Marie Kolasinski, a fiery government critic who founded a Christian commune and popular craft store in Costa Mesa, died Monday. She was 90.
Kolasinski died of natural causes, according to a statement from the Piecemakers.
At the Piecemakers Country Store off Adams Avenue on Monday afternoon, employees held back tears as they somberly described Kolasinski as a woman of deep conviction who worked to preserve traditional crafts, such as woodwork and knitting.
"She's one of the most exceptional people I've known, and I will always be grateful to her," said Shirley Chism, who was reading and taking notes in a yellow "Words of Life" booklet written by Kolasinski. "She taught us who our true God is, and she showed us the way back to the Father. She gives meaning to life."
Others will remember Kolasinski more for her clashes with government officials. She held absolutist views when it came to property rights and routinely sparred with City Hall over seemingly trivial issues.
Kolasinski made national headlines in 1997, when she faced criminal charges for not obtaining a city permit after illegally putting on a play and holding a crafts fair, both in the Country Store parking lot.
The group chose to not obtain the required permits, saying they had the right to do whatever they wished on their property.
"She would go into battle with the powers that were wrong without batting an eye," said Piecemakers member Linda Ryan. "If you ever wanted someone beside you, it was Marie."
In 2007, at the age of 85, Kolasinski spent seven days in jail for operating the craft store's tea room without a permit and for resisting inspectors who came to examine the shop.
Kolasinski developed relationships with inmates while in jail, and continued to write her cellmates and other inmates, said Piecemakers member Kerry Parker.
Kolasinski wrote inmates hundreds of letters a day, Parker said; the group was trying to reach officials and reach out to counselors who would be able to console grieving inmates.
"[The other inmates] thought she was an angel," Piecemakers member Doug Follette said. "The Holy Spirit stayed in the jail."
Until recently, Kolasinski continued her unsparing attacks on government officials, occasionally penning pieces for the Daily Pilot's Forum page.
Kolasinski wrote in 2009 that "work is a four-letter word for any government employee, as they live off the blood of the working class of the nation they govern."
In 2002, in a newspaper ad the Piecemakers called two county code inspectors "rapists," "Martian reptiles" and "Gestapo whores." They later settled a libel lawsuit with the inspectors for $20,000.
The Piecemakers also landed on the FBI's radar in 1995 when they sent county officials a salty letter that alluded to the Oklahoma City bombing.
Though the Piecemakers enjoyed some support from anti-government types, many critics labeled them a cult — an allegation Kolasinski vehemently denied.
The 25-member organization practices an unconventional form of Christianity where members say they abstain from sex and live communally as brothers and sisters in Mesa Verde homes.
Members in previous interviews described the Piecemakers movement as loving and supportive. Many of the women work in the craft store while the men oversee a construction company.
"She was the bravest person I know," Follette said. "She saw things that were wrong with the country and the world. She stood up against things that were wrong. She didn't care if she was killed. She followed God first."
Kolasinski's death wasn't unexpected, and recently she received hospice end-of-life care, Ryan said.
Kolasinski's daughter is crafting a mosaic birdbath, with each tile representing a member of the Piecemaker community, in her mother's memory. A tree with a plaque will also be planted in remembrance.
"Everything that you see here is Marie," Ryan said of the craft store. "Every beautiful thing, every creative thing is her."
Memorial services are scheduled to take place at noon Friday at the Piecemakers store at 1720 Adams Ave.