February 13, 2013 - There are a lot of words that could probably be used to describe Oxford resident Ljubiza "Louisa" Olinicenco, but the most appropriate seems to be survivor.
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She survived the Nazis and their allies ravaging her homeland.
She survived the extreme hardships and deprivations of living in the early years of postwar Europe.
She survived starting a brand new life in America for herself and the family she loved so much.
It was an amazing life full of love, sorrow, courage, determination and hope that sadly, came to an end when Olinicenco passed away on Wednesday, Jan. 30, 2013. She was 89 years old.
"Nothing could beat her spirit, her spunk, her stubbornness and her instinct for survival," wrote granddaughter Sue Garza in her eulogy.
"She had a hard life, a very hard life," said daughter Maria Pearl, of Lansing.
"She was tough," said daughter Kelly Theriot, of Oxford. "For a small person, she was tough. She was a tiny, little lady – she only came up to my elbow."
An ethnic Serb, Olinicenco was born in Yugoslavia in July 1923. She never attended school because it was too far from home, so she never learned to read or write.
But amazingly, she spoke four languages – Serbian, Romanian, Russian and German – and never let her lack of education stop her from making valuable contributions to those around her, be they family or strangers.
During World War II, she was taken by the army to work as a nurse in Sarajevo.
"They'd bring soldiers to this camp and she'd have to boil their clothes," Pearl said. "She had to wash, clean, feed and take care of a lot of wounded men. She would always say, 'You kids don't understand how bad it was.'"
But one good thing came out of that whole experience – that's where she met her late husband Dimitri, a Romanian guerilla soldier who fought the Germans on horseback.
Following the war, the couple settled temporarily in Austria. They married in June 1945 and had two children, Pete and Maria.
Though glad to be free from Nazi tyranny, life after the war was not easy. The Olinicencos lived in tents at first, then later in an abandoned prisoner of war barracks.
Dimitri worked at a wood factory. He dragged logs to be cut. Sometimes his wife would help him. She worked in the snow, often without shoes.
Eventually, the Immanuel Congregational Church in Oxford Village sponsored the family, enabling them to move to the United States in 1951.
The Olinicencos came to Ellis Island, New York by boat from Austria, then by train to Oxford, which would become their home.
To help her family survive, Olinicenco cleaned houses and worked in Waltman's Bakery in Lake Orion. She later worked at the Mark of Oxford bakery in downtown Oxford.
"I just remember my mom always working, taking care of the family, taking care of other people," Theriot said. "Work was her Number One thing. She cleaned a lot of houses in Oxford. She was a hard working lady."
"She loved going to work," Pearl said. "She just felt really good about herself when she was working. Her work ethic was just something else. She was not the type of person to sit around. She always had a wash cloth in her hand. She was always doing something."
After the Olinicencos came to Oxford, Theriot and her brother, Chris, were born.
"I never (wanted) for anything when I was growing up because both of (my parents) worked so hard," Theriot said. "Her family had nothing when she was growing up. She wanted to provide for us."
Working in a bakery always brought Olinicenco the most joy, perhaps because she so loved to cook for family and friends.
"She was well-known for her Easter bread and homemade strudel," Theriot said. "She always invited everybody over for strudel."
"My mom's favorite saying was, 'If I've got a piece of bread, you will also have a piece of bread,'" Pearl said. "That's just the way she was. She was a very giving person."
The kitchen was definitely her domain.
"She had to be alone in the kitchen," Pearl said. "You couldn't really sit in there while she was working because she didn't want to work and talk. She just wanted to do her thing."
Olinicenco eventually obtained her American citizenship in 1986, something she was extremely proud of.
"It meant a lot to her to become a U.S. citizen," Pearl said.
"She thought if she's going to live here, she should be a citizen," Theriot said.
She is survived by her children Pete Olinicenco, of Oxford; Maria Pearl, of Lansing; Chris Olinicenco, of Oxford; and Carol "Kelly" Theriot, of Oxford; grandchildren Kim, Sue and Carrie; and great-grandchildren Anthony, Nathan and Gerrit. She was a special aunt to Vera, Alex and George.
Olinicenco was preceded in death by her husband Dimitri, who passed away in 1989, and son-in-law Dick Theriot, who died in 2012.
A celebration of Olinicenco's life was held on Saturday, Feb. 2, 2013 at the Oxford Chapel of Huntoon Funeral Home. Interment was at the Oxford Township Cemetery.
CJ Carnacchio is editor for The Oxford Leader. He lives in the Village of Oxford with his wife Connie and daughter Larissa. When he's not busy working on the newspaper, he enjoys cigars/pipes, Martinis/Scotch, hunting and fishing.