Juanita Rokus said farewell at the summer park program.
By AMY HOUSLEY
VINDICATOR TRUMBULL STAFF
LIBERTY -- A chef's hat reading "Kiss the Cook" perched precariously on a fork stuck in a cake. This fall, that message should read "miss the cook" for the staff and pupils of Liberty schools.
Juanita Rokus has retired after more than 40 years with the school system, where she worked in the cafeterias at every school and most recently served as a cafeteria manager.
Rokus' interest in cooking started long before her school career. She once submitted a recipe to a local cooking show and was invited to cook on-air.
She soon became a regular, even filling in for a week when the host was on vacation. After that, she realized how much she loved cooking.
She started in the cafeteria when her children, Sam and Rosie, were in elementary school. She wanted a job where she could be home for her children in the mornings, after school and on vacations.
A friend suggested the job, and she was hooked.
"I've always loved my job," Rokus said. "I love the kids, and they love me."
Through the years, she's seen many pupils go through her lunch line. She has always tried to spend at least a few moments with them. "The children come first."
What she liked most about her job was cooking and teaching others to cook. She loved to see the children each day and "listening to everything they had to say."
When her birthday was announced at school, some pupils tried to guess her age. The consensus was 50.
Rokus served many of the parents of today's children, and she often runs into adults who remember her from their years of eating in school cafeterias.
That bond made retirement a difficult choice.
The kids didn't know when they left school for summer recess that she would not be back. She hadn't decided yet. The official date was July 1.
Still, she had the opportunity for some farewells.
For years Rokus has worked at the summer program in Church Hill Park. Now, her daughter, Rosie Boehlke, and granddaughter, Rachael, have taken up that chore.
The children made presentations to her last week. Many wrote farewell messages in chalk on cement, and a stack of homemade cards filled a table.
A decorative rock for her garden reading "Inspiration" was given to her amid tears.
"All the things you do and say ... that's inspiration," she told them.
The Liberty Board of Education presented Rokus with a plaque earlier this month in appreciation of her years of service.
Rokus has no definite plans for her retirement yet, although it will probably include volunteer work involving children.
"She's lived her life for children," Boehlke said.