Henrietta Kujawa Venables
July 31, 1921 – October 12, 2021
The Life of Henrietta Kujawa Venables
July 31, 1921 – October 12, 2021
Henrietta Kujawa Venables was born on July 31, 1921, in St. Cloud, Minnesota, one year after women gained the right to vote with the passage of the nineteenth amendment to the U.S. Constitution. She remembered her mother and father going to vote together. She was the seventh of eleven children born to Vincent Kujawa and Mary Gapinski Kujawa. The family spoke Polish at home, and she learned English at St. John Cantius School.
During the Depression, the family listened to FDR on the radio. Unemployed men would ride the freight trains to look for work. The train yard was just down the street from the family home, 427 22nd Avenue North. Men would stop at the back door to ask for food. Retta’s parents always provided them with something to eat, and one day they found a mark on a tree by the house indicating that this was a welcoming home.
She graduated from Tech High School in 1939 and then went on to Ahles Business School. She went to work at Raymond Brothers. Later she went to work at Woolworths in the hardware department. She could find any tool or building material that a customer needed, and she could type more than 60 words a minute.
Retta and her brothers and sister used to go dancing at the Fairgrounds. It was there that she met Joe Venables. She, and her brothers, thought he was a good guy. Later, he asked her father for her hand in marriage. Her father suggested that they wait until after the war, but Joe said, “It’s going to be a long war.”
She took the train from St. Cloud, Minnesota to Fort Monmouth, New Jersey, where they were married on July 11, 1942. She was as gorgeous as a model or a movie star and maintained her good looks throughout her life.
Joe and Retta lived together in Asbury Park, New Jersey until he was sent overseas. She returned to St. Cloud, while Joe fought in the European Theater.
After the war, Joe returned to St. Cloud where their first child, Sandra, was born. He rejoined the army and was stationed in Hawaii. Retta journeyed with her infant daughter to San Francisco and halfway across the Pacific to join him. Their son, David, was born in Hawaii. Joe rose up the ranks to Colonel as they moved to stations across the country, to the Pentagon, and to Europe. Marlene was born in Canonsburg, PA and Evelyn was born in Arlington, Virginia. They also lived in Seattle, Heidelberg and Karlsruhe, Germany, and Camp McCoy, Wisconsin.
Retta took homemaking seriously as she raised her children and hosted parties. She loved to be an Army wife and made an adventure of every move. She was always positive, cheerful, and encouraging. Their last station was again in Hawaii where Joe died. They had been married for 29 years. Retta returned home to St. Cloud with her ten-year-old daughter, Evelyn. After a year in the cold and snow, she struck out for Florida. She bought a house in Winter Park, where she lived for thirty-seven years. She joined St. Margaret Mary Church, sang in the choir, served the elderly, and volunteered in the Catholic school. She was active in the Officers’ Wives Club, worked in an acupuncture clinic, and was a regular in the bowling league and Jazzercise classes.
Retta enjoyed hosting her family in her Florida home and taking her grandchildren to Disney World. She was delighted to have a Polish Pope, John Paul II. He looked a lot like her brothers. She was blessed with twelve grandchildren: Marc, Greg, Tony, Alayna, Hannah, Sarah, Karen, Brian, Eric, Kevin, Ava and Sophia; nine great-grandchildren: Victoria, Danielle, Asher, Grace, Iris, Kateri, Keylor, Rey, and Lyra; and six great, great-grandchildren: Jordan, Leila, Ariana, Callie, Gauge and Colt.
She was a life-long Democrat and followed the news with great interest. She enjoyed cocktails as a time for conversation and discussion of the political events of the day. A Manhattan hit the spot. She celebrated birthdays and holidays with her family. Her 70th birthday was at the top of the Contemporary Hotel at Disney World, her 80th birthday was on Sanibel Island, her 85th was a Disney cruise in the Caribbean, and her 90th was at the American Adventure at Epcot. Her 100th birthday was celebrated at home, with 16 family members present to help her usher in her second century on this earth.
In 2009, she moved across town to live with David and Beth, her son and daughter-in-law. She found it difficult at first and made her complaints known. Then she settled down to her ever-cheerful disposition and expressed appreciation. She often said, “I am blessed to have such a wonderful family.” On August 1, 2009, one hundred members of her family gathered in Menomonie, Wisconsin at Tony and Virginia Kujawa’s house on five acres of rolling hills. Retta was the senior Kujawa. She said grace and gave thanks for the gathering of her parents’ family (Vincent and Mary Kujawa). She said, “When you all are 88, I will be looking down on you from heaven.”
Her daughter Marlene moved to Florida in 2013 to share in Retta’s care. Retta spent half time with David and Beth and half time with Marlene. After a while, the move back and forth became difficult, and in 2019, and she moved in full time with Marlene. Evelyn and Ruben and their daughters visited often. Sandy and Charlie and Hannah came and stayed with her and Marlene too. It was a delight to be with Retta; she was so thankful for the care of her family.
You can see the span of history in Retta’s life: women’s suffrage, the Depression, World War II, television, and telephones. She did not join the latest technological revolution: computers and cell phones. She never got a tattoo either.
She was the model of a positive, kind, and generous person. She embraced change large and small. She used to work regularly in her garden, re-landscaping the yard, and redecorating the house. The design was never final but always changing. At key moments in her life, she took the reins and headed out on her own: New Jersey in 1942, Hawaii in 1948, and Florida in 1972. Throughout her life she was always ready for the next adventure. Retta read this story in May 2017 and asked when Joe had died (1971). “That’s a long time ago,” she said, “It’s frightening.”
We let her know that we thought it was wonderful that she had lived so long because she had brought a lot of joy to a lot of people. She liked that and said to add it to the end of this story when the time came: “She brought a lot of joy to a lot of people.”
Funeral and Burial will take place at Arlington National Cemetery in Washing D.C. at a future date. Please check back for date.
No public services are scheduled at this time. Receive a notification when services are updated.
Henrietta Kujawa Venables
October 20, 2021
I only knew Retta from her daughter, Marlene, but I feel I know her as well. Marlene is a living legacy to this amazing woman.