On March 2, 1924, in the small village of Lisbon, Louisiana, a young couple, Jeff and Savannah Matthews welcomed their third child into their growing family. They named her Juanita Matthews. She was named after a ship. Juanita did not have a middle name, so she took the middle name “Lucille” after she finished high school because she always wanted a middle name! She was affectionately called “Nita” and “Aunt Neet” by her family and friends.
Juanita was the third child out of twelve children born to a young couple who were sharecroppers and very poor. When Juanita was old enough, she worked alongside her parents and siblings in the fields where they plowed and picked cotton, chopped wood for the fire, dug sweet potatoes, cut sugar cane and took it to the mill to make the syrup, and harvested corn and had it ground into cornmeal. In addition to toiling year-round in the cotton and cornfields, they raised chickens, hogs, cows, and grew fruit and vegetables to support the family. She often said that although life was hard for them, her parents were good parents and she had many happy memories and good times with her sisters and brothers, even when they worked in the fields.
Juanita, like her siblings, attended Gum Grove Elementary School. They had to walk many miles to attend school. Her favorite subjects were English and Biology. She graduated from Bernice High School in 1943. Her first real job was an elementary teacher from 1945 to 1946 where she taught at Gum Grove Elementary School and a school in Summerfield, Louisiana. She attended Grambling College where she worked on her teaching certification. This was during World War II when you could teach while working on your certification.
As a young adult, Juanita relocated to Pine Bluff, AR, and stayed with her Aunt Sweet for one year and worked at the Arsenal where she made parts for bombs during WWII. She later moved to Flint, MI with her sister, Annie Pearl for two years. Michigan was too cold, so she moved to El Dorado, AR, where she worked for the Catholic Church. Juanita met and married George Lanier and during their marriage, they lived in the states of Texas, Oklahoma, and Tennessee. After her divorce, she moved back to Arkansas. After living in Arkansas for several years, Juanita moved to Tacoma, WA, with her youngest sister, Evelyn, and went to work at the Army Base in Fort Lewis, WA. She lived there until she moved back to Bernice, LA, to care for her mama until she passed away in 1973. Juanita worked at the Garment Factory and later at the Day Care Center in Bernice until it closed. After the center closed, she brought the babies home with her and took care of many, many babies until she was not able to care for them anymore. Although she had no biological children, she had a great love and passion for children so she treated everyone as her own!
Sister Juanita accepted Jesus Christ as her Lord and Savior when she was about twelve years old and was baptized at Mt. Pleasant Baptist Church in Lisbon, LA. She later united with New Bethel Baptist Church in El Dorado, AR, and served as an Usher and Baptist Training Union (BTU) teacher. Juanita later united with St. John Missionary Baptist Church when the church began under Reverend A.D. Coffey. Sister Juanita was one of the strong pillars at her church. She was an active member of St. John Missionary Baptist Church until her health began to fail her and she served in many capacities including Church Clerk, Usher, Sunday School Teacher, Youth Leader, and Pastor’s Aide Committee member. Sister Juanita was also a member of the Matthews Family Gospel Singers with her sisters.
Sister Juanita said in her book that she has “lived a good life and the Lord continues to bless her life”. She enjoyed attending church in El Dorado as often as she could. She enjoyed reading and studying her Bible. Her favorite scriptures were Psalms 23, Psalms 34:1, Psalms 118 and Psalms121, as well as Philippians 4:13. Her favorite songs were “Must Jesus Bear the Cross Alone” and “The Lord Is Blessing Me Right Now”. She spent her days watching her favorite television shows, talking on the phone with her family and friends and keeping up with what was happening in everyone’s life. She enjoyed Sunday dinners with family and friends. She was our rock, our family matriarch, and the glue that kept us all connected and together.
Sister Juanita went home to be with the Lord on Saturday, January 18, 2020, at Life Touch Hospice in El Dorado, Arkansas, surrounded by her family. She was preceded in death by her parents, Jeff and Savannah Matthews; her sisters, Irene Matthews, Jewel Lee Matthews, Jessie Vator Williams, Annie Pearl Cameron, Margie Plummer and Elsie Robinson; brothers, Johnny Bob Matthews, Gene Autry Matthews, and Jeff Matthews, Jr.
Sister Juanita leaves to cherish her memories, her two sisters, Alfriza Moore of El Dorado, AR and Evelyn (Rev. Gregory) Christopher of Tacoma, WA; many special nieces and nephews, cousins, her babies that she cared for and friends. She also leaves to cherish her memories her doctors and nurses. Sister Juanita always expressed her love for everyone and she was loved by all who knew her! She loved to hold everyone’s hands and everyone was affectionately called “baby” by her!
Public Visitation will be on Friday, January 24, 2020, from 12:00 p.m.-5:00 p.m. at Sims Mortuary. Funeral Service will be on January 25, 2020, at 2:30 p.m. at St. John Baptist Church. Interment will be at Mt. Pleasant Cemetery under the direction of Sims Mortuary. Sign the guest book at simsmortuary.comTo order memorial trees or send flowers to the family in memory of Juanita Matthews, please visit our flower store.