Olive Hachlowski was married in a borrowed wedding dress on the Fourth of July in the middle of a world war.
The young Irish woman who was doing her bit to help Great Britain found herself the bride of a GI from Minneapolis. After World War II ended, she crossed an ocean and spent the rest of her life in Minnesota, making herself part of America’s greatest generation.
Hachlowski was one of about 70,000 war brides from Great Britain who came to the U.S. after World War II. She died Aug. 9 in Minneapolis at age 97.
She was born in 1919 in County Cork, Ireland, to an Irish mother and an English father, but her father, a sailor in the Royal Navy, left the family in the 1920s. Hachlowski, who grew up poor, had to help support her family at an early age.
In 1942, she went to England to help fill the demand for factory workers during World War II. In Cambridge, she worked for a company making electrical components for submarine radios as the country endured blackouts and bombings in its struggle against Nazi Germany.
By then, American servicemen by the hundreds of thousands were arriving in Britain to prepare for the eventual invasion of occupied Europe.
One of those GIs was Leo Hachlowski, son of Polish immigrants who lived in northeast Minneapolis. At 34, he was drafted into the U.S. Army Air Corps. Olive and Leo met on a blind date. They married in Cambridge on July 4, 1944.
“That was the only day he could get a truck from the base” to transport the wedding party, said their daughter, Kate Harrigan of Ottawa.
Because of wartime rationing, Olive had to get married in a wedding dress borrowed from the daughter of the family she lived with.
Almost immediately after the wedding, Leo was shipped to Europe as allied forces advanced on Germany.
The couple barely saw each other until the spring of 1946, when Olive took a long seasick voyage across the Atlantic. After a long train trip, she arrived in Minneapolis on a warm day in May. The next day, Mother’s Day, it snowed.
“She came to a new country. She didn’t know a single person. She barely knew my father,” Harrigan said.
She and Leo lived in an apartment in northeast Minneapolis, then in homes in north Minneapolis, Columbia Heights and south Minneapolis. She took care of their four children while Leo worked on the maintenance staff at a manufacturing plant.
Although she completed only six years of schooling, she loved to read and pushed her kids to get higher education.
She never learned how to drive, but that didn’t prevent her from hauling her children on the city bus to the Minnesota State Fair, Aquatennial parades and department store Santa visits.
“She had a great set of legs,” Harrigan said. “It was hard to keep up with her actually.”
She became a U.S. citizen in 1954, proud of the fact that she voted in every presidential election since then. But she never completely adjusted to American food, preferring potatoes, parsnips and peas over pizza.
“She never had a hot dog in her life,” said her son, Jeffrey Hachlowski of West St. Paul.
Leo died in 2002, and Olive eventually moved to Catholic Eldercare in northeast Minneapolis, taking up watercolors and relishing the “glorious cup” of tea that she insisted should be properly brewed in a pot. She also learned to drive a wheelchair, propelling herself to mass daily.
Besides daughter Kate, survivors include daughters Beverly Bosak of Salem, Ore., and Doreen Sampson of Blaine, and three grandchildren. Services have been held.