Irene A. Pekarek

Feb. 23, 1921 – May 24, 2019

Irene Anne Pekarek, age 98, died May 24, 2019, at the Walnut Creek Assisted Living facility in Kettering, Ohio.  She lived in Centerville, Ohio, from 1965 to January 2019.  She was born Feb. 23, 1921, on a farm near Sprague-Martell, the daughter of Frank and Helen (Nemec) Smisek.   She married Milo A. Pekarek in March 1945 and the marriage endured for 59 years until Milo’s death in 2004. She is survived by her daughter, Ann Barton, of Centre Hall, Pennsylvania, and son, Michael, of Dayton, Ohio.

Irene was an only child and close to her cousins who she visited in the 1920s by horse and wagon and even rode covered with blankets in a snow sleigh in the winter. She loved to reminisce about holiday meals with different relatives, cooking and sewing with her mother and the festive atmosphere at threshing time. Her primary education was at Rose Hill School, a one-room schoolhouse near Sprague. Her mother, Helen, took her to every Shirley Temple movie in Crete, and she shopped with her parents in Lincoln and enjoyed special lunches at Gold’s Department Store.

She attended Sprague-Martell High School for three years but graduated from Western High School in 1939 after moving to a nearby farm. She played piano accompaniment for her school chorus. Irene graduated as salutatorian and first worked as a bank teller in Crete where she rented a room. Every Friday she would buy the newest sheet music at the Ben Franklin store. The big band era was in full swing, and she danced at the Pla Mor, Stardust and other venues. She also loved Czech polkas, and she was a regular at Sokol Hall, Tabor Hall and Saline Center.

Irene met Milo, then in the Army Air Corps, at Sokol Hall in Wilber in 1944. Milo had to wait through two dances for his turn. Irene traveled by train to West Palm Beach, Florida, in 1945 to marry Milo on March 1. The war ended as they made their way back to Nebraska in a shared car to prepare for the birth of their first child, Ann. Their life together took them to Lincoln, and a second child, Michael, was born.

Milo’s job with the National Cash Register Company (later NCR) moved them to Norfolk. They moved several years later to Des Moines, Iowa, and purchased their first house in West Des Moines in 1957. It was there that Irene began her long vocation as a piano teacher and learned to play golf. NCR moved them to Dayton, Ohio, in 1965. Irene loved homemaking, excelling at cooking and sewing. She loved playing golf and enjoyed the beautiful NCR Country Club facilities.

Irene was a consummate teacher of piano with hundreds of students until her early 90s. She was a longtime member and sometimes president of the Dayton Piano Teachers’ Guild. With patience and kindness she gave her students a firm foundation in musical theory and piano technique. She allayed her students’ fear at recital time, applauded their successes and reminded them that the courage to perform publicly was a success in itself.  She loved to hear from her students as they progressed in their own lives and continued to encourage them in their endeavors.

Irene and Milo were world travelers but never forgot their Nebraska roots and returned regularly to visit Grandma Helen and, after her death, all the relatives.  They would start playing their huge collection of polka cassettes and later CDs when they crossed the Missouri River in Omaha. They especially relished their experiences in the newly reborn Czech Republic on a six-week sojourn associated with Milo’s work as a business consultant. Their fluent and grammatical spoken Czech astounded their Bohemian hosts.

Milo suffered a stroke in 1994, and Irene was a devoted caregiver. After Milo’s death in 2004, Irene continued to make annual visits to Nebraska and particularly enjoyed staying at Grandma’s little bungalow in Crete. Irene battled extreme old age because she loved life and intended to enjoy it for as long as possible. She was a legend in the Centerville, Ohio, neighborhood and loved to watch school children getting off and on the yellow buses. She groomed her peonies, geraniums and African violets from her walker. As decrepitude set in, she frequently repeated, “I have to get better!” But, of course, time is unrelenting and Irene, only in the last few days, accepted the inevitable. Hers was a long and fulfilled life.  

A memorial service in Centerville, Ohio, is planned for September. An informal gathering in Crete is also planned in the autumn—announcements to be made in the Crete News and Wilber Republican.