What a long, full life Zita Mary Vukas had before her heart stopped beating on October 20, 2020. Zita was a member of the Greatest Generation who lived through the Great Depression; was the wife of a World War II soldier who fought in the Battle of the Bulge; and saw innumerable changes occur in the world during her 98 years.
On May 12, 1922, Zita was born in Philadelphia to Anton and Matija Martinov, immigrants from Yugoslavia (now Croatia). She was the second of four children; her siblings Anna, Daniel, and Mary predeceased her, as did her parents, her husband John, and her son-in-law Kevin Riemer.
Zita is survived by her only child, Kristina Riemer; her four cherished grandchildren, Joanna, Brian (Keri), Mark, and Mariann (Adam) Sylvester; two adored great-granddaughters, Reilly and Reagan Riemer; fifteen loved nieces and nephews; and numerous great nieces and nephews. ALL held a special place in Zita’s heart.
Zita attended Holy Souls School in Philadelphia through the 8th grade. She was asked to clean one of the teacher’s (a nun’s) room and did such a good job, that they asked her to clean the pantry, too. She would do her job and often take a little ‘payment’ in the form of some cookies. Zita was a life-long Catholic and a woman of great faith whose life exemplified her love of God.
After a year in ninth grade at Gillepsie Junior High, her family moved to New York City in 1937. It was a difficult move since Zita had to leave many friends behind in Philadelphia. But, she transitioned to being a New Yorker and completed high school at Julia Richmond High School in 1940.
That was the year that she met John Vukas, an immigrant from Yugoslavia (Croatia) at a Yugoslav dance. They were both great dancers and that dance began their love story. They married on July 26, 1942. (The following year, Zita’s sister Anna married John’s brother Celeste.) Shortly after John and Zita’s wedding, John was drafted into the Army and Zita moved back with her parents. John was serving in Germany when Kristina was born and he did not see her until she was 13 months old.
In 1948, John, Zita and Kristina moved from the Bronx to Roosevelt, Long Island into a new house they had built. Zita started sewing linings for coats, first in her home, then later in the factory (sweat shop). Her skills as a seamstress were remarkable and she made most of the clothes worn by herself and by her daughter, even making Kristina’s wedding gown. Zita also knitted and crocheted many beautiful clothing items.
The Vukas house in Roosevelt was often filled with family and friends who were entertained and would share in the delicious food (roast beef, calamari, breaded clams on the half shell, frite, etc.) that Zita prepared. She was a creative cook who could make a meal in a jiffy if people popped in. The backyard was transformed into a playground when John and Zita’s cherished grandchildren would visit – rope ladders, tents, pools, etc. were set up to make Joanna, Brian, Mark and Mariann’s time with their Nanny and Dido memorable. And, of course, there were the wonderful stories that Nanny would share to entertain them.
After living in Roosevelt for 33 years, Zita and John moved to Titusville, Florida in 1981. They were enjoying their retirement time, but it was short-lived when John died in 1983. Zita, being the strong woman she was, stayed there and maintained the house and yard herself. Many guests from many places would come and visit her and she was always very gracious and welcoming. To keep busy and make a little extra money, Zita would do sewing and alterations for people. Sewing brought her such great pleasure!
Zita was delighted to welcome two more ‘grandchildren’ into her family when Brian married Keri in 1999 and Mariann married Adam in 2008. She was blessed to be able to see her great-granddaughters Reilly and Reagan Riemer grow into teenagers who are caring young ladies and good students. Nanny was so proud of her grandchildren and great-granddaughters!
In 2006, Zita decided to move to Indiana to be close to her daughter and her family and to get away from the hurricanes. She lived in an apartment in Indianapolis for 11 years and drove until she was 92 when she decided to stop. In 2017, Zita was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s dementia and told she should not live alone. She moved in with Kristina and Kevin and lived there for 3 1/2 years, before going into a memory care facility for 4 weeks. Zita had a fall and broke her hip on October 9th. Eleven days later, she died peacefully at St. Vincent’s Hospice.
Zita was a daughter, sister, wife, mother, aunt (Teta), Nanny and friend – roles that she carried out with special love, caring, and giving. She was a sweet woman, the BEST, and very loved by all. She is greatly missed.
There will be no Funeral Mass; burial will be next to her husband John in St. Augustine, FL. Zita only requested that Masses be said in her memory. In lieu of flowers, please consider making a donation in Zita’s memory, to The Alzheimer’s Foundation of America, 322 8th Avenue, 7th Floor, New York, NY 10001 or a charity of your choice.
If you would like, please share a memory on the Tribute Wall where you can also view pictures of Zita through the years. There is also a short video which highlights Zita’s life. Keep the memories alive!
Bussell Family Funerals is privileged to assist the family with arrangements.
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