Jeanne B. LaGrossa
Passed away on January 5, 2021
Dorothy Jeanne Bradley LaGrossa, 98, of North Little Rock wanted a simple obituary:
Jeanne passed away Tuesday, Jan. 5, 2021, on her husband’s birthday. She is preceded in passing by her husband James LaGrossa and daughters Virginia and Leslie. She was born June 22, 1922, in Brinkley and baptized at age 12 at the Brinkley Baptist Church.
But there’s more to her story:
Jeanne was feisty, especially in her younger years. She beat up a bully on the streets of Brinkley; got back at other bullies in Clarksville by fooling them into stealing chocolate-covered soap she prepared; and tossed water from a balcony on girls she didn’t like in college. In her later years, she destroyed some of Jim’s 8-track tapes after he cut back a gardenia shrub too much.
While attending high school in Clarksville near the start of World War II, she and her friends were introduced to Army engineers in the area. Jeanne’s conservative dad was upset when some of the soldiers drove in front of his Main Street office in a truck with her name on it.
Jeanne wanted to be a medical doctor, like her maternal grandfather. She had her own medical bag and watched surgeries at the Clarksville hospital. But the war effort limited medical school to men, she was told.
Although she had a bachelor’s degree in biology, her father sent her to St. Louis to attend business school. Instead, Jeanne dropped out and got a job at a scientific equipment company. She was quite proud of when she built an incubator for a customer whose original supplier was out of reach in Germany.
Jeanne’s parents, Lawrence and Virginia, expected that she would settle down with a Clarksville boy.
But while in St. Louis, Jeanne met Army Air Corps Tech Sgt. Jim LaGrossa of Pittsburgh on a blind date. Jim, the son of Italian and Sicilian immigrants, was a war hero, having been on 25 missions as a B-17 radio operator on daylight bombing raids. He was as ebullient as she was reserved.
Jim and Jeanne married with fanfare in Chicago three days before D-Day. After the war, they settled in Mena and then Hope. They owned the local Western Auto store.
In 1959, the couple and their five daughters moved to North Little Rock. Jeanne later took a part-time research job in the medical school’s pharmacy department. She often recalled the day she accidentally tasted just enough LSD during an experiment to give her a headache.
Jeanne’s career path turned to education. She went to work as a fifth-grade teacher at Park Hill Elementary in North Little Rock. Her most notable student was actress Mary Steenburgen.
“[P]lease know that over half a century later, I still see her face, still remember her joy in teaching us, still remember the knowledge that I was being taught by a true original thinker, and, most of all, someone who cared to know me, really know me, when it mattered most,” Mary wrote in text messages last Sunday night. “She championed creativity.”
Jeanne then worked for years as a guidance counselor before returning to teaching. She continued with her own education, getting a master’s degree by attending night classes after working all day.
Jeanne and Jim loved going on adventures. They visited Cuba on a Russian cruise ship and took other cruises down the Nile, through the Panama Canal and to Alaska. They rode a train across Canada and traveled to England, Europe and Hawaii. Jeanne met her lifelong goal of seeing the flag carried by her great-grandfather in the Civil War.
She devoted time to many charitable acts, among them: holding preemies at Arkansas Children’s Hospital; guiding visitors at Baptist Hospital; and serving meals to the homeless and the homebound. She took her service dog Coda to visit hospice patients and to schools for a program to encourage children to read. She donated to native American schools.
She loved to eat a Happy Meal by the river, then donate the Happy Meal toys she collected to Arkansas Children’s. She was fascinated by the ancient Egyptians and loved learning about the universe and scientific matters. She rooted plants from leaves picked up off a store’s floor. She eagerly answered robocalls, pretending to be someone else while toying with the callers. She plotted escapes from assisted living facilities.
Jeanne and Jim had five daughters: Linda Howell, married to Richard Howell, of Little Rock; Camille LaGrossa of Greenbrier; the late Virginia LaGrossa of San Rafael, Calif.; the late Leslie LaGrossa of North Little Rock; and Alyson Hoge, married to David Hoge, of Hensley. Linda’s children are Patrick Howell of Little Rock and Kristine DeBrine, married to Robbie DeBrine, of Zebulon, N.C. Alyson’s son is Michael Hoge, married to Bridget McLemore, of North Little Rock. Great-grandchildren are Tyler and Tayler DeBrine of Zebulon and Sophie Howell of Little Rock.
Jeanne was saddened when she lost Virginia to cancer in 1999; Jim to diabetes and heart disease the next year; her brother, Milton Bradley, in 2006; and Leslie to Alzheimer’s in 2010. Despite having dementia, Jeanne stayed spirited to the end, entertaining others with her wit. She badly wished she could teach again.
Jeanne spent her last week at home, cared for by family. She died from the infirmities of old age.
Her family deeply appreciates those who cared for and loved her, especially those at Presbyterian Village.
The family will hold a private service.
Jeanne would appreciate contributions to any charitable organization.
She would encourage everyone to fearlessly ask questions, learn their family history, help people and animals in need, do arts and crafts, study ancient peoples, conduct fun science experiments, and go outside and look up at the stars. And always remember to say your prayers.
No public services are scheduled at this time. Receive a notification when services are updated.
Jeanne B. LaGrossa
January 11, 2021
I worked with Jeanne at Seventh Street Elementary , she was school counselor and I was the secretary. She was always kind, sincere and helpful when a student came to her with problems. It was amazing how quickly students were drawn to her and how they knew she was their friend. She was a real jewel to all that knew her.
She’s in heaven and has a new body, mind and soul. Enjoy each day in that beautiful place.
January 10, 2021
Ms.LaGrossa was my fifth grade teacher and she was wonderful. Absolutely, one of the most memorable and impactful teachers I had in all of my school years. In addition, she was different than the rest in many ways. She had a way about her that allowed her to relate to all of us, individually.
I last saw her at Leslie’s service as I had graduated with Leslie. It warmed my heart that she recognized me. One day, years ago, out of the blue, she tracked me down at my office to say she was volunteering at the hospital, saw my photo on the wall and was curious as to my involvement. What a surprise it was to me. Again, it reinforced that bond that was established so many years ago. She was truly special in my life and I know her family cherishes so many memories of her as I do.
Susie Seago Garrett
January 9, 2021
My heart goes out to the LaGrossa family! I have many memories of this wonderful family in North Little Rock... such fond ones, such loving ones. May you all feel the comfort of our Lord during this time of sorrow and rejoicing knowing that Mrs. LaGrossa is in the presence of our Lord and Savior!
January 8, 2021
What a lady!!! One on my favorite Sunday School Teachers at Park Hill Baptist there was just something special about her and she always had our attention. Thought about her many times over the years. Finally met Camille and I wish you comfort in the loss of your mother.