By Nicole Hamilton
The Cincinnati Enquirer
Brenda Jo Simpson-Soldano had a way of turning obstacles into opportunities - approaching every situation with the eye of an artist.
She painted and reupholstered old furniture, turning chairs and tables into works of art, and decorated every room in her Hamilton home with her own signature style.
When lightning stuck a tree in her front yard, she saw it is as a chance to create a garden for her two children, and a haven where she could bring her roses, larkspur and daylilies to life in paintings.
Brenda "B.J." Simpson-Soldano died Feb. 27 at her Hamilton home after a 14-month battle with breast cancer. She was 49.
"She was the ultimate artist - she saw things differently (than you or I) ... all the tools in the house - and the tool belts - were hers," said her husband of 16 years, Bruce Soldano of Hamilton, whom she met in 1982 when she took the karate class he was teaching. "I'd come home and a wall would be gone. She'd make me stop the car if she saw something in a garbage can she could use for artwork."
"Everything she touched became beautiful, she had a flair," said her mother-in-law, Dorothy Eicher of Symmes Township. "She was vivacious and extremely thoughtful and made everybody feel comfortable - besides being extremely talented. I just didn't know anybody like her."
Her creativity radiated naturally toward her two daughters, Lauren and Gina, who occasionally joined their mother to paint in the garden.
She designed the one-acre home garden for them. Both girls have their own ponds, clubhouses and smaller gardens.
"My idea was to create the Secret Garden effect. I started planting more things so I could have more (subjects) to paint," Mrs. Simpson-Soldano told the Enquirer in 2001.
Born in Wheeling, W.Va., and raised in Clermont County, she learned how to garden by tending elaborate flowerbeds in her parents' back yard, and in the 4-H Club.
After graduating from Clermont Northeastern High School, she continued her education at Antonelli College, where she studied design. She ran her own studio and then worked as a designer for C.M. Paula Co. for about 15 years, before becoming a freelance master designer.
In 2000, she was honored by the Cincinnati Horticultural Society for her achievements.
She was a member of St. Peter in Chains Church; a member of the Master Gardeners Club of Hamilton; and an accordion player.
Besides her husband and daughters, survivors include her parents, Vernon and Mollie Simpson of Hamilton; grandmother Margaret Curtis of Hamilton; a sister, Veronica Unverferth of Pittsburgh; and several aunts and uncles.
Services have been held. Her body was cremated.
Memorials may be made to Gina and Lauren Soldano Scholarship Fund, 4569 Huston Road, Hamilton, 45013.
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