SANTINA P. BRANZ 1/14/1921- 10/3/2019
Santina Pia Branz was born in the Dolomite Alps of the Trentino Alto Adige Region of northern Italy in a small village called Roncone on January 14, 1921. She was the first child of Celso Franzoi and Serafina Mussi Franzoi. The area of northern Italy where Santina was born was part of the front during WWI and had been a part of the Austrian-Hungarian Empire prior to that time. The war left areas along the front devastated and Santina’s family was no exception. Her grandmother Maria Pizzini Mussi and her grandfather Antonio Mussi both were civilian casualties of the war and her mother’s brother, Felice was permanently disabled by a land mine. Like many men of that time and place, Santina’s father, who was a blacksmith, and her uncle Battista migrated to the USA to work in the coal mines of Pennsylvania and later came west to Rock Springs, Wyoming and eventually to Wallace, Idaho where they worked at the Sunshine Mine. Santina, her mother, brother and sister stayed behind in the village of Roncone, waiting for the day that they would one day be able to join their father and uncle in America. During her childhood Santina was stricken by the German measles epidemic which took the lives of many children and due to complications was bedridden for a year and, at one point, near death. It was during her illness that she developed a life-long devotion to Saint Luigi of Gonzaga, a nobleman who gave up his riches to serve the poor. Santina not only survived her illness, she lived to the advanced age of 98 ½ without ever having any major illnesses, hospitalizations or surgeries, all of which she attributed to St. Luigi. At the age of 13, Santina and her family were finally able to make the voyage across the ocean on the SS Rex to New York City, and then, across the United States by train to Missoula, Montana. The family of four had little money and ran out mid-way on their journey. Mom used to love to tell people that through the generosity of the conductor of the train, they were invited to the dining car and treated to dinner and new foods like bananas and Jell-O which they had never seen. She always spoke about the kindness she and her family were shown on that journey west and encouraged us to treat others in the same manner. They were reunited with their father and uncle in Missoula and made the exciting trip across the mountain to the town of Wallace where their father had purchased a little home on River Street. The children enrolled into Our Lady of Lourdes Academy and made many new friends. Having completed 8 years of schooling in Italy, mom advanced quickly and began to learn English and the customs of her new country. One year later, the family moved to Greenacres, Washington where their father purchased a small farm on which they raised fruits and vegetables. Mom enrolled in Central Valley High School and with her love of languages, art, history and music, excelled in her studies. It was there that her talent for singing was recognized and that her dream of being an opera star began. She began to study voice under the direction of Lyle Moore at Gonzaga University where once again she encountered her patron saint of old, St. Luigi of Gonzaga and where she promised herself that if she were ever blessed with children, she would make sure that they would attend school there. She won several vocal competitions, including a Metropolitan Opera tryout competition. In 1938, while visiting friends from her hometown in Italy, who lived in Wallace, Idaho, she was introduced to Luigi Modesto Branz, also of the same region, and again it seemed that her patron saint Luigi was looking out for her. They were married in 1939 at St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Greenacres and the wedding party was said to have gone on for a week! They were proprietors of Louie’s Gem Store and Bar and had three children all of whom went on to attend Gonzaga University providing Santina with yet another of her answered prayers. Santina was a life- long member of St. Alphonsus Parish in Wallace, Idaho, where she participated in Catholic Daughters of America and the St. Alphonsus women’s choir. She sang at the wedding of Senator Mike Mansfield’s son in Burke, Idaho and was the featured singer for many a midnight mass at St. Alphonsus Church. She was a needlework expert, a superb gardener, and an amazing cook and homemaker. Above all, she was a devoted wife, mother, grandmother, great-grandmother, aunt and friend. Mom never had a cellphone or a computer and never learned to drive a car. She did not make it to the stage at the Metropolitan Opera House. But every day of her life, she was devoted to her family and committed to her faith and she touched each person she met with her incredible kindness and authenticity. She spent the last six years of her life in Helena, Montana near her daughter and was for the last three years, a resident of the Legacy Assisted Living where she passed away on October 3.
Santina was preceded in death by her parents, Celso and Serafina Franzoi, her sister Maria Sego and brother Renato Franzoi, her husband, Luigi and her son, Roger Louis Branz who passed away on September 16 in Spokane. She is survived by her son, Dr. John Guido Branz and wife Marlene of Wallace, Idaho; daughter Angela Maria Branz-Spall and James Spall of Helena, Montana; daughter in law Patricia Branz of Spokane, Washington; grandchildren Lisa Branz of Seattle, WA; Dr. Anthony Branz and wife Jennifer of Osburn, Idaho; Clinton Patrick Branz and wife Cheryl of Greenacres, WA and great-grandchildren Anthony, Curtis, Dominic and Katie Branz; Serafina and Dylan Corbett. She is also survived by nieces Sandra Poole of Spokane; Viola Branz of Middle Village, New York; grand-niece Lora Branz of Middle Village, New York; grand-nephew, Walter Branz (Beth) of Farmington, MN; Daniella (Severino) Rigotti of Cavedine, Italy; and nephew Dr. Luigi Tomio (Manuela), of Trento, Italy; Renato (Gabriela) Branz, Bolzano, Italy; Guido (Rosanna) Branz, Sanzeno, Italy and Sergio Branz of Cles, Italy. Special cousins and life-long friends include Sallie Sprute, Rosie Rinaldi, Eileen and Larry Bieber, Janet Sciuchetti and Myrna Flood.
The family would like to thank the staff at the Legacy in Helena, Montana; St. Peter’s Hospice of Helena, Montana and special care giver Brandi Wymore and Hospice nurse, Mickie Simonson. Funeral Mass will be at 11:00 o’clock am on October 14 at St. Alphonsus Church 214 Pine St., in Wallace, Idaho. In lieu of flowers, donations to the charity of one’s choice are suggested. Please visit below to offer the family a condolence or share a memory of Santina.