Marie Kolasinski, a devoutly anti-government Orange County grandmother who was sent to jail at 85 after clashing with health inspectors at her popular quilting and crafts emporium, has died. She was 90.
Once dubbed “Che Kolasinski” by a local newspaper for her militant stands, she died of natural causes April 23 at her Costa Mesa home, said her daughter, Marjorie Serr.
Kolasinski was the driving force behind a tiny Christian sect whose members live communally and operate Costa Mesa’s Piecemakers Country Store, which occupies a warren of rooms jam-packed with homemade knick-knacks, quilts and craft supplies. It also runs scores of classes on traditional hobbies, such as knitting socks and making porcelain dolls, and runs a flourishing mail-order business.
Its tearoom is what got Kolasinski in trouble.
Starting in 1991, Kolasinski’s group refused to admit county health inspectors who were trying to investigate complaints that the business was selling unpackaged soups, sandwiches and other food items without a permit. She wrote letters liberally sprinkled with expletives to the county health department, including one with a reference to the Oklahoma City bombing that brought the FBI to her door.
Regarding the inspections as a form of official tyranny, Kolasinski said she preferred God’s laws to man’s.
“God’s laws help the people, they comfort the people. These laws bind you so that you can’t breathe. They have sucked the substance right out of our country,” she told Associated Press in 2006.
That was the year that county inspectors obtained a court order to gain access to the Piecemakers’ kitchen. When they arrived, Kolasinski spewed profanities and got in a tussle with one inspector who was about to stick a thermometer into a pot of soup when she grabbed it from his hand.
Arrested along with two co-workers, the matriarch, who often appeared in combat fatigues, quoted Patrick Henry in court: “Give me liberty or give me death!”
The judge, in turn, quoted Theodore Roosevelt: “No man is above the law, and no man is below it.” He gave her 10 days in the county jail and a $9,000 fine.
In jail Kolasinski found a new cause: ministering to prisoners, whom she called her “sweetsie babies.” After she did her time, her mailbox began filling up with letters from inmates all over the state. Some sought advice, others asked for a Bible. She and fellow Piecemakers wrote back, often including a $20 bill with their reply. “She personally answered hundreds of letters a week,” said Piecemakers member Doug Follette.
Many of the letters and Kolasinski’s replies are posted on the Piecemakers’ website, a conglomeration of announcements about recipe contests and embroidery patterns, anti-government rants and declarations of Christian faith.
“She was a character, for sure,” said her daughter.
Kolasinski was born on a farm in Waukau, Wis., on July 26, 1921. She earned a teaching degree before getting married in the 1940s. In 1959 she and her husband, Raymond, moved to California to start a plastics business.
In 1967 as the counterculture was blooming, she joined a different movement, becoming a born-again Christian. She began holding Bible study sessions on the beach, in local restaurants and in her home.
When her husband’s business went under in 1978, she launched a quilting business with a small group of women. They formed the nucleus of Piecemakers, which grew to about 40 members living together in several houses near the store. The group now has 27 members, who support themselves through Piecemakers’ various businesses, which include a construction company as well as the crafts-and-quilting operation.
The businesses net about $3 million a year, according to Follette, and will continue to operate without Kolasinski.
In addition to Serr, she is survived by sons Michael and Donald, daughter Krista Fletcher, nine grandchildren and six great-grandchildren.