By Gary Nager

Unfortunately, I never really got to know Patty Wolf, the even more popular wife of Wolf’s Den Restaurant owner Roger Wolf, in part because the first few times I met her, I didn’t realize that she wasn’t just another one of the friendly servers at Roger’s always-busy diner on S.R. 56.

I also didn’t realize that she was already five or six years into what has now ended up being a nine-year battle with ovarian cancer — a battle she finally lost on February 28.

If you ask Roger, his beautiful, always-optimistic wife of 35 years was so much more than just a pretty face. She was the smile and spirit of Wolf’s Den.

“Everyone who ever met Patty here knew she was something special,” Roger said at his restaurant a few days before Patty passed. “These last few months have been the hardest of my life.” And, that’s saying a lot, considering that Roger was an enlisted U.S. Marine who was among the first combat troops deployed in the Vietnam War.

At a memorial service held March 5 at Lifepoint Community Church on Bruce B. Downs Blvd. (in front of Hunter’s Green) and presided over by Lifepoint Pastor, the Rev. Brad White, an estimated crowd of more than 300 people came out to honor Patty’s memory and to show their support for Roger and Patty’s mother, Alice Beck; the couple’s son, Shawn Wolf, and his wife, Christine; Patty’s sisters, Pam Beck-Danovich and Debra Smitz; and the couple’s granddaughter Allyson.

Roger recalled that he was told Patty may have only had months to live when she was first diagnosed with Stage 4 cancer in 2003, but she refused to even consider that possibility. Nine years and too many surgeries and chemo treatments later, she was still driving herself to both the Wolf’s Den and her well-known, 18-year-old dog grooming business, The Classy Canine on Massachusetts Ave. in New Port Richey, until mid-January, even though she was regularly receiving hospice care at home.

“Until the last few months,” Roger said at the memorial, “you would never even have known she was sick. She never, ever complained and she still always had that smile for everyone.” Patty even made sure she was helping out at Wolf’s Den for Roger’s 2012 Christmas Eve party, an annual event where the restaurant has served thousands of free meals for those in need the last four years.

Patty, 53, also had been a tireless fund raiser for the American Cancer Society, one year raising $10,000 by herself for a local Relay for Life event.

When I interviewed him for a story about Wolf’s Den last year, Roger told me that he was working in his father’s restaurant in Lake Geneva, WI, when Patty — then an 18-year-old Bunny at the Playboy Club in the same town — walked in. And, even though many of the other Bunnies had frequented the restaurant before, Roger says he turned to another employee and said right away, “That’s the woman I’m going to marry.”

What he didn’t tell me, however, is that Patty rebuffed him several times before she even agreed to go out with him.

“What is it about the word ‘never’ you don’t understand, Wolf?”

Undeterred by her many rejections, Roger persisted and eventually won the heart of the young college student who wanted to be a veterinarian but who ended up working at the restaurant before falling in love with and agreeing to marry her suitor — who was 12 years older than his wife. During his remembrance at the memorial service, Roger recalled how, at their wedding, Patty’s father told him that Patty was the apple of his eye, so there were, “no returns on this one.”

Nor did he ever consider such a return. Although I had never been to The Classy Canine, there’s no doubt that Roger’s patrons all knew how much he loved his wife, and had heard that the couple also had taken in Patty’s mother after Patty’s father passed away — nearly 20 years ago — and how important mother and daughter were to each other.

“If Patty said something wrong, mom would lie and say she was right,” Roger said during the memorial. “And likewise, if mom said something wrong, Patty would lie to cover for her. They were two inseparable peas in a pod and they always backed each other up.”

Also sharing the Wolf family’s home in Wesley Chapel are four shih tzus. “They were Patty’s babies,” Roger recalled. And, Snoopy, the youngest of the four, was next to her when Patty passed.

Rev. White was stunned, but not really surprised, by the turnout at the memorial service, because he had gotten to know the Wolfs very well and had spent more and more time enjoying Roger’s food at the Wolf’s Den.

“I was with Patty when she welcomed Jesus into her heart as her Lord and Savior a few weeks ago,” Rev. White said during the memorial. “I know that Patty lives in heaven and is no longer sick.”

But, here on Earth, and more specifically, in Wesley Chapel, at a popular little restaurant known as the Wolf’s Den, there is a great void in the hearts of those who work and dine there, a sadness that Roger says is made only a little less sad in the knowledge that Patty, finally, is no longer suffering.

Rest in Peace, Patty. You and Roger and your mom and all of your family and friends are in my thoughts and prayers, just as I know you’re all in the thoughts and prayers of (in Roger’s words, recalled from my 2011 article about the Wolf’s Den) “the almost cult-like” followers of that still-terrific restaurant. The soul of that restaurant may have passed, but Patty Wolf still lives on in all of us.

A foundation to help fund scholarships to veterinary school programs is being established in Patty Wolf’s name at Central Bank. For more information or to make a donation, call Mary Ann Yaney at Central Bank ((20701 Bruce B. Downs Blvd.) at 929-4477.

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