Mrs. Bernice L. Kollaja passed away peacefully Sept. 1 at the age of 87 at the True Care Living Center of Columbus. She was born April 3, 1932, in La Grange, a daughter of the late Raymond and Ludmilla Zapalac. Her husband, Cyril Kollaja, preceded Bernice in death.
Bernice called Columbus home since 1973, and it is here where her passion for serving others flourished. Bernice was the Food Service Supervisor at the Columbus Care Center for many years, and she took immense pride in the quality of food she served to all of the residents. Her passion for food and service, however, did not stop here. In fact, there was never an empty stomach in her presence. She would only sit down to eat once she was sure she couldn’t squeeze one more item onto someone’s plate.
Some of her most fond memories were being at the coast with her family, posted up in the kitchen, taking food orders all day long from her grandkids and their friends, complete with milkshakes of any flavor you wish! She was an animal lover, and her pets were also lovers of her food! She was even known to cook special meals for her beloved dog, Champ, and hand feed him until she was sure he had enough.
When Bernice wasn’t cooking, she may be spotted on one of her daily walks, collecting stray golf balls and talking to anyone she came across. She also enjoyed her bus trips to the casino, passing out sandwiches to anybody who wanted one! Penny slots were her game of choice, and she called it a successful trip when she came back even. Bernice thoroughly enjoyed watching her “court shows,” especially Judge Judy because “she told it like it is.” She also welcomed friends and neighbors into her home in the afternoons for coffee almost every day. She loved the holidays, all of them, but especially Christmas. As if it was part of the tradition, every year after stockings were opened she could be heard saying, “well this is already more than we need, we are blessed,” which always served as a great reminder to be thankful.
What made Bernice so special was the fact that she always wanted to make sure everyone felt equally loved. If she took one of her grandchildren shopping or to dinner, she would count down to the penny how much she spent and make sure the other was reimbursed. Her grandchildren and great grandchildren could always expect a gift on their sibling’s birthday from her too! She knocked being a grandma and “GiGi” out of the park. If “the kids” were happy, so was she, it was that simple.
Bernice is survived by her son and daughter-in-law, Jim and Jody Kollaja of Katy; granddaughters Kristy Simon (Jud) and Jamie Pruitt (Joe); great grandchildren Chase Simon, Luke Simon, Jordan Pruitt, and Jayden Pruitt, all of Katy and one brother, Leroy Zapalac ,of Austin.
Funeral services were at Thursday, Sept. 5 at St. Anthony Catholic Church, 1602 Bowie Street in Columbus with Fr. Augustine N. Asante officiating.
Burial followed at Sts. Peter and Paul Catholic Cemetery in Plum. A parish prayer service and rosary were Wednesday, Sept. 4 at Henneke Funeral Home. The family greeted friends Wednesday from 5:30-7 p.m. at Henneke Funeral Home, and Thursday from 9-10 a.m. at St. Anthony Catholic Church.
In lieu of flowers, the family suggests that memorial gifts may be made to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, 501 St. Jude Place, Memphis, TN, 38105.