Joliet woman overcame obstacles with upbeat spirit
By Denise Baran-Unland For The Herald-News June 10, 2012 8:26PM
Updated: July 12, 2012 6:03AM
Geneva Atkins of Joliet was a strong woman who left a legacy of love, faith, delicious Sunday dinners and a spirit of living well.
Despite a few dark moments — and Geneva endured four hip surgeries over several years when she was in her 80s and 90s — one rarely saw Geneva without her characteristic smile.
“Even when she wasn’t in the best of health, she had an upbeat spirit,” said Melissa Atkins of Shorewood, Geneva’s granddaughter.
“Even when she could not talk anymore, she still smiled at you.”
“She was very intelligent and finicky and she was that was her entire life,” added Naomi Brown of Joliet, Geneva’s daughter.
“She never settled for seconds. She only wanted what was best.”
Geneva was 94 when she died May 8.
Although Geneva was widowed in 1968, when two of her three children were still in high school, Geneva tackled hard work with gusto and labored for the good of her family and her church.
She was strict with her children and encouraged them to do their best.
For a time, Geneva sewed men’s suits for Hart Schaffner Marx, but even into her 80s, Geneva still performed various seamstress work.
She never, said her daughter Sandra McLurkin of South Carolina, missed a day of work in her life.
A member of Brown Chapel AME Church in Joliet for 60 years (Because she was raised Methodist, Geneva was extremely loyal to the denomination, even though other churches were closer to her house), Geneva belonged to its Beautifier Club and its missionary society.
In the first group, members, including Geneva who was known for her immaculate garden, were instrumental in obtaining new pews and carpet for the inside of the church and planting flowers outside it in the summer.
In the latter organization, those involved reached out to disadvantaged people in the Joliet community.
Geneva consistently hosted big holiday and Sunday gatherings and was known for her homemade potato salad, chicken and dumplings, pound cakes and her secret barbecue sauce for her ribs, which Sandra now prepares.
“When I got married, my husband said to me, ‘Can you make collard greens like your mother does?’” Sandra said.
“So I started asking her to show me how she cooked different things.”
Geneva also had an irrepressible adventurous streak.
When her children were young, she’d pile them into the car and visit family in Memphis, St. Louis and Detroit.
In later years, Geneva went to Hawaii twice and accompanied Naomi to Israel.
“She got on that camel before I did,” Naomi said.
“She wasn’t afraid of anything.”
Contact Denise M. Baran-Unland at 815-467-5249 or email@example.com.