LIBERTY — Juanita Rokus, 92, the daughter of the late Saad and Marie Abinader Richey, hung up her favorite apron on Monday, March 14, 2022, quietly waved “Goodbye,” and headed for “Home.”
Juanita was born in Uniontown, Pa., the daughter of immigrant Lebanese parents. As a teen, Juanita enjoyed dancing at her church’s ethnic picnics. She loved her Lebanese roots and learned from her mother de ella how to make homemade pita, hummus, tabouli and grape leaves that were second to none. When she grew up, Juanita married her hometown sweetheart de ella, Sam Rokus, who shared a First Communion and an amazing marriage that lasted nearly 62 years.
Juanita’s early work credits include a server at banquets, Richey’s Bakery in Uniontown, and McCrory’s in Youngstown in the 1950s. She worked as a nurse’s aid, a cashier at Stambaugh Thompson in Liberty, and also for the IBM company in the ’50s.
Juanita’s favorite job was with Liberty Local Schools. She began her career in 1960 as a two-hour worker. Her passion for cooking and her love for children led her to a nearly 42-year stint in the cafeteria. Her excellent work ethic earned Juanita the title of supervisor. She learned quickly how to balance motherhood and her job from her flawlessly.
Juanita’s claim to fame was in the 1950s, when she was invited as a regular guest on WFMJ’s “Kitchen Corner,” starring Marjorie Mariner. She loved to prepare Lebanese recipes for the viewers. Juanita would also fill in for Marjorie when she was on vacation.
If you grew up in Liberty between 1961 and 1997, then you knew Mrs. Rokus. Every summer Juanita would don the hat of day camp director for Liberty Township’s summer program for children. Hundreds of children spent each summer enjoying the great outdoors under Juanita’s wing. She provided it all: crafts, jacks tournaments, checkers, baseball, plays, crayfish contests and her famous sandbox tournaments. She even played kickball with the kids. Everybody wanted to be on Juanita’s team. They loved her and she loved them.
Juanita enjoyed many years as a volunteer at the Youngstown Playhouse from 1969 to the 1990s. She loved and supported the arts. Juanita earned an Arthur Award for Best Production Worker, “South Pacific,” 1970.
Always camera ready, with lipstick, makeup, perfume and bejeweled with her baubles from Charming Charlie’s, Juanita would greet each day. She loved her morning coffee and her conversations with God, and would sip and reflect on the message of her daily devotional from her, a loving gift from her sweetest of friends from her.
Juanita’s children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren were the essence of her life. She just loved the house filled with family and laughter, and everyone enjoying a meal of her famous spaghetti and meatballs. She was generous, loving and kind.
If it wasn’t card club day, you could find Juanita in her recliner, playing with dinosaurs and watching “Land Before Time” with her great-grandson, Noah. They would enjoy a snack together, then take a long much-needed nap. Juanita’s great-grandchildren, AJ and Ava, loved to play games with her. They spent hours trying hard to claim a win as they played Monopoly with Juanita, “Sithee” as they called her. She never let her grandchildren, Andy and Rachael win, but she would wink as these little ones did.
Juanita dabbled in aikido, a martial art. She earned a purple belt at her dojo.
She was a member of The Companions of the Forests of America for many years, a former trustee of the Liberty Township Historical Society, a PTA mom, a Cub Scout leader in the 1960s and past member of the Ladies Auxiliary for the Oblate Sisters.
Juanita was a former member of St. Maron Church, and attended Mass at our Lady of Lebanon Shrine, when her failing health would allow. Juanita was a member of the Youngstown Community Fellowships. She was a woman of incredible strength and unwavering faith. She leaves an amazing legacy for her family de ella.
Juanita was preceded in death by her husband, Sam, who died in 2011; her mother and father of her; brother, George Richey; sisters, Ethel Richey Pease and Tagie Richey Kooser; Nephew, George Pavlidies; and neece, Carol Leonard Mraovich.
Left to honor her memory are Juanita’s children, Rosie Rokus (Kim Michael) Boehlke of Liberty and Sam (Debbie) Rokus of Brookfield; grandchildren, Andy (Marlo) Boehlke and Rachael (Jason) Oyler; great-grandchildren, AJ, Ava and Noah; Juanita’s dear sister, Molly Richey Leonard; and her beloved sister-in-law, Barbara John Richey; as well as cherished nieces, nephews and wonderful friends.
A celebration of Juanita’s wonderful life will be held at noon Saturday, April 2, 2022, at Blackstone Funeral Home, where friends may call from 10 am to noon.
Juanita’s favorite quote: “When I stand before God at the end of my life, I would hope that I would have not a single bit of talent left and could say, I used everything you gave me.” — Erma Bombeck