beatrice Szymczak and Rosemarie Ratajczak; and brothers Arthur Gember and Robert Gember.
Together Irene and Anthony had eight children, with a son, John, preceding them in death. Also predeceased was great-grandchild Lynnley Eiler of Wabash, IN. Irene is survived by five sons: James (Barbara), Michael, Philip (Susan), Thomas (Diana) and William (Debra) Panzica, all of South Bend; and two daughters: Carolyn (Ronald) Zhiss of Carmel, IN and Elizabeth (Michael) Newman of Raleigh, NC. Also surviving are twenty grandchildren and ten great-grandchildren. In addition, nephew Ronald Gember was especially close.
Raised in South Bend, Irene was an outgoing “people person”, known for her friendly demeanor wrapping a strong will with a resilient spirit. In her teens she displayed poise and skill as drum majorette for the renowned South Bend American Legion Post 357 Drum and Bugle Corps. Irene attended St. Hedwig Catholic School and graduated from South Bend Central High Class of 1942 before entering Holy Cross School of Nursing. In WWII, she enlisted in the US Cadet Nurse Corps., serving at Indiana State Mental Hospital in Logansport. As a Registered Nurse she later practiced at South Bend’s St. Joseph Hospital before leaving to raise a family.
The mother of a special needs son, Irene dedicated herself to raising Michael at home and helping other parents trailblaze resources to help care for, educate and employ special needs individuals in the community instead of institutionalizing them. She was an avid Logan Center volunteer and served on the boards of CORVILLA, Inc. and the American Red Cross Northern Indiana Chapter, where she also taught childbirth classes. She was a devoted member of South Bend’s St. Anthony de Padua Church Altar and Rosary Society. Among her many friends residing at Holy Cross Village was a cherished group of longtime close companions from that Society. She would later become an active member of Sacred Heart Parish at Notre Dame.
A world traveler, in her 80s Irene embarked on an ambitious faith pilgrimage to Medjugorje. Always a gifted cook, she was an uncommon lady of Polish descent who could flawlessly prepare authentic Italian dishes learned from her husband’s Sicilian grandmother, while also able to prepare a delicious Polish meal for a large gathering at any time.
Irene was a devoted daughter, a loving wife, a mother, grandmother, nurse and friend; and a lifelong servant of church, country and community. Her zesty personality and quick wit will be missed by all. Her greatest legacy is the treasured family to which she devoted her life, and for whom any wounds, physical or emotional, she healed with her tender touch. The family gives special thanks to the caring staff at Holy Cross Village, where Irene resided for more than a decade.
Visitation will begin at 12:30 PM on Friday Nov. 15, in Holy Cross Village’s Our Lady Chapel, 54515 SR 933N Notre Dame, IN, immediately followed by a Mass of Christian Burial at 2:00 PM and interment in Notre Dame’s Cedar Grove Cemetery. Palmer Funeral Home-Guisinger Chapel is assisting the family.
In lieu of flowers, contributions in memory of Irene A. Panzica may be made to South Bend’s Logan Center logancenter.org/donate/. Online condolences may be offered to the family at www.palmerfuneralhomes.com.
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