Juanita was born on March 3, 1926 in Ceiba, Puerto Rico to Fabian de Santiago Rivera and Narcisa Esquilin Arizmendez. Juanita died on May 13, 2021, at the age of 95 due to complications from COVID-19 and ageism in Dover New Jersey. God chose to bring Juanita Santiago home on Ascension Thursday and the day of the Lady of Fatima.
Juanita was the 2nd child in her family to graduate from the Dr. Santiago Veve Calzada High School in Fajardo, PR. The earliest picture we have of Juanita was when she graduated from high school in a borrowedwhite dress. Juanita was determined to continue her education in spite of gender bias. Once divorced she pursued her dream and achieved her goal.
Juanita received her BA from the College of New Rochelle while working for the Depart of Social Services as a DC 37 member. Juanita was admitted to Fordham University with a grant from the NYC Mayoral Office to acquire her MSW while being paid her full salary as a NYC HRA employee. Juanita graduated with a Master of Social Work on May 23, 1982 from the Graduate School of Social Services at Fordham University and started working as a Bilingual Social Worker for the NYC Board of Education and became a proud member of the UFT.
Juanita was married to Aubrey Alfred Walker in 1949 in NYC and they had Adaline and Teresa. They moved to Miami, Florida where they bought a house and had Doni. As a homemaker Juanita decided to take in 3 foster babies at a time for 3 to 4 months from the hospital to adoption. Later they fostered 4 Peter Pan Cuban Exile Children because she spoke spanish. Juanita fostered approximately 53 to 58 children over about 5 years, most of them babies. She left Florida and moved back to NYC with her 3 daughters and started a path to work and study to better her impoverished conditions. Juanita loved being a mother; grandmother and great grandmother who said of Aria with intense emotion "This is the Best Christmas Gift I Ever Had!"
Juanita had a green thumb and loved gardening and her roses. She used to crochet extensively and sew clothes for the babies and her children. She loved animals and they loved her including her dog Toby. As a Puerto Rican woman, she loved her culture including the music, the food, the beaches, the land, the rivers and the dancing. She took her daughters out to the old Salsa clubs to dance Cha Cha, Mambo, Salsa and Bolero to the live music of the likes of Tito Puente, Willie Colon and Hector Lavoe, Eddie and Charlie Palmieri, and other amazing artists who performed live. Juanita enjoyed cultural, political and musical events from dance to Shakespeare and loved to hear her granddaughters Ianna and Jessica sing. She was an active Democrat and an advocate for social justice. She attended the democratic convention for Jimmy Carter and attended rallies with her DC37 Union. She loved to drive places like Bear Mountain with her daughters. She enjoyed Chinese checkers and Dominos, word games and reading. She wrote very well and enjoyed reading and doing her PT exercises. Juanita loved shopping, eating out with her family and family gatherings for the holidays. She had a style of her own and enjoyed dressing up for all of life's occasions, even to attend her Dr.'s appointments. She had an easy smile and always a sage word of advice for everyone she loved. She was forgiving and generous.
Juanita lived a full life and is fondly remembered as "una guerrera", a warrior, risk taker, feisty, financially savvy, courageous, smiling, generous, a support system for many and the beloved matriarch of her adoring family. She was passionate about education and encouraged her daughters to pursue their Master Degrees which they each did.
Juanita is predeceased by her parents and seven sisters and brothers. They were Miguelito aged 33 ; Rosalia, (Rosa); Monserrate (Monsita); Leoncia; Manuel, Celestino (Celin) and Carlos. They were all hard working persistent people, the children of a Taino father and her mother who was an orphan at birth and struggled throughout her life. She is survived by her younger siblings Margarita Irizarry and Luis Santiago and many nieces and nephews.
Juanita is survived by her devoted daughters Adaline Walker Santiago Bronx, NY; Teresa Walker New York, NY; and Doni WalkerSantiago and husband Lothar Krause Bronx, NY.; Her lovely grandchildren Madaline Higgins, Jason Higgins and wife Maggie Hightower Higgins, Ianna Higgins and Jessica Rivera Walker; Her precious great grandchildren Maya Aubrey Higgins, Miles Lee Higgins and Aria Higgins; Her Goddaughter Elaine Ramirez who she always remembered and loved ; Her semi-adopted son Alfred Rodrigo Ibar who was brother to her daughters; Her caregivers especially Dorcas Darkwa and the Caesar Sisters; Her other family by blood and by 'crianza,' colleagues, friends, neighbors, medical providers, prior caregivers and so many more.
The family requests that any donations can be made to the National Multiple Sclerosis Society https://mssociety.donordrive.com/campaign/Juanita-Santiago