Leona Anna Roza
(October 28, 1904 – December 2, 1999)
There is sadness here this evening, of course. A life here on earth has come to an end. But this is also a time to celebrate the living and the loving that was Lee Roza’s life. Ninety-five years holds a lot of living. And so let us remember Lee’s remarkable life.
The youngest of ten children, Lee grew up on a farm in Wisconsin, where she made the long walk to a one-room school house in all kinds of weather. When she was only fifteen years old, her mother died, and within months her father died as well.. Lee moved to Chicago to live with her brother Leo who had recently married Sophie. There she attended business school, and in general learned at a young age a certain self-reliance, because she didn’t have a mother on which to rely. “Aunt Sophie” taught Lee to sew, which became a life long passion. Later she would sew Doris’ wedding gown and the gowns of several of Doris’ friends. Barb remembers Gram making most of her clothes. She’d call Gram up from college needing a particular outfit, and within 24 hours Gram would have it ready.
As a young woman, Lee would go with her friends to watch the sandlot baseball games in Chicago, and there she met Oscar, who was quite a ball player himself. Lee and Oscar were married in 1925, and began sharing what would many years of happiness. In 1927, when Oscar’s job with Western Electric was transferred, Oscar and Lee and their baby girl Doris moved out east to Maplewood, New Jersey.
A number of years back I asked Lee what the happiest time of her life was, and she answered that perhaps it was the Depression years back in Maplewood. The Rozas and their neighbors didn’t have much, but what they had they shared. It was like a big extended family. In the evenings in the warm weather all the neighbors would sit out in one another’s back yards with the children happily playing with one another.
Every summer the Rozas would take a trip back to Chicago to visit relatives. Doris remembers that when she was five years old the family made a trip to Michigan to see family. Doris had just had mastoid surgery and Oscar came down with a severe case of sciatica, so Lee drove her two ailing companions all the way back to New Jersey their old Chevy.
Lee was strong and she was adventurous, always jumping into whatever was going on. Seventy years ago she would go flying in a little two-seater airplane with her brother-in-law the pilot. Lee was one of the few women of her generation who learned how to drive, and enjoyed leading expeditions into New York City. She loved rollarcoasters. She helped Oscar build their cottage on Lake Swartswood. Once, working side by side with her husband, Oscar accidentally wacked Lee in the nose with the hammer, but tough lady that she was, she went right on working.
They had fun together, Oscar, Lee and Doris. They spent weekends driving out from Maplewood to enjoy country life. Doris remembers getting woken up at 4 a.m. to go out fishing in a boat on Swartswood Lake. After a couple of hours her parents brought her back to shore and let her sleep in the car while they went back out within eyesight again to fish some more.
Doris remembers a Christmas where her mother and father stayed up all night so that in the morning there would be a newly constructed doll house waiting for her. There was always the little village under the tree. It was a happy home to grow up in, full of love.
In 1959, Lee and Oscar moved to Fredon Township in Sussex County. Lee got deeply involved in the community, serving as president of the Women’s Auxiliary of the Fire Department, and the president of the Seniors Citizens Organization.
Just like Doris before her, Barb remembers a wonderful childhood that was in great measure due to her grandmother. Lee loved children; she was the grandmother every child on this earth should have. The home she made with Oscar in Fredon was for Barb growing up a kind of children’s paradise. Every weekend of Barb’s childhood Doris, Tom and Barb would go up to stay overnight at this house. There was the long driveway where Barb learned to both ride a bike and drive a car. There was the big garden complete with fruit trees, the fresh produce of which Lee would can for the winter season. There was the big sceened-in front porch in which Barb remembers having all her birthday parties. There were baseball games in the summer. And in the winter, there was skating on the frozen-over front lawn and great sledding on the long hill out back, with Gram inside making hot chocolate. In the mornings there Barb would wake up and race into Gram’s bed, where Gram would always tell her “Peter Rabbit” stories.
So many memories are connected with Gram and that house…
There was the time when Barb was only five and Carmen, the little boy next door was four and they climbed up a tall tree and couldn’t get down, and when Gram discovered them up there it’s amazing she didn’t have a heart attack.
Lee could be soft and sweet, but she was also strict when necessary, and she “didn’t take any guff”. Barb remembers one time getting chased around that house by her grandmother with a fly-swatter in her hand when she had given her grandmother “guff.”
There were the stitches Barb received when she fell out of the little tree house she had there, and the stitches she received the time she fell off her bike.
There was the blackbird Lee called “Blackie” that came every summer to sit on their television arial, and the red fox that would show its face from time to time.
Later, Barb developed a passion for horses, and every summer she would go stay with her Grandmother for the duration of the two week Sussex County Fair. Every single day, Gram would take Barb to the Horse Fair for several hours so Barb could watch the beautiful horses.
The memories extend beyond the beloved house. There were the trips Lee and Oscar and Doris and Tom and Barb would take together: to Washington, DC, to the Amish country, to Boston, to Williamsburg, to Flemington, and to the seashore to go crabbing. There were quick jaunts down to Asbury Park on weeknights, leaving as soon as Tom got home from work in which everybody would pile into the car with Gram having packed a picnic of sandwiches.
In 1969 Oscar died after 44 years of wonderful married life with Lee. Lee stayed another nine years in her home in Fredon until moving to Parsippany in 1978 to live with Doris and Barbara when Tom died. And as was her way, she quickly jumped in to what was going on here. Before long Lee was the president of the local Senior Citizens. She received an award from the mayor for her four years of leadership among the Seniors.
Lee was a Mets fan, and a Cubs fan before that, and for both teams being fan required loyalty, because the waiting for championships was long. How Lee thrilled to the 1986 Mets 1986 championship season, and continued to root this past year when the Mets again made the playoffs.
Through out Lee’s life there was within her a remarkable inquisitiveness about the world around her. This curiosity stayed with her right to the end, as she would wonder about how things like fabrics or t.v. commercials were made. Life was for Lee a blessing to be marveled at and enjoyed. She lived a happy life.
But, it was hard for Lee these past few years. Her fingers had long ago lost the ability to do the sewing or crocheting she so loved to do. It got to where Lee’s body was full of pain all the time. The Alzheimer’s began to set in, and the confusion could be overwhelming at times.
We in the church have long marveled at the loving devotion of Doris and Barb to Lee. It was not easy, indeed it was extremely difficult to care for her these last couple of years, but you were always there for her. You are to be commended; as Jesus would say, “Well done, good and faithful servants.” Lee knew she was loved. Having listened to Doris and Barb describe the long, beautiful history of happy, loving memories that Lee created for her family, I understand better the devotion she inspired in you. From way back, you also knew you were loved.
In Lee’s most tormented and confused times in the last stretch of her life she would say simply that she “wanted to go home.” This woman whose life was so involved in creating a beautiful sense of “home” for her family has now received the greatest of homecomings.
“In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places…
And if I go and prepare a place for you,
I will come again and I will take you to myself,
so that where I am, there you may be also.”
So Lee’s gone home, and Jesus has welcomed her there, and so has Oscar and Tom, and the beauty of that home surpasses even the beauty of that old house in Fredon. Lee has a new body, one that is completely free of pain. She has nimble hands with which to sew and crochet. And just as Lee did wherever she went in her life here on earth, I’m sure she’s plunged right in to the marvelous things that happen there in heaven.
Lee will be missed, that’s for sure, especially by Doris and Barb. But Lee gives you her blessing to enjoy the rest of the days you have here on earth until you meet again in the great final homecoming.
“I will not leave you orphaned.”
Gram may be in heaven, but you’re not orphaned.
The gift of peace is yours through the One who has vanquished the power of death.