Denise Okoniewski – A century of life on both sides of the ocean

by Annie-France Okoniewski
Denise Jeanne Ardelier was born on March 27, 1922 in Villemomble, France, in the eastern suburbs of Paris. She was the second daughter of Maria LeBrigant and Léger Ardelier. Shortly after he was born, his family moved to Vincennes, just outside Paris, where they bought a café, Le Canon de Vincennes, and lived in an apartment above. The cafe was opposite the Chateau de Vincennes, which had been the home of King Louis IX (Saint Louis).

In Vincennes, Denise attended school and made her first communion at Notre Dame de Vincennes church. When she was 10, she and her older sister Émilienne (Mimi) went to boarding school in the former French province of Limousin, near the city of Limoges. His parents owned a large country house in a town near the school. Denise spends her school holidays in Vincennes and her summers in their country house.
At 18, her studies at the boarding school are over and Denise is preparing to leave for England where the order of nuns from her boarding school has a school. In England, she planned to improve her command of English. Unfortunately, the Second World War put an end to these plans, as the Germans entered France.
During the war, Denise helped her parents at the café, but she continued her English studies with a private teacher. One day her tutor asked her to work for her as an English tutor as she felt that Denise was more than qualified in the language. She was given the English-sounding name “Miss Annie” because the tutor thought the name Denise sounded too French to teach English.
She also got a job with the mayor of a nearby town where she met families who needed help. She also presided over a daily tea party organized for pregnant women to feed them a little more with vitamin-enriched biscuits. When air raids sounded, she and the others had to hide in basements or subway stations until the go-ahead was given.
Although she loved her current job, Denise also loved books. His parents offer to buy him a bookstore in Paris. His bookstore was called Librairie Ardelier and was located on Boulevard des Batignolles. She sold new and used books. Sometimes she bought complete collections of books in order to acquire first editions signed by the author. The Batignolles district is not far from Montmartre and is where the Szkola Narodowa Polska w Paryzu (The Polish School of Paris) is located.
When the Germans entered Paris, they settled in the Château de Vincennes, opposite his parents’ café, Le Canon. The Germans stripped all the metal from the cafe to make bullets, including taking the decorative barrel that was outside the cafe.
After Allied forces landed in France, Paris would then be liberated and American tanks would drive past the cafe. The Germans who were in the castle were so surprised that they quickly fled, leaving behind even their most personal belongings.
The Americans camped in the woods not far from the castle. One afternoon, resistance fighters come to the café asking Denise to go to the American camp to speak in English to an American officer in order to obtain help in dislodging a group of German soldiers. The resistance wanted them to surrender, but they would only surrender to the Americans. She went to the camp to explain the situation.
Once the Americans were in Vincennes and the American soldiers knew that the two sisters in the café spoke English, the café had a constant flow of soldiers. One of these soldiers asked Mimi out on a date and wanted to know if her sister, Denise, was going on a double date with her boyfriend, Matthew Okoniewski from Buffalo, NY. The two beacons got along well. Denise liked Matt’s sense of humor, his kindness and the fact that he was Catholic, like her. The fact that he loved his parents so much and came from a religious family was a plus. Moreover, even his French relatives loved him. Soon they got married.
Eventually, Matt, along with the other American soldiers, was returned to the United States. On board the troop ship, his daughter Annie-France was born on March 17, 1946 in Vincennes. Two days later, his father, Frank L. Okoniewski, died in Buffalo. Once the ship docked, Matt was able to rush to Buffalo with the help of the Salvation Army and friends who took him from the airport to the Church of the Transfiguration before the funeral mass was over. from his father. Although it was a sad day, he was delighted to be able to hug and greet his mother again after so many years of war.
In the middle of May 1946, Denise and Annie-France arrived by boat in New York. They were welcomed by Matt, his mother Agnes Okoniewska, his sister Eugenia Wojciehowska and his special young nephew, Joseph Rutowski. Denise and Matt’s first home was with Agnes Okoniewska. Agnes was a very intelligent and pious woman who took time for prayer every afternoon; the work of honor in his house was a large painting of the Blessed Mother and Child. Denise knew she was in a good, safe home. Her mother-in-law has always been her advocate.
Matt took over the management of his funeral business. Denise wanted him to go back to France with her, thinking he could get a job with the American government. But, Matt loved his life in Buffalo. In 1948 they bought their own home at 965 Sycamore, down the street from the Church of the Transfiguration. Here they got involved with the school and many organizations. A second daughter, Marie-Cécile, was born in 1950.
In 1960 Matt and Denise purchased a funeral home at 1168 Walden Avenue in Cheektowaga. Around this time, Denise sells her Parisian bookshop to the gentleman who manages it for her after she leaves France. She became Matt’s right-hand man in running the funeral home and they became involved in the life of St. John Gualbert parish. Sadly, Matt fell ill and died in 1975. As she always had, Denise rose to the challenge and continued to run the funeral home for another 41 years.
Denise is known for her kindness, fairness, generosity, love of family and friendship. Matt and Denise were born an ocean apart, but raised with the same values ​​that made them a team. Denise closed the funeral home in 2016 and moved to another part of Cheektowaga.
As she nears her 100th birthday, our family cannot love, admire or thank her enough for all she has done for us. We thank God for placing her in our lives. Her niece and nephew and their children in France also send their love and congratulations on her 100th birthday.
On March 27, 2022, his daughters, son-in-law, two grandsons, their wives, six grandchildren and the Rutowski family will raise a glass of champagne to honor Denise Okoniewski’s 100 years as a loving child, devoted wife. , amazing mother, wonderful grandmother, adorable great-grandmother and a special aunt. Happy Birthday and Sto Lat.

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