Southsider Voice correspondent
A few decades ago not many women purchased homes. Even fewer females were business owners.
But then, most women in the early 1950s did not possess the grit of a petite Irish entrepreneur named Mary McRee Warble.
A decade after graduating from Southport High School, Warble was irritated by her measly $1.05 an hour earnings in a law office. With those wages she knew she would never get ahead.
So Warble stubbornly shoved her way into the males-only club of business ownership.
At age 29 she bought the Mail Pouch, a tavern that neighbored Indiana Bell and a branch of the U.S. post office on North Meridian Street in Indianapolis.
But the expectations of this spunky, do-it-my-way bar owner were anything but conventional. Patrons were not allowed to smoke or curse in her establishment.
“I had a terrible time,” Warble said with a laugh. “I kept throwing them out, and they kept knocking on the door to get back in.”
No matter how much she struggled to learn the ropes about operating a business while raising her daughter, Kay Francis, alone, memories of a poverty-stricken childhood pushed Warble forward.
“I attended 14 different elementary schools. We always lived with different people. That’s how much we moved around,” she said of her youth.
From fourth to eighth grade, Warble and her mother called a garage their home.
“I always prayed, ‘God, give me strength to get out of here. Give me a chance to work and I will never quit.’ ”
With the Mail Pouch as her stepping stone toward financial security, Warble dug her heels into that prayer for work.
An even more lucrative twist occurred a few months later when opening Maria’s Pizza.
Fresh ingredients, right down to the homemade sausage, a crust that was absolutely the best on the Southside and a genuine love for customers proved to be the perfect ingredients for success.
Within a couple of years, Warble bought a home, took her mom on a tour of nine European countries and decided to purchase and park only Cadillacs in her garage.
With dreams as strong as her work ethic, she then sold the bar and opened a second Maria’s Pizza on the Southside.
After hours, this quirky hard worker installed sub floors, washed windows and cleaned ovens in her restaurants. She also introduced two “pizza mobilers” for deliveries.
Warble continued to cautiously open more pizzerias. With an instinct for spot-on business decisions, she chose perfect locations, such as bowling alleys and easy-to access areas of Shelbyville, Nora, Greenwood and Indianapolis. She also provided jobs for 43 employees.
With a broad grin, Warble recalls the afternoon she asked a motorcycle cop to deliver pizza dough to one of her other locations.
When he nicely tried to decline, she plopped the dough into the sidecar of his motorcycle and assured the officer that yes, of course, he could deliver the dough. This firecracker did not single-handedly operate a string of successful businesses by not getting her way.
For a 10-year stretch, love took Warble away from her life as a Hoosier pizza shop queen.
“I fell in love with a cotton pickin’ Tennessean,” she grumbled.
When the marriage ended, Warble sold her Nashville home to country music icons George Jones and Tammy Wynette.
She loved Jones.
However, Warble added quickly, she almost backed out of the sale because that’s how much she disliked Wynette.
Warble then returned to Indiana and dove right back into the pizza dough.
In the early 1990s and a grand total of seven shops later, she handed the pizza empire over to her son-in-law, Tony Baumann of Indianapolis, and her only grandchild, Maria Carson, and husband Tony Carson of Whiteland. Sadly, six years ago, Warble lost her only child.
These days, Warble spends a lot of time laughing with friends.
At least once a week, she and a couple of girlfriends try their luck at areas casinos.
“We each take $15,” she said. “We use $5 for our meals and then we gamble on the penny slots.”
An open house to celebrate he 92nd birthday will be held from 6-8 p.m. Friday, Jan. 21, at The Social of Greenwood, 550 Polk St. No gifts, please.
Life is comfortable and wonderfully predictable in her Greenwood home. Reminiscing brings a smile to her face and tears to her eyes.
“I always loved to cook,” Warble said. “I loved the pizza business. But I really always loved people the most.”