The Patti-Sue Rolak Memorial Build has been created with the hopes of inspiring others to follow in her footsteps.
Patti-Sue Rolak was a dedicated volunteer for Warren County Habitat for Humanity (WCHFH) and held several positions over her nearly twenty years of service, including board member, co-chair of the Family Selection Committee, event coordinator, and Habitat ambassador. Her irresistible smile, magnetic personality, and love for God made her unique, and her love for others and selflessness made her special.
The Memorial Build is taking place at the site designated as “Franklin Fields”, a street of six properties on Beidelman Road in Franklin Township, New Jersey, donated by the township to allow WCHFH to continue meeting a need for affordable housing in Warren County. The Patti-Sue Rolak Memorial Build encompasses the first two homes to be constructed in “Franklin Fields.” WCHFH and Patti-Sue shared a vision of building more homes for more families and providing everyone with a safe, decent place to call home. With this vision in mind, WCHFH will be charting new territory as we build these two homes simultaneously.
As you read the heart-felt letter written by the Rolak family and follow the progress of the Patti-Sue Rolak Memorial Build, our hope is that her commitment to serving God and others inspires many of you to follow in a similar path.
In loving memory of Patti-Sue Rolak.
Letter from the Rolak Family
Patti-Sue never wanted to be the center of attention, and I am not sure how she would react to this honor. She would probably say there were more important people in the organization and she just wanted to stay in the background. What she didn’t realize in life was that she was never in the background, and no matter the occasion her bright smile, and her ability to make people she just met feel like long lost friends, made her special. Her passing left a lot of people with a saddened heart, for we will all miss her terribly, but are thankful to God for being part of her life. It is thus fitting that we as her Habitat family do something to honor her, while strengthening and helping her decades’ long commitment to Warren County Habitat for Humanity.
Early in life Patti-Sue learned that life could be hard. At the young age of two, Patti-Sue was diagnosed with Nephritis and Nephrosis, diseases of the kidneys, and one that at the time had a very high mortality rate. Her extended Italian and Irish families leaned into their faith and prayed for a miracle. Patti almost died when the miracle came in the form of Cortisone treatments, but at a cost. The family had no medical insurance and one dose of Cortisone cost more than her father made in a week. Luckily for Patti-Sue the kindness of others, in this case the family pharmacist who provided her mother with the life-saving drug on credit, led her to be deemed cured at the age of seven. Her mother went to work full time so that the family could pay off their medical debt, but her mother’s health issues and later open heart surgery led to years of financial hardship that would impact their ability to own a home of their own.
It should be noted that while in grade school one of Patti-Sue’s classmates suffered and died from Nephrosis and Nephritis while Patti was still under treatment. Later in life she often wondered why God let her live when her classmate didn’t. Having been part of her life for over fifty-years, I believe I know the reason.
Her early life taught her lessons about the importance of family, and formed her love and faith in God. It also made her realize that life was precious and thus needed to be lived to the fullest, but with purpose. She was one of the kindest, friendliest, and happiest people in the world, and I believe she had a personal relationship with Jesus. She was Catholic, but never believed that being Catholic was necessary to find God or get to heaven. She often said to me, “That’s not the Jesus I know” when she heard someone say something she disagreed with. Her smile was a beacon of hope and, while her life was not always easy, she thanked God each and every day for her blessings. She knew that God would find a way to help in time of need, often through family, friends, or the kindness of strangers. She knew that her mother and father had faith in God, worked hard, paid their debts, and did not expect or want handouts. Throughout her life she embraced service to others, hope for the future, but always remained very humble always avoiding the spotlight.
Throughout her lifetime Patti-Sue loved God and loved to volunteer and help others. She was a class mother, Girl Scout Leader, Cub Scout Leader, a member of the former Washington Dance Club, a thirty-year member of Saint Joseph Church Couples Club, a Trustee of Saint Joseph RC Church in Washington, a long-time member, and past Vice-President, of the Warren Garden Club, in addition to being a volunteer with Warren County Habitat for Humanity for nearly twenty-years. Still she always had time for her family and especially her six grandchildren. Her smile was twice as big when she was with any of them, and cherished the family vacations that she planned in later years.
The early days of Warren County Habitat for Humanity were very different from today. The affiliate was approved in August 1999 and completed its first home on Marble Street in August 2001. It was started by a relatively small, but diverse group of individuals that wanted to make a difference in Warren County by opening the possibility of home ownership for less fortunate individuals that worked hard, but did not have the means of conventional home ownership. For years the Habitat office was a donated desk and space at Full Financial Realty, and organizational meetings were held in the meeting hall of the First Presbyterian Church both in Washington. Volunteers wore many hats and did whatever was needed to bring success to the affiliate. It all started for Patti-Sue through a single invite by a friend and parishioner at church to come to a family selection committee in early 2001, but where it led to was I believe part of God’s plan and a mission that became part of her, and my world for nearly twenty years.
Finding and getting suitable partnership applicants for our second home in Phillipsburg was not easy since people outside of Washington were not even aware that our affiliate existed. It wasn’t long before Patti-Sue started asking her husband John for assistance with developing advertisements and spreadsheets on the computer, and started talking about the need for additional volunteers. When Patti-Sue and John both became part of the family selection committee, their mission grew as their hearts ached for those that deserved not a hand out, but a hand up. It wasn’t long before she recognized that many of the individuals that were applying never had the support of a strong family like she did. She knew that in order for the cycle of hopelessness to be broken that we needed to provide the foundation on which a strong family could grow. That foundation was decent and affordable housing.
In 2002, both Patti Sue and John joined the Board of Directors and become more involved in the daily operations of the affiliate including most importantly fundraising which was the life blood that kept the mission alive. They did what they could to keep the affiliate growing by encouraging everyone they knew to get involved, and to help with the mission of providing affordable and decent housing. Around 2007 Patti-Sue and John become co-chairs of the Family Selection Committee and continued with providing their sweat and expertise to serve under the Board of Directors. In 2010 they both came off the Board, but continued chairing the Family Selection Committee. They returned to the Board of Directors in 2012 and Patti-Sue continued to serve in her role on the Board until shortly before her passing in April 2020. Throughout her two year fight with cancer her desire was to continue to work and to serve those in need. She never let her illness be an excuse and never complained. She insisted on continuing her role on the Family Selection Committee for our last search, which started in late August 2019 shortly after being subjected to 10 days of brain radiation, and ended with our recommendation to the Board of Directors in November, even as her strength and health were suffering. Living needed a purpose and her work with Habitat was hers.
Patti’s nearly 20 years of work on the Family Selection Committee was both a blessing and a curse. Reading through application after application of families that were in desperate need for housing was time consuming, heart tugging, and spoke to her heart personally and spiritually. While there were many families in need, selecting the family that had the greatest need, lived within their means, and therefore had the greatest chance for success took a lot of work and prayers. Selecting just one family for one home proved difficult, but guided by God’s love and wisdom, the stars of all the requirements would fall in line and the committee would nearly always find the perfect family. It is the success stories that made all the work and heartache worthwhile: the single mother that was selected and then wanted to drop out because she was afraid to fail again (she has been one of our greatest success stories); the family of five who could no longer afford their housing once the husband lost his job of 20 years; the families with health issues that got the stable home that helps make their illness or disability more bearable; the mother who for years was promised the world by government, but found that volunteers finally delivered the stable home that they never felt possible. These are just a few of our success stories that drove Patti-Sue to continue the mission.
Later in life Patti-Sue would often share her early struggles with her own children recalling moments of her illness, her near death experience, and sharing in her deep faith and trust in God. As her own children grew into adults, they started to understand the miracle of their own mother. They began to understand why her love of God and family ran so deep, that she was different and special, and became grateful to be part of her life. There was a time when she was supposed to be gone from the earth at a young age, never meeting her true love, never having her three children, and the life of her family never existing…but God had other plans for Patti-Sue for she had a mission on earth that was not yet known, and is still not completed.
Growing up Patti-Sue knew what it was like to watch her parents struggle financially through no fault of their own. She often said that as a child she never thought that as an adult that she would be able to buy a home. God gave her many blessings in her life, and it became her mission through Habitat to pass her good fortune and God’s blessing onto others. Walk with her on this journey and join us in continuing her dream of decent housing and making home ownership possible to hard working, but less fortunate families.
Her Loving Husband and Family
Read shared memories…
Patti-Sue had told me she really hoped that she would win that gift….. Well she didn’t, but her good friend won!!! When he came in to the spa to to receive his services she was there and when they ran into each other they both were hysterically laughing. Patti-Sue was always smiling and I’m touched that she was a part of my life. She was so giving to people in need. She touched so many people and I know I will never forget her.”
Aside from her gifts of kindness and caring for others she was a great story teller. Always relaying her travels with such detail that you felt you were there with her. Her love of family went beyond what my words could describe. She shared her big heart with me and my family and I am so grateful that she was my cousin. I miss her everyday but find peace in remembering all the goodness she shared with so many in her lifetime.❤️
When I think about Patti Sue, I first remember her like a mother bear when her cub (son), John Patrick was a student in my 2 nd grade class. She was very concerned that he would get a good education and at first I felt a little nervous, but once she came to trust me and realized I care about him too, she became incredibly supportive and let me know regularly how much she appreciated me, right up until the time she passed away.
That was the same Patti Sue I knew in all areas I was involved with her for years afterward. She was intense and committed to doing things right, while being an amazingly kind, caring, sharing and loving person. Also, because of her difficult childhood, related to a serious illness she had suffered and had caused her family to have financial struggles, she had a great deal of compassion for people who struggle.
These reasons, an internal drive to make sure things are done right while still having a great deal of care and empathy for others, is why she was such a wonderful part of Habitat for Humanity.. She is already greatly missed at the Habitat board meetings. I personally miss being able to go to her for her opinion, guidance and enthusiasm.