Chester Szaroleta, 81, a well-known maker of wedding dresses for more than 50 years, died yesterday in the Franciscan Care Center, Sylvania Township, of complications of a stroke.
Mr. Szaroleta was the former owner/operator of the Atlas Bridal Shop, a business started by his mother in the 1920s. For most of its history, the shop was at 2932 Lagrange St. In 1990, after two of Mr. Szaroleta's daughters bought the business with a friend, it was moved to Monroe Street in West Toledo.
Mr. Szaroleta learned the craft of dress-making at the McDowell Fashion School in New York City, which he attended after graduating from Central Catholic High School.
His shop was the only one in the area that offered custom-made wedding gowns, according to his daughter, Lorrie Lewandowski, and attracted customers from across northwest Ohio and southeast Michigan.
“My dad actually did the designing. He designed and we had seamstresses who did the dresses. We used a lot of imported laces,” said Mrs. Lewandowski, who was in the business for 34 years.
Mr. Szaroleta's word was his bond, his daughter added. “He never missed a wedding. A few times the finished dresses didn't come in on time from New York and we made them ourselves. He was a very ethical man.”
Mr. Szaroleta took over the business from his mother, Anna, who first noticed his talent for sewing as a boy - he repeatedly asked her to show him how to put patches on his trousers.
After Mrs. Lewandowski and her sister, Lynn Casper, bought the shop with their friend, Jeanne Fairchild, Mr. Szaroleta continued to help run the business, which today is owned and operated by Ms. Fairchild.
Mr. Szaroleta grew up in Polish Village, near the shop.
He served as a laboratory technician in the Army Medical Corps during World War II, stationed in New Guinea.
He and his family lived on Patriot Drive in Washington Township, according to his wife of 54 years, Dorothy.
For many years, he was a volunteer township firefighter and served on the zoning board of appeals, Mrs. Szaroleta said.
A member of St. John the Baptist Catholic Church and the Lagrange Development Corp., he was active in the annual Polish Festival.
Surviving are his wife, Dorothy; daughters, Lorrie Lewandowski, Luann Inman, and Lynn Casper; son, Larry; nine grandchildren, and a great-grandchild.
Services will be at noon Saturday in St. John the Baptist Catholic Church. The body will be in the Sujkowski Funeral Home, Northpointe, after 2 p.m. today.
The family requests tributes to the church, the Franciscan Care Center, or Hospice of Northwest Ohio in Perrysburg Township.