During World War II, Mary Del Monte so impressed her superiors with her thirst for learning that her photograph was used for recruitment brochures for the Women’s Army Corps.
Mrs. Del Monte, whose life trajectory took her from the shores of Lake Superior to a dietician, wife and mother in Chicago’s southwest suburbs, passed away on June 15 at the age of 94.
Born Mary Streidl in the Upper Peninsula town of Menominee, MI, in 1917, she demonstrated an early talent for painting with watercolors and acrylics. Even with her artistic triumphs in high school, she knew that she wanted to study dietetics.
Following high school, Mrs. Del Monte moved to St. Paul, MN, where she earned a degree from the College of St. Catherine (now St. Catherine University). After her college graduation, she was selected for a medical school internship at St. Louis University.
In 1941, she was hired at age 26 as a dietician at Fort Leonard Wood in Missouri as a Department of Army civilian. She was inducted into the U.S. Army shortly after.
During visits to her family while on leave, her brother, Bill, was proud to walk the streets of their hometown with his big sister in her sharp uniform. Her photograph was used on Army recruitment brochures.
A consummate professional but possessing a sense of humor, Mrs. Del Monte did not participate in the hijinks she observed at the base, she said in a Library of Congress interview for the Veterans History Project. This included “vanilla parties,” where soldiers stole cases of vanilla extract to imbibe in the woods.
She met her future husband, Tom Del Monte, at Fort Leonard Wood, and in 1945, she left the Army a pregnant newlywed. She returned to her parents’ home in Michigan while her husband was sent overseas.
After her husband’s safe return at the end of World War II, the Del Montes lived in veteran housing on Chicago’s South Side, then in Hometown, and finally in Evergreen Park.
As a wife and mother, she cooked delicious wholesome meals for her family, but it was her pastries for which she was known.
“People always remember her baking,” her daughter, Linda Del Monte recalled. “They were amazed by her petits fours and surprised that she made them for her children.”
Although she had stopped painting, she expressed her artistic streak through entertaining, her knack for finding hidden gems at garage sales, and redecorating.
“Mom was a great entertainer,” Linda Del Monte said. “And she was always changing things. We’d come home from school and the living room would look completely different.”
Mrs. Del Monte returned to the field of dietetics after her four children were in school. She eventually ran the departments in three area hospitals, mentoring younger colleagues, setting an example of balancing a family and successful career.
She is also recalled as a generous friend. Mrs. Del Monte maintained long friendships from people from the Army, college and high school. She enjoyed an active social life spending time with family and friends, recently including chatting with out-of-state relatives via Skype.
The family has received so many kind phone calls and messages since her passing a few weeks ago, “I had no idea she’d mentored so many people,” Linda Del Monte said.
A widow since 2005, Mrs. Del Monte leaves her four children, Beth (Richard) Cook, Linda, Thomas (Susan) and John Del Monte; sister, Elizabeth Degenaar, her brother Bill, and many nieces and nephews, her death notice said.
Family and friends will gather at St. Bernadette Church, 9343 S. Francisco, Evergreen Park, on June 30 for a Memorial Mass at 11 a.m. In lieu of flowers, memorials to Little Company of Mary Hospice, 9800 Southwest Hwy., Oak Lawn, IL 60453, or to a charity of one's choice.