ALLOUEZ — The first thing you learn about Sylvia Corbeil is how much she enjoys life and bringing happiness to others. “I just feel that the joy of the Lord is working through me. The Lord is my strength… absolutely,” said Corbeil.
She grew up on an Algoma farm, the oldest of eight, “so we know how to work and how to have fun,” said Corbeil. She decided to “come to the big city” of Green Bay, which is where she met her husband, Dick. She was a waitress at the Rocket Restaurant and he was in a bridal party that paid a visit there.
Two years later, on June 22, 1957, they married.
The couple learned they couldn’t have children. Instead of being devastated, Corbeil said, “We knew there were possibilities. … When we decided to look into adoption, it was such an exciting time.”
All three of their children, Mary, Greg and Stephanie, were adopted through the Diocese of Green Bay, and they raised their family in Bay Settlement. Their membership at Holy Cross Parish there would prove a godsend.
“We lost two children,” said Corbeil. Stephanie was 9 and a-half when a viral infection attacked her heart. She and Dick had returned from a meeting at the parish school, and though Stephanie had missed that day of school, she seemed back to her usual bouncy self.
During the night, she became very restless and Stephanie had asked her mom to “unzip me.” Not knowing what was going on, Corbeil called the doctor. Her husband brought their daughter out into the living room and she would collapse in his arms. She died on Nov. 27, 1979, 40 years ago this year.
“We had such a wonderful outpouring of people (from Holy Cross Parish) who helped us get through this,” she said.
Thirteen years later, their son Greg, with a degree from the University of Chicago Law School, headed to Los Angeles to begin his career. He had married on Nov. 20, 1991, and just a couple weeks later “he woke up and he couldn’t speak,” said Corbeil. He died at age 29 of an aggressive brain tumor called a glioblastoma on July 29, 1992.
“‘How can you smile, how can you laugh, how can you be happy?’” she said she’s been asked. “All these people around me, they are such wonderful support,” she explained, noting that she and her husband decided to focus on the positive memories. “It’s better to have loved and lost than to have never loved at all,” she said, adding that their daughter Mary and their three grandchildren are the joys of their lives.
Happy memories fill Corbeil’s life, like the six years she worked for Hurlbut Construction. “Then I started getting involved in religious education,” becoming a certified coordinator of religious education. She volunteered at Holy Cross Parish, then she and Virginia Moreau were hired as a team at St. Bernard Parish in Green Bay. Corbeil worked there 23 years. She and her husband were also involved in Cursillo retreats.
For years Corbeil drove school bus, as did her husband. “We had two buses in our driveway for years and years,” she said. She drove children who attended Holy Cross School and nearby Wequiock Elementary School. Since childhood Corbeil has loved to sing. “I taught those kids songs,” she said, fondly remembering the Christmas caroling aboard her bus.
Eleven years ago Corbeil and her husband decided life would be easier if they sold their Bay Settlement home and moved to an apartment. Joining nearby Resurrection Parish made their move all the better. “It’s such a welcoming place and there are so many opportunities for people to be involved in their faith and one another,” she said.
Corbeil is still singing, now with the parish choir and funeral choir, and is a member of the stewardship committee. She also helps with the annual spring parish fundraising luncheon held at the Riverside Ballroom.
About three times a week, Corbeil attends daily Mass, doing the readings and leading the singing. “I love doing that,” she said, adding, “I research the readings every time. I google them because I want to know what I’m talking about.”
On Feb. 3, 2019, Corbeil took a tumble at the parish when she was picking up pancake and porky breakfasts for homebound parishioners. She had told her husband she’d be back home in an hour. “I never came back for 37 days,” she said.
For a month, the couple moved into respite care together as she recovered from a broken arm and pelvis.
Today she is busy back at the parish she loves. “I have a joy in knowing I can help somebody,” said Corbeil. Keep expanding your horizons, she recommended, and “always look forward,” adding, “It’s a more full life. It’s more enjoyable.”