by Ed Feldman

The first time I saw Karen McGarry Marcolina, I was looking out the rear window of my house on Bethlehem Pike. She was riding in a white van, looking for a shortcut to her house next door. Except the shortcut was across my lawn.

My look was quizzical. Hers was one of complete joy. She won me over immediately. We were never far apart from each other from that moment on. Whether next door neighbors or telephone buddies across four time zones, we gabbed, shopped, and partied up until she left us on July 22.

“Karen!” was a sound you could hear quite often back then, down in our little compound across from the last stop on the R7. I always yelled for Karen using the same inflection that Ray Liotta used when he yelled for his wife in “Goodfellas.” I never had to explain this to Karen, because Karen got it. Karen got everything. Her mind was so quick, she could size you, or any situation up, make the quip, and then get on with the plan.

Because Karen always had a plan. She could marshal forces better than Patton. She could organize anything. If she had brought her skills to the Dark Side, we would all have been in trouble. Luckily, for all of us who knew her, and for so many others, from her original North Jersey home to the Chestnut Hill Neighborhood she loved, Karen’s skills were used to bring joy to everyone.

She could make a party out of anything. She was the MacGyver of parties. I don’t know how many of you got that, but Karen would have. One of the last ones we had happened because of the lack of buttons on too many of my shirts. When she noticed this condition (she noticed everything), she immediately hatched “the plan.”

“I’ve got buttons! Every kind and color! And all matching thread! Bring all your shirts over and we’ll have a button party!”

And so I did. And we sewed and laughed and thimbled til the wee small hours. Karen could sew, alter and make clothing like a pro. Because she had been one, running two bridal shops in North Jersey before she ever came to the Hill.

She could create a look for you, whether you wanted one or not, and whip it up before you could object, which was a good thing, because she wouldn’t stop anyway until it was done and you looked terrific and she was right all along.

To list all the things Karen could do, and do all at the same time while talking about other things and planning still other things, is a daunting task, although Karen could have done it while cooking dinner.

But not all of Karen’s accomplishments were impromptu. Along with her BFF Candi Root, she crafted some of the finest theatricals her community had ever seen. The Spotlight Players productions of “A Christmas Carol,” “The Wizard of Oz,” and “Grease” were the most fun many of us had ever had on a stage. Dozens and dozens of kids got their first taste of show biz under co-producer/director/costumer/cat herder Karen.

A lot of kids in the neighborhood grew up with Karen. She was a role model to so many of them. Strong, brave, funny, with style to spare. They’re grown now, and when I talk to them I know that Karen helped make them that way as well. They know it, too.

Karen was the oldest of four, and was probably called, “ringleader” in her youth on more than one occasion. When Karen said, “Hey! Let’s…” you knew it was best to give in and go.

But her house was where most of it happened. And what a house. Karen had acquired, bought, picked up, been given, and inherited one of the finest collections of furniture, glassware, housewares, fabrics, art, ephemera, tchotchkes-(how DO you spell that?) that I have ever seen, and I was, as they say, in the business. Playing charades while noticing something on a shelf that you hadn’t seen since you were 10 years old and ordered for 10 box tops was one more Karen experience.

But the fullest use of Karen’s manifold skills, her organizational brilliance and style, and the stage set that was her home were the big parties. Halloween planning began, I was convinced, on November 2nd. Group Theme Costumes,(Addams, Munsters) with hours of makeup and hair prep brought a theatricality to Bethlehem Pike that could not be rivaled by anything produced by DeMille. And speaking of Hollywood, her Oscar parties, with multiple TVs, competitive balloting and non-stop red carpet sniping, were as fabulous as anything imagined in 90210.

Through all of this was a single constant, her 30-year love affair with Dante Marcolina. Their marriage was the rock upon which all the fun could safely rest, so solid was its foundation. A combination of a mature, working partnership and giddy young love, unshakable even during the relentless events of recent years. You couldn’t be around the two of them without thinking, “This is how it’s supposed to work.”

Dante, during Karen’s illness, has slept in more chairs, next to more beds than anyone I’ve ever known. He’s also the finest man I’ve known. He needs us now.

And one more thing. Karen was always late. Not often, or almost always, but always late. We would get to the event when it was almost over so often, I had appropriate comedy material, used over and over. It used to bother me. “Karen! C’mon already!”Then one day I realized; I had more fun with Karen, getting ready, than I ever had at any party I was on time for.

Except Hers. Bye Babe.

Karen McGarry Marcolina was born September 28, 1959, in Passaic, New Jersey.

A resident of Chestnut Hill, she died on July 22, after a long battle with cancer. She was the wife of Dante A. Marcolina Jr, daughter of Patrick (dec’d) and Carole (nee Corsale) McGarry, sister of Denise Eannetta, (John) Eddie McGarry, and Teresa Piccarelli (Ed), sister -in -law to Alma Fuess (Gary) and Jeanne Roman (Serge). Aunt to Joseph and Stephanie Eannetta, Elise and Kayla Devaney, Jay and Stephen Brown, Dina Roman Rosa and Lisa Roman.

In lieu of flowers, contributions can be made to Saint Jude Children’s Research Hospital ( 501 St Jude Place, Memphis, TN 38105

Family and friends may call at Jacob Ruth Funeral Home, 8413 Germantown Avenue, Chestnut Hill, on Sunday August 2, from 2 to 5 p.m.

Ed Feldman, a former resident of Chestnut Hill is the host of Morning Feed on Gtown Radio.

  • jwald1

    A great tribute. I laughed and I cried. As a good friend of Karen’s, I can picture those stories so clearly. She is unforgettable.

    • Debbie Torre

      My sweet smiling full of life cousin. So glad I got to talk to you on easter after many years. The world is definitely a sadder place without you. Love u so much. R.I.P love.
      Debbie Torre

  • Michelle Torre

    This is perfect, you just let people who didn’t know her feel as if they did, thank you. Karen was my cousin & we just reconnected after years of not being in touch, her beautiful warm smile will always be with me. She had a way of always putting a smile on anyone’s face, she will be missed. R.I.P. Karen

  • christine shore

    I am Karen’s younger cousin (our fathers are brothers). This so brilliantly describes her. I had to laugh: she was always late to every family function, except the Christmas’s that her and Dante hosted at their home in NJ (which, as you can image, were a blast!). I used to walk in bridal shows for her when she owned her shops. We always had such a great time getting ready for those shows – sitting around the back room laughing & talking. She was such a joyous person to be around. Thank you for writing such a beautiful tribute!

  • Ed Feldman

    We’re having a party in honor of Karen an Sunday, August 9th at The Mermaid Inn, Germantown Ave and Cresheim, from 4 to 8 PM. Bring something to share, or to play on. It’s what she would have wanted.