Beatrice (Bea) Bretl passed away peacefully in her sleep on September 11, 2023. She was 97 years old.
Bea was born in a farmhouse near the village of Brussels, Wisconsin, on April 4, 1926. Her parents were Joseph Marin and Anna Zettel Marin, both widowed, each with four children, and having four more together. Bea was the last surviving member of their blended family of 12 children.
Growing up during the Depression meant a lot of “doing without” and these experiences shaped Bea’s work ethic, ingenuity, and sense of gratitude for her many blessings. In 1933, her family moved to her mother’s farm in Maplewood. They had no electricity or running water until Bea was high school age, but the farm and the gardens that the family tended provided lots of home-grown food.
Bea graduated from Algoma High School with honors in 1942. With no option for further education, she took an office job at a Sturgeon Bay shipbuilding company that supported the WWII war effort. Later, she met Lee Bretl, just back from army service in Korea. They fell in love, and married in 1949.
Lee and Bea settled in Forestville, where Lee built a trucking business, working in road construction. They welcomed eight children: six sons and two daughters. Life wasn’t always easy, raising a large family when Lee traveled for his job, but the skills she learned during the Depression – gardening, cooking, baking (10 loaves of bread per week), canning and sewing – helped ensure that the family always had everything they needed, with plenty of food on that busy table. Always a hard worker, Bea had a way of not just “making do”, but rather making something new: an accomplished seamstress, she could fashion three-piece suits for her young boys and dresses for her daughters out of whatever fabric was available, done at night when the daily work was done and the house was quiet, working the foot pedals of her mother’s treadle sewing machine, which she used for decades more.
In 1968, the family moved to Madison for a new job for Lee. This also started a new chapter in Bea’s life, a happy time – Bea found that she enjoyed the “big city.” However, after 10 short years in Madison, Lee died of cancer in 1978. Suddenly, she was a widow with children ranging from post college-age to elementary school. A strong, intelligent and capable woman, Bea managed the business through transition while redoubling her focus on raising her family. Bea was proud that each of her children could pursue the level of continued education that they desired, and grateful every day for their good health.
Bea was a member of the St. James Parish Altar Society for 15 years, volunteered at St. Thomas Aquinas parish and later at the Agrace Hospice Store. A homemaker for many years, she also enjoyed the challenge of a part time job, many years with Weight Watchers and most recently for the WI Association for Career and Technical Education (WACTE). She was an excellent proofreader well into her 80s, and always enjoyed a challenging game of Scrabble or a good crossword puzzle.
A lifelong resident of Wisconsin, Bea found an interest in world travel once her children were grown. In 1983, she traveled to Russia with her son Don as members of the “Friendship Force”, followed by trips through the years to Japan, Europe, Mexico, Canada, Panama and many of the US states. On one trip to Europe, Bea was able to find the church that still held her mother’s baptismal font, as well as her grandfather’s bronze cemetery plaque, both of which amazingly survived damage from WWII.
Bea enjoyed the many holiday get-togethers, weddings and celebrations that came with a large, loving family. She thoughtfully remembered birthdays and anniversaries with a card or a call, no small feat with an ever-expanding immediate family including many grandchildren and great-grandchildren, and friends. She cheered for the Badgers, baked extraordinary birthday cakes for the grandkids and made the best seafoam candy for Christmas.
Bea was preceded in death by her beloved husband Lee; her siblings and half-siblings: brothers Wallace and Robert Marin; sister Margaret Marin; half-brothers Cletus, Joseph, Andrew, and Sylvester Zettel, and Lawrence Marin; half-sisters Josie Vandertie, Georgian Massart, and Lucy Baudhuin; brother-in-law Guy Bretl and sisters-in-law Virginia Reed and Marie Mueller. A friend to many through her long life, she had to say goodbye to many dear relatives and friends, including her special companion and travel partner Joe Zaiman.
Bea will be forever remembered with love by her eight children: Thomas (Patty) Bretl of Monona, WI; John (Teresa) Bretl of San Diego, CA; Paul (Kathy) Bretl of Waukesha, WI; Monica (Michael) Rehberg of Lake Como, WI; Anthony (Julie) Bretl of Sun Prairie, WI; Denise (Bill) Bjerregaard of Franksville, WI; Daniel Bretl of Vienna, VA; and Donald (Jane) Bretl of Cincinnati, OH; and by the 18 grandchildren and 18 great-grandchildren that brought her so much joy. She is also survived by sisters-in-law Vicky Bretl and Betty Curtiss, extended family and a host of good friends. The family wishes to thank Bea’s neighbors, especially Bob and Julie Roach, for their kindness and support; Bea’s very special caretaker and companion Mimi, for her loving, compassionate care in the last years of Bea’s life; and the staff of Hope and a Future for providing Bea with loving care in her last months.
A Mass of Christian Burial will be held at 11 a.m. on Friday, September 22, 2023 at St. Thomas Aquinas Catholic Church, 602 Everglade Dr. Madison, WI. Family will greet friends from 9 a.m. until the time of Mass. A luncheon will follow. Burial will be in Highland Memory Gardens, Cottage Grove, WI.
The Mass will be live streamed at the following link: https://www.youtube.com/c/StThomasAquinasChurchMadison/
In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to:
Please share your memories at www.cressfuneralservice.com
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