Mary Caroline Breef (nee Zimmerman) was 96 years and 10 months young, when she passed peacefully at home on January 8th, with family by her side.
Born on February 28, 1925 in Perth Amboy, NJ to John M. and Pauline M. (nee Osusky) Zimmerman, she grew up with her siblings, Kathryn, Pauline, and John in a close knit extended Slovak-American community. She was a member of the St. Mary’s High School Class of 1943 and married her husband, James J. Breef, in 1946. They briefly lived in Norfolk, VA to support his Naval service, before returning to Perth Amboy to start their family. As the family grew, they settled in the home James built on Jacques Street, a home Mary was immensely proud and blessed to remain in for the rest of her life. When her youngest child started school, she began her career as a clerk at the Perth Amboy Post Office. She was active in the American Postal Workers Union, and retired after 20 years of service. In her retirement, she continued being active in her church organizations, as well as the Raritan Yacht Club - Ladies Auxiliary and the Slovak American Citizens Club.
A woman of great faith, Mary never missed taking part in daily Mass, followed at 3 o'clock with the Divine Mercy and Rosary (which she prayed on her collection of rosary beads from around the globe). Mary was a longtime communicant of Holy Trinity Roman Catholic Church in Perth Amboy, where she was married and her children attended school. She was a member of its choir, and could be heard singing at 10 o'clock Sunday Mass and on all holy day observances. Additionally, she was a member of the parish’s senior citizens club, the Holy Trinity Rosarians, and a recipient of the Regina Nostra Award from the Dioceses of Metuchen. More recently, she was a communicant of Good Shepherd Parish in Hopelawn.
Talented and generous in cooking and baking, you couldn’t escape her kitchen without a stuffed cabbage or a nut roll. Everything had Mary’s love and God’s blessing before it went in the oven, so you could be sure it would be delicious when it emerged. She was known for sharing food with all, including the Slovak American Citizen Club, where she was an active member. There was always an extra-long line at the September luncheon meeting when she and her brother would make her famous hotdogs with chili sauce.
Mary would brag to anyone who would listen about her children, grandchildren and great grandchildren. Family was very important to her and she made sure to never miss a birthday, wedding, confirmation, graduation or chance to simply visit. Whatever the occasion, she traveled undaunted by any distance between her and those who affectionately called her “Mom”, “Baba”, “Grammy” or “Great Baba”. She packed her snow boots and ventured to Canada to visit her daughter, Rosemary, and her spouse, Roger Olmstead, and grandchildren, Linnae and Rowan. Breaking out her cowboy hat for a 36-hour car ride in the opposite direction took her to see her son, Jay, his spouse, Peggy Breef, and grandchildren, Benjamin, Olivia, and Caitlin. Mary was always happy to return home, put up her feet, and spend time with her family right around the corner. Her daughter, Joanne/cargiver, grandson Matthew and girlfriend Michelle, would share a meal, most recently the Slovak Christmas Eve Dinner,or go out to the waterfront, while daughter Michele, also local, and her spouse, John Bodnar, and grandchildren, Garrett, and Gabrielle were frequent visitors to her home. She made sure to bring her knitting on Amtrak trips to Massachusetts to visit her daughter, Nancy/physical therapist, her spouse, Bruce Pilz, and grandchildren Adrienne, Jeremy, and Charlotte. Before long, she’d be bound for Chicago to visit her son, Adrian, his spouse, Laura Schultz, and grandchildren, Emma and Anna. In more recent years, Mary used her IPad to be present when she couldn’t be there in person and to keep close to her family and friends.
As her beautiful family grew, she was blessed to become a great grandmother to the next generation. She delighted in all of her great grandchildren: Erik Olmstead, Teagan and Ethan Bustin, children of Linnae and Don; Ciaran, Ailish, Riona, and Anya Olmstead, daughters of Rowan and Kim; Bailey and Paige Nance, daughters of Caitlin and Cooper; Cassidy Bodnar, daughter of Garrett and Amy; and Benjamin Breckenridge, son of Olivia and Justin.
In addition to her immediate family, Mary Breef is survived by her sister, Pauline Zaleski, and her husband, Arthur; her brother, John Zimmerman, and his wife, Patricia; and numerous nieces and nephews. She will also be missed by her loving caregiver, Tsitsi Chanturia. She is predeceased by her husband, James, sister, Kathryn, daughter, Rosemary, grandson, Benjamin, and great granddaughter, Teagan.
Visiting hours will be from 2 to 6 PM on Monday, January 17th at Gustav J. Novak Funeral Home, 419 Barclay St. Perth Amboy. A funeral Mass of the Resurrection will be celebrated on Tuesday, January 18th, 11 AM at Good Shepherd Parish at Our Lady of Holy Rosary Church in Hopelawn. Livestream found at https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCZ2WiF9EDudpjNEHWNsWoDw
Burial will follow at Holy Trinity Cemetery.
In lieu of flowers, donations can be made in Mary’s memory to Good Shepherd Parish (reference: Capital Campaign/Mary Breef), 625 Florida Grove Road, Hopelawn, NJ 08861.