Juanita E. Hill, a Toledo Public Schools teacher who was so devoted to her students she often paid for their lunches, new glasses, and even their college tuitions, died Wednesday in her Springfield Township home after a lengthy illness. She was 87.
Mrs. Hill was born on Oct. 25, 1914, in Mount Pleasant, Texas. After her cousin was murdered there, her family moved to Lima, Ohio, because a soldier with whom Mrs. Hill's father served in the Army was from Lima and bragged often about his hometown. They then moved to East Toledo.
Mrs. Hill graduated from Waite High School in 1932 after only three years. She graduated from the University of Toledo with a degree in secondary education and began teaching at Works Progress Administration night schools in Toledo in the 1930s.
She went on to teach at Gunckel and Lincoln elementary schools and Libbey High School until her retirement in 1986.
During those years, she gave her time, energy, and money in ways those around her couldn't believe.
“She was an angel,” said Dorothy Day, who worked with Mrs. Hill at Libbey. “She was always there in time of need.”
Mrs. Hill often used her paycheck to buy dozens of college bonds for children she knew. She once paid for a girl's entire tuition at Kent State University.
“She didn't have to be close to the student to give money. If she knew someone in need, she would help,” Mrs. Day said.
A local optometrist often joked that because Mrs. Hill spent so much money buying glasses for every student who needed a pair, she kept him in business single-handedly.
“She never bought anything for herself,” her son James Hill, Jr., said. “Her wedding gown was the last new thing she bought. Her friends gave her used clothes ... She would give away her whole paycheck.”
Knowing that many of her students were too poor to afford alarm clocks, Mrs. Hill woke up early on exam days to call each student and make sure they got to school on time.
Many of her students had moved to Toledo from sharecropping communities in the Deep South and were far behind the rest of the class. Mrs. Hill stayed after school late each night to tutor them. She persuaded the school to postpone their exams until she believed they were ready.
Her kindness extended to the entire community. When she learned a woman in Toledo was working as a prostitute, she offered to pay for clothes and food for the woman's children if she would stop. For years, Mrs. Hill gave the woman her credit card and sent her into town to buy what she needed.
One Christmas Eve, Mrs. Hill realized she had $100 left after paying all her bills. She trudged through knee-deep snow to give the money to an acquaintance who was estranged from her husband and had no money, Mrs. Hill's sister, Dr. Valarie Vance, said
“It was dark inside because the woman couldn't afford to pay the electric bill,” Dr. Vance said. “She peeped through the window and said, `I thought nobody knows, no one cares, but then I saw you.'”
Surviving are her sons, James, Jr., and Vincent, and sister, Dr. Valarie Vance.
Services will be at 1 p.m. Tuesday in Parkwood Seventh Day Adventist Temple, where the body will be after 1 p.m. Monday. The wake will be from 5 to 7 p.m. Monday in the temple. Arrangements are by the House of Day Mortuary.