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Posted on Thu, Jan 5, 2012 : 5:59 a.m.

Marguerite Oliver, Ann Arbor community leader and owner of Pastabilities, dies at 82

By Danielle Arndt

When Marguerite Bertoni Oliver played Hearts, one of her favorite pastimes, she always “shot the moon,” said her son, Scott Oliver.

“Her ‘shooting the moon’ was very reflective of how she lived life,” he said. “She really wanted you to go for it. And she always did.

“Even though she lived her whole life in Ann Arbor, she didn’t feel the bounds of it. She always believed you could do whatever you desired.”

Marguerite Oliver, 82, an influential leader within the Ann Arbor community, died Monday in Massachusetts from old age and dementia. She moved to Massachusetts in 2010, following the death of her husband, William.

OliverFamilyFloridaMarch2005 156 - Copy.jpg

Marguerite Bertoni Oliver

But during her 82 years, Marguerite Oliver accomplished a great many of her desires, most of which encompassed the desire to improve life for others.

She was an advocate for farmers' rights and served on the board for the Ann Arbor Farmers Market. She fought for the preservation of the old fire station on Huron Street and was instrumental in the development of the Hands-on Museum.

Catherine Arcure, a former food writer for The Ann Arbor News who worked with Marguerite, said she “can’t imagine Ann Arbor without Marguerite.”

“She was such a bubbly, overly effusive person. But never artificial,” Arcure said. “She cared about people in a genuine way. She would knock over walls to make sure people were taken care of. … And she did things for every group.”

Marguerite Oliver also was critical to the startup of the Washtenaw Community College Foundation as well as the University of Michigan Meals on Wheels program.

She was one of the first WCC Foundation board members and served for six years, said Wendy Lawson, associate vice president of advancement for the foundation. Oliver received the Women’s Council’s “Unsung Hero” Award in 2005.

Lawson said Marguerite was a “warm, wonderful and fascinating woman.”

“She was very huggy and generous and had such an amazing presence,” Lawson said. “(Marguerite) really had been a leader in the business community and was a pioneer for women. She also was a great mentor to me.”

As the daughter of Italian immigrants, cooking and preparing food was always important to Oliver.


Together, Marguerite, right, and William Oliver were community leaders, advocating for people and growth in Ann Arbor. William died in 2010. Marguerite died Jan. 2. A funeral service for her will be Saturday in Ann Arbor.

From Catherine Oliver-Allen

“She’d host seven-course dinners for people being recruited by the University (of Michigan),” said daughter Susan Oliver.

Marguerite Oliver's late husband was chairman of the pediatric department at the C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital. Together, the couple financially supported, volunteered and raised money for the hospital.

“I talked to people who said Marguerite Oliver was the reason they decided to come to Ann Arbor,” Arcure said. “She was such a wonderful hostess and did such a great job working with the wives that everyone, by the time she was done with them, loved Ann Arbor.”

At 50 years old, the spunky Italian launched her first professional culinary venture: Pastabilities in Kerrytown, next to the Farmers Market.


The former Pastabilities logo depicts a sketch of founder Marguerite Bertoni Oliver's face.

From Catherine Oliver-Allen

The success of the fresh pasta company grew, and Marguerite was invited to represent Michigan at a business conference in Moscow in 1991, Scott Oliver said.

Also in the 1990s, Pastabilities garnered the attention of CNN and earned the title of “Best Pasta in America,” Scott said. Marguerite sold the business after about 20 years, he added.

Marguerite Oliver was also an accomplished painter and gave lessons to senior citizens.

Susan Olivers said she’ll always remember her mother’s sense of humor.

“She was so much fun,” Susan said. “Just the way she told jokes and could make you laugh — she was like Lucile Ball.

“Mom did everything with a smile — and her big, generous heart shined through that smile.”

A funeral service for Marguerite will be at 10:30 a.m. Saturday at St. Thomas the Apostle Church in Ann Arbor. Visitation will be from 5 to 7 p.m. Friday at the Muehlig Funeral Chapel, 403 S. Fourth Ave.

Marguerite leaves her three children, Scott of Duxbury, Mass., Susan of Ft. Pierce, Fla., and Catherine Oliver-Allen of Alamo, Calif.; seven grandchildren; and numerous nieces and nephews.

Staff reporter Danielle Arndt covers K-12 education for Follow her on Twitter @DanielleArndt or email her at


Laura Danner

Mon, Jan 9, 2012 : 11:59 p.m.

Aunt Marguerite was a wonderful woman. Very warm and enthusiastic about everyone she met! She and Uncle Bill are dearly missed. My love to Scott, Cathy, and Susie and their families at this time. Laura Lager Danner


Sat, Jan 7, 2012 : 5:01 p.m.

So sad to read of Marguerite Oliver's departure. My first babysitting job was for the Olivers when they lived on Broadway. Susie was an infant and Scottie was about 8 with Kathy in between as I recall. I remember as a young teenager being in awe of her physical beauty, but it is her personality I remember the most. She always projected a kind of joyful exuberance and I could tell she loved being a mother to three small children whom she adored. Her husband, Bill, as she called him, was a Southern gentleman to the core; he always insisted on opening the car door for me when he picked me up and drove me home after they moved away from my neighborhood. My condolences to her children who I am certain are lovely people having grown up with such wonderful parents.


Fri, Jan 6, 2012 : 5:47 p.m.

To me, Marguerite Oliver was "Mrs. Oliver". That's because she was the mother of my best friend at UofM, Sue Oliver. It was because of Sue, a bona fide townie, that I got to know and love the "real" Ann Arbor. It was because of Mrs. Oliver, a most generous and extraordinary person, that I got to experience the comforts and support of a home away from home during my college years. I could go on forever about all the ways she made my life better, easier, more fun. Graduation dinner with her Pesto Genovese and her Walnut pesto-the best I have ever had to this day! Her stories, her sense of humor, her wisdom and advice. I was in awe of her, always. Her beauty and grace. What a most remarkable woman. What a most remarkable life!

Judy Fry

Thu, Jan 5, 2012 : 6:52 p.m.

Ann Arbor was so fortunate to have had the talents, the energy and the enthusiasm of Marguerite for so many years. She was always generous, always so giving and dedicated to any cause she supported, so very creative and above all, just so much fun. Knowing Marguerite was one of the highlights of my life.


Thu, Jan 5, 2012 : 4:52 p.m.

It's funny, my friend and I were just talking within the last week about how we still miss Pastabilities restaurant. Going there after the Farmers Market for tortellini with pesto sauce was a beloved ritual. All of the food was wonderful. We were so sad when Marguerite sold the restaurant. Thank you for this article. Ann Arbor has lost a wonderful member of the community.


Thu, Jan 5, 2012 : 2:29 p.m.

I thought that restaurant was still around. I guess the pasta is and not the restaurant? Wow. What what a life she led. At least she didn't suffer. The stats are right though. Usually when one spouse dies? The other goes within 6 months to a year. Ann Arbor will miss some good home cooking.

vicki honeyman

Thu, Jan 5, 2012 : 2:15 p.m.

Pastabilities was my all-time favorite Ann Arbor restaurant but the biggest treat was when Marguerite was there. She truly was a ray of sunshine. Oh if only I could dine on Marguerite's pasta bolognese one more time, with Marguerite sitting at my table updating me on Susie's latest adventures. It was a sad day when she sold her restaurant - and now even sadder to read that she is gone.

Vivienne Armentrout

Thu, Jan 5, 2012 : 1:06 p.m.

I still miss Pastabilities' wonderful store and informal restaurant at Kerrytown. It was located across the plaza from where Sparrow's Market is now, near the old Eve's (several transformations ago). It combined a case with fresh pasta to take home with a hot service area that always had a variety of filled and plain pastas, a couple or three freshly made sauces, salads and rolls. One could lunch beautifully and inexpensively and the numerous tables were usually fairly full. I think it may have closed in the mid 90s. Thank you for this review of her life. Ms. Oliver did indeed enhance the experience of liviing in Ann Arbor.

Steve Pepple

Thu, Jan 5, 2012 : 12:53 p.m.

A photo caption has been changed in the story to reflect the correct date of Mrs. Oliver's death.


Thu, Jan 5, 2012 : 12:36 p.m.

Marguerite was the most beautiful Lady and kindest person I've known. I use to run into her at her beloved Farmer Market always had a smile on her face. Her pastas were out of this world. We will miss her.


Thu, Jan 5, 2012 : 12:18 p.m.

Ms Oliver taught my wife to cook, I mean really cook well. She had an incredibly positive impact on on my wife, a good soul, great person and fine business woman.