Teacher Theresa Warren raised a family, and nurtured anyone who needed it, when Ybor City was a small community where neighbors helped each other out.
YBOR CITY - Many years ago, when Theresa Warren was a young mother, she befriended a homeless man named Mr. Johnson who lived on the streets of her neighborhood.
Other neighbors might occasionally offer Mr. Johnson some spare chance, but it was Mrs. Warren who really looked out for him.
"She'd feed him, she'd give him clothes," said her son, Robert J. Warren. "And she helped get him signed up for social programs so he could get assistance. Then when she found out he didn't know where his mother was, she used her own funds to take him to Quincy, Florida, to help him find his mother."
Robert Warren and his brother Carl tell plenty of stories like that about their mother.
"She touched the lives of a lot of people," Robert Warren said. "Mother was not only a humanitarian, but she was sincerely concerned about people who were less fortunate. She spent a lot of time with sick, homeless and disabled people."
Mrs. Warren had a passion for friends, her sons said, but it was always clear that her family came first.
"We had a very strong family structure," Carl Warren said. "We were a family that helped each other, and we still help each other. We're very close."
Theresa Warren struggled with Alzheimer's disease for almost 20 years before she passed away on June 25. But even as the degenerative illness claimed her mind, Mrs. Warren remained e matriarch of the family.
"Her illness brought this family closer together," Robert Warren said. "In many respects it was hard for us, but in many ways it brought us even closer together as a family."
Mrs. Warren and her husband, Robert W. Warren, who died in 1975, never had a lot of money. But the children didn't feel deprived. Just as Mrs. Warren was eager to help others, others were eager to help her and her family."
"We didn't know we were poor," son Robert said. "Ybor City was a true community back then. If we needed food, the Blue Ribbon Supermarket would give us food. If we needed a suit. Mr. Max Argintar would let is have a suit on credit. We thought we were rich because we had everything we needed."
Mrs. Warren's passions included her family, her friends and her Roman Catholic faith. She named her first son after his father, but gave him the middle name Joseph to keep a promise she made in high school.
"She prayed to St. Joseph to help her passed a chemistry examination," her son said. "She told St. Joseph that if she passed the exam she would name her first son after him."
She may have had supernatural help passing the chemistry test. But Mrs. Warren was a firm believer in the importance of education. She insisted that both her sons go to college, which few of their neighborhood friends even considered.
Both graduated. Robert, who joined the Army and retired as full colonel, is now an entrepreneur in Virginia. Carl, a retired teacher, taught in Hillsborough County public schools.
Mrs. Warren did domestic work for a prominent Tampa family while raising her sons. But she eventually went back to school herself and taught elementary school at St. Peter Claver Catholic Church on Nebraska Avenue.
Although her illness had forced her family to move Mrs. Warren to several nursing facilities, including the one in Brandon where she died, there was no question that her funeral would be held at St. Peter Claver, the church they had known for years.
The family expected several of her former students to attend Wednesday's funeral. She had brought the same wisdom, faith and caring to her teaching career that she had instilled into her family.
"Her students loved her," Robert Warren said Tuesday. "They called her "Mama Tee.' "