November 06, 2013 - Downtown Oxford's many bars, taverns and pubs owe a debt of gratitude to a determined business woman who helped make their existence and success possible – Vernita "Red" Voikos.
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Prior to her and her late husband, Arthur, purchasing Rob's Place at 13 S. Washington St. in 1972, establishments within the village limits were prohibited from selling hard liquor by the glass. Only beer and wine were allowed.
Voikos spearheaded a door-to-door effort to gather petition signatures to change things, which the village council did. Thus, Rob's Place became the first downtown bar to sell slugs of whiskey and cocktails.
Sadly, Voikos passed away on Thursday, Oct. 31, 2013. She was 79.
"Inside and outside, she was a beautiful lady," said Oxford resident Stephen "Mickey" Hiatt, her companion of 21 years, who described Voikos as a "selfless giver" who loved unconditionally. "She was a very classy lady."
Voikos was a smart, no-nonsense business woman, who operated Rob's Place by herself from 1992, when her husband died, until 2008. In 2009, the place was officially sold and became the 24th Street Sports Tavern.
"She was always very concerned for her customers," Hiatt said. "She loved all the people who came in there and they all loved her. She worked very hard to make sure they were all taken care of. Four or five times a day, she'd be at the store getting fresh food for her customers. She just loved what she was doing."
At a time when practically no one was investing in downtown Oxford, Voikos took a leap of faith and spent more than $100,000 to renovate Rob's Place in 1991.
The project included purchasing the adjacent southern building, demolishing the wall between it and the existing bar, and installing a dance floor. She later added a kitchen and began serving food to her patrons.
Voikos, who moved from Rochester to Oxford in 1976, always tried help her fellow business owners prosper and boost the local economy.
That's why she served on the Oxford Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors for 14 years. She was president from 1985-86.
Voikos even helped found the now-defunct Oxford Merchants Association and served as its president from 1979-80.
She participated in local government by serving on the Oxford Downtown Development Authority board for four years and the Oxford Township Planning Commission for six years.
"She did a lot for the community and the downtown merchants. She was quite a community worker," said Helen Smith, a longtime Oxford resident, who noted Voikos was "always so good" about sponsoring local sports teams, especially women's teams.
Back when Oxford held an annual event called Summerfest, Voikos chaired its committee for three years.
"She put many, many hours into that carnival and it showed," Smith said.
Voikos also served on the board of directors for the now-defunct Oxford Youth Foundation and for a hospice organization in Lapeer.
"That's the kind of woman she was," Hiatt said. "She got involved with anything that came around."
Given all she did for the town, it's no wonder the chamber of commerce named her Oxford's Citizen of the Year in 1994.
On a personal note, Hiatt said Voikos "loved to laugh" and they always had a fun time together, whether they were playing golf or enjoying cocktails with friends. There's no shortage of photos showing the couple enjoying life and love together.
Despite being diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease in March 2012, Voikos was still "happy every day" and always had that winning smile, according to Hiatt. "She was just a very loving person," he said.
Voikos is survived by her children Terrie Hamilton, of Rochester; Tina Shepard, of Connecticut; Lisa Kadlec, of Clarkston; John (Beverly) Shepard, of Oxford; and Harry Voikos, of Oxford.
She's also survived by 10 grandchildren, two great-grandchildren and her sister Juanita (Chuck) Shotwell, of Romeo.
A celebration of Voikos' life was held on Monday, Nov. 4, 2013 at the Oxford Hills Golf & Country Club. Pastor Bob Holt officiated.
Donations in Voikos' memory can be made to the McLaren Hospice Foundation or the K-9 Stray Rescue League.
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.