Marie Kolasinski, the founder of Costa Mesa's Piecemakers Country Store and sometimes-controversial leader of the religious sect by the same name, has died. She was 90.
Kolasinski died of natural causes Monday, family members said.
The family-run Country Store, which has been at the same Adams Avenue location since 1986, is known in the community for its weekly events, homemade quilts and knick knacks for sale.
Relatives remembered their family matriarch as a charming, kind and helpful woman.
"She really helped raise all of her grandchildren and was a very big part of all our lives," said her granddaughter, Brianna Serr, speaking by phone from the Country Store.
But she also a feisty side.
The Piecemakers — a religious sect of 27 members led by Kolasinski — held themselves answerable only to God's law. The Piecemakers' belief often put them at odds with earthly local permitting and health code laws.
"She stood for getting this country, getting America back under God. God's laws," said Doug Follette, a member of the Piecemakers. "(She) followed God, she did what He told her to do. She took some stands against things that were wrong ... things that weren't right in our country. ... She was very brave to do that."
The most notable episode led Kolasinski to serve seven days in county jail and three years on probation.
During an October 2005 court-ordered health inspection, about 20 Piecemakers members tried to block inspectors and police from entering the Country Store front door. Seven people were arrested.
While short, the 85-year-old Kolasinski's time in jail led to a years-long ministry with prison inmates.
"She went in there and she saw the kindness of the prisoners, more kind than the prison guards," Follette said. "She was cold, one gave her a blanket. One gave her an apple ... some coffee."
The inmates thought she was an angel with her appearance — her white hair and fair skin — and with the message of Jesus Christ she delivered to them, Follette said.
When she got out, inmates wrote to her. And she wrote back.
"She'd answer every one," Follette said, until her health declined and she couldn't write anymore.
Kolasinski is survived by her four children, Donald Kolasinski, 67, Michael, 62, Krista Fletcher, 58, and Marjorie Serr, 52. She also had six grandchildren and two great-grandchildren, with one on the way.
A memorial service is planned for noon Friday at the Country Store at 1720 Adams Ave. in Costa Mesa.
Kolasinski was born July 26, 1921 in the small town of Waukau, Wisc.
She was born and raised on a farm and maintained a farmer's work ethic throughout her life, her daughter, Marjorie Serr, said.
In 1959, she moved to California with her late husband, Raymond Kolasinski, to start a plastics business.
During the Summer of Love, Marie Kolasinski joined the born-again Christian movement that was sweeping California. She said in a 1997 interview with the Register that she met Jesus Christ in her sleep.
"Nobody was around — but I could feel Christ just literally take my heart," she said. "I could feel him massaging my heart. And he said, 'I'll take your heart of stone and I'll give you a heart of flesh.' It happened three different nights."
When the Raymond's plastics business went under around 1978, Piecemakers began when Marie Kolasinski and a handful of women started a quilting business out of a garage.
Since then, Piecemakers has grown into a mutli-faceted business, offering craft classes and selling fabrics for quilts, gifts, and lunches in its tea room. Piecemakers is also a construction business and has a woodshop.
"We're all here. Everyone is a part owner of the business," Follette said. "But everyone's committed to the one goal: Christ first and all else after."
In the '90s, the Country Store became famous for clashing with local governments over "everything from candy counters to ficus trees," the Register reported. In 1997, Costa Mesa sued the business for staging the musical "Big River" in the store parking lot without first securing a $100 permit.
"It would have been easier for us to give them the $100," Kolasinski said in 1997. "But God said, 'Don't give it to them.'"
In 1995, Kolasinski even sparked an FBI investigation when she referred to the Oklahoma City bombing in an expletive-laden letter to the health department.
"It's a world system that's passing away,'' Kolasinski said. "It's going to be a very traumatic time. In the Bible it talks about earthquakes. And you know what? It's shaking right now. Can't you feel it? Everything's shaking. I think everybody feels it."
But Kolasinski's religious awakening took on a life separate from her family life.
Serr, the granddaughter, said when the grandchildren were growing up, their grandmother would have a barrel of candy by the front door of her Costa Mesa home.
There were always neighborhood kids around, who were allowed to use the pool and to raid the "junk drawer" full of knick knacks, Serr said. She also remembered her grandmother's homemade macaroni and cheese and milkshakes.
Kolasinski was well-respected by community for her willingness to help the family or anyone who reaches a hand out to her, Serr said.
At Kolasinski's memorial, family and friends will plant an evergreen tree in her honor, said Marjorie Serr, Kolasinski's youngest daughter.
"She loved everything about Christmas. Snowmen, Christmas trees..." she said. "A lot of people think the store is a Christmas store."
Serr said her mother will be remembered by the many people whose lives she touched.
"A lot of people were very drawn to her, and she liked to help take care of people who needed help," Serr said. "She had her good side and bad side definitely, but she was never somebody who just faded into the background by any means. She'll be remembered by a lot of people."