Fenwick’s Mary Ann Rossi was ‘just the ultimate mother’

Wife of legendary Fenwick coach helped raise 10 children, served as disciplinarian at home.

MIDDLETOWN — It’s impossible to think of Fenwick High School and not remember John “Butch” Rossi, the legendary boys basketball coach who led the Falcons to more than 400 wins and a 1982 state championship.

But some of that hardwood success may not have happened without the unwavering support from his wife, Mary Ann Rossi. When her husband was spending countless hours at the school, where he served as coach and athletic director, Mary Ann was the coach in charge at home.

“She was the disciplinarian, the one who brought joy and love,” said John Rossi, 61, the oldest of 10 children. “She was just the ultimate mother. My mom was a special lady.”

Rossi, who served as nurse in the Middletown school district and at John XXIII, died Feb. 8 in Lebanon where she lived with a daughter and son-in-law. She was 88.

She was born in Cincinnati on April 18, 1935, and was adopted at a young age by John and Mary Polakovich Swarcz.

Fenwick High School opened in 1952, and Mary Ann and her late husband were members of the first graduating class in 1953. She was a cheerleader and the school’s first homecoming queen.

She graduated with a degree in nursing from Good Samaritan Hospital, where she worked for a number of years. Then she served as a school nurse for over 20 years.

That nurturing spirit carried into her daily life, her son said.

“She was friends with so many people,” he said. “It’s unbelievable. The common denominator was always friends.”

Butch and Mary Ann Rossi have often been described as one of Fenwick’s “first families.” They had a child enrolled at Fenwick for 16 years, from 1977, when John was a freshman, until Andrea graduated in 1993.

The Rossi children gained self confidence, discipline and leadership skills from their mother, John Rossi said. Their father, a fiery basketball coach, was the face of the family, but his wife was “leading from the passenger seat,” according to their son.

The 10 children, separated by 14 years, also knew due to their parents’ professions, money was tight.

“We always got what we needed, but no more than what was needed,” John Rossi said. “We always had family and love.”

Mike Holweger, a standout Fenwick basketball player who graduated in 1989, spent a lot of time at the Rossi home because the youngest son, Steve, was one of his best friends.

“When I walked into the house, it was like I was one of the family,” said Holweger, girls basketball coach at Springboro High.

Despite a houseful of children, Mary Ann was always peaceful and calm, Holweger said.

“She had everything under control,” he said. “That was her inner peace.”

Holweger later wrote a book about Coach Rossi called, “He Won The Game.”

Throughout all those interviews for the book and interactions with the Rossi children, Holweger said he noticed the family wasn’t judgmental and was always welcoming.

“That will be Coach and Mrs. Rossi’s greatest legacy,” he said. “You always felt special when you were around them.”

John Rossi said he takes comfort in knowing that his parents are reunited.

“They’re both sitting on the bench at the same time,” he said.

She’s survived by her children, John M. (Shari) Rossi, Anne (Joseph) Horney, Teresa (Ralph) Steinmetz, Joseph R. Rossi, Peg (Thomas) Lanahan, Elizabeth D. Rossi, Mary K. Joseph, Stephanie (Craig) Withrow, Steve (Melissa) Rossi and Andrea (Andre) Reich; sister, Karen Rosati; 19 grandchildren; and two great-grandchildren.

Besides a husband, she was preceded in death by her parents; grandson, John Brady Rossi; and son-in-law, Eric Joseph.

Visitation will be from 5-8 p.m. Wednesday at Wilson-Schramm-Spaulding Funeral Home, 3805 Roosevelt Blvd., Middletown. Mass of Christian Burial will be at 10 a.m. Thursday at Holy Family Parish-St. John Church, 1405 First Ave., Middletown, with Father John Civille as celebrant. Interment will be at Woodside Cemetery and Arboretum.

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