In Loving Memory: Juanita Lara
March 14, 1921 — July 8, 2023
It is with deep sadness, yet profound gratitude, that we announce the passing of Juanita Lara, an amazing woman who made Earth a better place for more than a century.
Born on March 14, 1921, in San Juan de Los Lagos, Jalisco, Mexico, Juanita’s life was an extraordinary testament to love, wisdom, kindness, and the resilience of the human spirit. She was a witness to history, watching the world transform and evolve in remarkable ways. The year she was born, the Mexican Revolution ended, Albert Einstein won the Nobel Prize in Physics, and the world’s first radio broadcast aired live from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
Setting aside the eternal legacy of love she leaves behind, the sheer magnitude of events she lived through is astonishing. Her memory was near-perfect until her final days, making the incredible stories she shared all the more captivating.
For historical context, Juanita was born less than a year after Pope John Paul II, five years before Queen Elizabeth II and Marilyn Monroe, and eights years before Anne Frank. In 1921, during Juanita’s first Roaring ‘20s, the average cost of a loaf of bread in the U.S. was nine cents. But, you had to slice it yourself, because bread-slicing machines wouldn’t be commercially available for another seven years.
She lived through the terms of 18 of the United States’ 45 presidents, from Warren G. Harding to Joe Biden. Although she wasn’t very political, her favorite president was Ronald Reagan, because he’s the one who signed her Certificate of U.S. Citizenship in the 1980s.
Juanita married Jose Lopez De Lara on September 11, 1940. In September of 1953, they moved to Detroit so he could accept a position at General Motors. She recalled how scary it was leaving Mexico with five small children, but the family quickly flourished in Michigan. She learned English, took a job as a seamstress at a hospital, and befrended people from America and across the world, quickly incorporating culinary dishes from around the world into her repertoire while enjoying Polka music in the kitchen.
Perhaps it was her experience as an immigrant that sparked Juanita’s love of travel. She visited every state except Alaska and explored more than a dozen countries, including Austria, where she fell in love with Johann Strauss music, and Brazil, where she visited the famed Christ the Redeemer statue. As a devout Catholic, seeing Pope John Paul II in Vatican City was the honor of a lifetime. She leaves Earth older than dozens of countries across the globe, including India (1947), Israel (1948), Kenya (1963), Singapore (1965), Guyana (1966), and the United Arab Emirates (1971).
Juanita was born the year Ford ceased production of its Model T vehicles. At the time, the car cost $300. Years later, when living in Motor City, Juanita set aside $25 from every paycheck until she could afford her own car so that she would no longer have to wait for the bus in the snow. She paid for it in cash since the rules of the time dictated her husband or father would have to appear on the title otherwise. She quickly began organizing rides for her coworkers and women she saw waiting at bus stops around Detroit.
Juanita spent years at the Greenwood Villa community in Westland, Michigan, before moving to Franklin, Tennessee, with her daughter, Maria, in 2016. She loved going for walks around her neighborhood — especially in the winter, where the absence of the snow she’d grown accustomed to after decades in Michigan was a constant source of joy. Along with the climate, barbeque food and the abundance of lush trees were things she loved in Tennessee. She loved flowers of all kinds and always had beautiful potted plants.
Covid made it impossible to throw a 100th birthday bash for “Mamacita” in 2021, but dozens of family members and friends came together over Zoom to celebrate her virtually. Countless more sent wishes in cards and phone calls. It was a beautiful display of the sheer number of lives her love touched.
Juanita celebrated her 102nd birthday in March of this year. Her first order of the day, before cooking breakfast and walking around the neighborhood, was to cut and dye her own hair — unassisted! She wanted to look nice for her birthday, she said. She was radiant, and the star of the show, as always.
She was never afraid to embrace new technology. She had Amazon Echo devices throughout her house, and never failed to thank Alexa for sharing the time or playing her favorite songs from Vincente Fernandez or Los Bukis. Her lifetime spanned the inventions of the television (1927), penicillin (1928), the ballpoint pen (1938), the microwave oven (1946), the personal computer (1975), and the iPhone (2007).
The name “Juanita” means “gift from God,” and that’s exactly what she was to everyone who knew her. She was grateful for all 37,371 days she spent on Earth, and she never missed an opportunity to point out to the people around her what a blessing from God each beautiful new day was. She passed away peacefully in her sleep at home on the evening of July 8, 2023.
She is preceded in death by her parents, Eliodora and Santiago Hernandez; her husband, Jose; and her siblings, Rodolpho, Carmen, and Maria. She is survived by her six children: Ophelia (Richard) Townsend of Gaylord, MI; Joe De Lara of Laguna Hills, California; David (Lorraine) Lara of Peoria, AZ; Maria Hodak of Franklin, TN; Stella Biggs of Dearborn Heights, MI; and Alicia Ibanez of Wildomar, CA. She was also a loving Grandma and Mamacita to 16 grandchildren, 20 great-grandchildren, and two great-great-grandchildren, all of whom adored her and will remember her infectious laugh and generous spirit forever.
Juanita’s final resting place will be at Harpeth Hills Memory Garden in Nashville. Her spot in the Mountain View Mausoleum will ensure she has a permanent view of the beautiful hills and trees of the Middle Tennessee countryside that she loved so much. Her legacy will live forever in the hearts and minds of the countless people who loved her, and her remarkable spirit will continue to inspire generations to come.
Juanita’s celebration of life service will take place at 1:30 PM on Friday, July 14, 2023 at the Harpeth Hills Memory Garden Chapel. Loved ones are invited to pay their respects at a visitation at 11:30 AM Friday morning and stay for the entombment at 2:30 PM. In lieu of flowers, please help us celebrate Juanita’s memory by making a donation to your local food pantry or requesting that a Mass be said in her memory.