Dolores Stephan never saw her name appear on the storefront, but for nearly 20 years customers at Jarosch Bakery in Elk Grove Village looked for her when they came to place orders.
Stephan and her husband, Joe, partnered with owners Herb and Betty Jarosch, growing the bakery during Elk Grove's boom years, from 1968 to 1987.
She died Friday after a long illness. Stephan was 81.
"Dolores was very friendly and she really enjoyed working with customers," says Ken Jarosch, who grew up working in the business and now runs it. "She and my mother managed the girls in front, while my dad and Joe ran the production end in the back."
The partnership developed over a conversation during a bowling league both men competed in, sponsored by the Master Bakers' Association.
At the time, Stephan and her husband ran the Lincoln Pastry Shop in the Lincoln Park neighborhood of Chicago. But at one of their matches, Joe Stephan offered to buy out the founder, George Jarosch, and allow him to retire.
The spontaneous offer resulted in a collaboration with Herb and Betty Jarosch that lasted nearly 20 years, and prompted Joe and Dolores Stephan to move to the suburbs. The two families had a lot in common: they each had four children and both men had grown up in the business, watching their fathers work as bakers.
"With all the kids active in sports and other activities, they became fixtures in Elk Grove," Ken Jarosch says. "Between all their friends and acquaintances, and their kids' friends, they really helped grow the business."
Joe Stephan brought some of his prized pastry recipes with him when he moved to the suburbs, including a raspberry walnut slice that had won an award from Pillsbury. But Dolores stuck to what she knew best: handling customers.
"She had an exceptional talent with customers," Joe Stephan says. "Whenever there was an unhappy customer, the girls would turn to Dolores. She'd calm them down and they'd leave with one of our chrome plated cake servers, happy as a clam."
The Stephans sold their portion of the business to Ken Jarosch and his wife, Kathy, when they retired, but their roles have not been forgotten. When the Jarosch family recently upgraded their website, including featuring vintage family photos and history of the family bakery, they included the Stephans in the narrative.
"We all worked very hard during those years," Joe Stephan says, "and always delivered the highest quality product."
Besides her husband, Stephan is survived by her children Joseph, Mark, Christina and Richard, and four grandchildren.
A funeral Mass will take place at 11 a.m. Nov. 5 at the Chapel of the Beloved in the Lutheran Home, 800 W. Oakton St. in Arlington Heights.