Dottie Rezzolla hasn’t been much for tradition.
There’s a maverick side to her. That’s probably helped for things like endurance, survival, the things that lead up to occasions like today — reaching her 100th birthday.
From her start in a farming family in the Cleveland area, to her dedication as a soldier’s wife during World War II and to her leadership as a merchandise buyer for the Troutman’s Department Store chain, Rezzolla — known as Dottie to her family and friends — made her own path in a life that once met with some renown in Indiana.
That’s saying nothing of Rezzolla’s wartime job in a factory making goods for the military in a role that didn’t take a back seat to “Rosie the Riveter.” No, Dottie worked on a crew that built the trigger mechanisms for Little Boy and Fat Man — code names for the atomic bombs detonated over Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945, putting an end to the Second World War.
She was stationed at Thompson Aircraft in Cleveland.
“I didn’t know that we were making a part for the atomic bomb,” she explained. “Various factories were making a part. It wasn’t made in one place at all. It was made in these different factories, then they were shipped off and put together,” Dottie said. Only after the war did she learn about her critical mission.
After the war, she and husband Richard returned to Indiana.
She said her parents moved from Cleveland to live with Dottie and Richard on the farm they owned — more than 100 acres that today is part of the Sterling Hills residential development just north of the YMCA.
“When they came here to Indiana, Richard and my father were buddies,” she said. “They really cared for each other very much.”
Rezzolla had her place then and sees her place now — faithfully accepting her separation from her husband, Richard, after 67 years of marriage.
“I’m surprised,” she said of reaching age 100. “I can’t understand why God doesn’t call me when he has called all the people that I have loved the most in my life: my husband, my mother and father. They left me behind.
“Father Willie (Lechnar, former pastor at St. Thomas More University Parish) said I still have work to do. I said ‘tell me what it is, I’ll do it gladly so I can go with Richard,’” Dottie said, resigned to accepting her lord’s will.
“Power couple” may not have been in their vocabulary in the day, but borrowing the Hollywood-like tag could be accurate now.
Together, she and Richard ran a pasta business, the Indiana Macaroni Factory; contributed to development of St. Thomas More Church, the Newman Center, in the 1960s; and worked to make the White Township Recreational Complex a reality.
Family members today described theirs as a whirlwind courtship. Recalling her elopement on the sly with her beau on the day he shipped off to overseas service in World War II, Dottie said this week that her mother described it differently.
“One day I came home and my mother said ‘What is this?’ I said, ‘what is what?’ She handed me this letter that came from the government. I didn’t know that they gave allotments to the wives (of soldiers). Finally I had to tell her,” Dottie said. “I hadn’t told her before. Oh, boy, did I get it!”
While Richard Rezzolla fought for five years under Gen. George Patton, Dottie said, she banked all the allotment checks as a nest egg for them to start their lives as a couple.
While he was away, Dottie said, she was recruited to be a model for pinup photos for the Marines.
“Richard said, ‘well, you may have been a pinup girl for the Marines, but I am Army and you are my wife, so that is more important! The Army made us and we are ahead of the Marines,’” she said. “I thought that was pretty neat.”
Much as she cherished her man’s devotion to her, Dottie talked of her true feminist streak.
Breaking from the traditions set by her mother, and her mother’s mother, young Dottie Cooley went to college for a degree in fashion merchandising and served as an expediter, the fashion buyer for Troutman’s department stores in Indiana and six other cities.
“I bought merchandise for seven stores because I had a degree in retail merchandising,” she said. “I said, ‘you’re paying me for one store but I’m buying for seven. That’s not very fair.’ They said they needed to cut expenses, so I said they could save on my expenses because I no longer work for you! They were really shocked at that.”
She said Troutman’s bosses then offered to double her salary and give her a luxurious office to work from. She changed her mind and stayed, serving until the company quit business around 1990.
Dottie and Richard had no children. In recent years, living as independently as she could, Dottie has commonly had cousins, nephews and nieces at her side to see her along.
Occasionally, she has moments lamenting being widowed.
“That’s what I have to do, wait until the Lord calls me,” Rezzolla said.
Anew Home Health Agency most recently has provided general health care and coordinates medication for Rezzolla.
Her family privately retains Cathy Gould as a full-time caretaker in Rezzolla’s home, enabling Dottie to go on living in the house along Ben Franklin Road North that she and Richard first lived in more than 70 years ago.
“I want Cathy here constantly,” Dottie said of her daytime caretaker.
Gould, a registered nurse for Anew, said she and Rezzolla spent Sunday on the run. Their day started with a trip to Yarnick’s Farm, Blue Spruce Park to look at fishermen, then to McDonald’s restaurant for chicken sandwiches and to The Meadows for frozen butter pecan custard.
Gould said Dottie has a hearty appetite for seafood, chicken, pasta, eggs done sunnyside up, and liver and onions.
“Anything that isn’t nailed down!” Dottie joked.
“I absolutely think she is the most fantastic,” Gould said. “I have been in nursing 56 years. And I have never run into someone with her intellect. She’s cognizant … she remembers; she’s the most caring, considerate — always thanking you, always gracious. All the wonderful things anyone could have, she has it.”
“I love Cathy. I want her with me all the time!” Rezzolla smiled.
Who could blame her?
Family members said well-wishers’ birthday greeting cards for Dottie Rezzolla could be addressed to her at 220 Ben Franklin Road, Indiana, PA 15701.
NOTE: This story edited May 24 to correct the roles of Anew Home Health Agency and nurse Cathy Gould.