HURLEY, Wis. - Jean (Pancheri) Barbacovi, 94, of Hurley, formerly a longtime resident of Bessemer, Michigan, wife, mother, grandmother and great-grandmother, passed away on Friday, Feb. 2, 2024, while residing at the Villa Maria Health and Rehabilitation Center in Hurley.
Jean was born on June 19, 1929, in Norway, Michigan, to Emanuel and Josephine (Stevens) Pancheri, and attended school in Norway through high school. After her graduation, the family moved to Bessemer and Jean attended nursing school at the College of St. Scholastica in Duluth, Minnesota. She fell in love and married Ray Barbacovi in April 1949, and their 48 year adventure together began. Jean supported Ray's Super Valu grocery business until it was sold, and she was his devoted caregiver for more than 10 years.
Jean was preceded in death by her parents; two sisters, Dorothy and Marge; a brother, George; two sons, Thom and Dave; a great-granddaughter, Lucy Rae; and her daughter-in-law, Paula.
She is survived by her children, Don (Joanie), Jim, Carol (Mark) and Dan (Vicky Wiita-Templer).
Jean and Ray had six children of their own and cared for many others through the kids' friendships and Jean's work with the Gogebic County's special needs population. Her home was always filled with kids! Jean always thought of Gary Niemi, her nephew, as her "oldest son." She met Bob Stewart, a friend and employee of the twins' carnival business, and he lived with her for more than 25 years. She had 12 grandchildren and nine great-grandchildren.
Jean understood the challenges of raising Jim, her very special developmentally delayed son. So Jean devoted many years of her work and volunteer life creating programs to help adults with special needs. At the time, there were no special education public school programs. Jean's work with the Gogebic County Association of Retarded Citizens (GARC) was her passion. For more than 20 years, working together with many volunteers, they held the GARC Charity Ball with proceeds used to fund Special Olympics and other special events for the county's special residents. The GARC owned and operated an activity center for the developmentally delayed, run by Jean, in Ironwood until they purchased a building on Sunday Lake to run an Adult Activity Center - renamed the Jean Barbacovi Activity Center. During this time, Jean worked for the State Board of Mental Health and served on the Aspirus Hospital board. Jean started her work with Special Olympics in 1968, and continued with her involvement for more than 30 years. Here she met Barb Siira, a co-volunteer and lifelong friend.
While in her 80s, Jean enjoyed traveling with her twin sons Spectrum Entertainments carnival. Affectionately "Carney Gramma" sold carnival tickets and worked with her sons and grandchildren. She loved meeting all the carnival goers and mothering the carnival workers. Her beloved pug, Celine, was her constant companion. Jean also enjoyed trying her luck at the casino slots during her summer travel. She always seemed to "win."
Fiercely independent, Jean lived independently until age 92 when she transitioned to Villa Maria in Hurley. A special thank you to the many Villa staff, who patiently listened to her many stories and took wonderful care of our mother. Thank you also to her friends who continued to visit for the past two years.
Jean was a longtime member of St. Sebastian Catholic Church, and her faith was very important to her.
A Mass of Christian Burial will be celebrated on Thursday, May 16, at 11 a.m., preceded by visitation at 10 a.m., at the St. Sebastian Catholic Church, 210 E. Iron St., in Bessemer, with the Rev. Dominic Agyapong, celebrant.
A luncheon will be served at the parish hall immediately following the Mass.
Rite of Committal and interment will take place at the Hillcrest Cemetery in Bessemer, in the spring.
Jerald Rocco, owner and manager of Lakeside Memorial Chapel, Inc., in Wakefield, Michigan, is assisting the family with arrangements. To send online condolences or to share a memory, please go to lakesidememorialchapel.com.