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Published: Wednesday, 4/27/2011

Rose Lee, 1920-2011: Woman who grew up on farm lived in many cities


Rose Lee, owner with her husband of an early drive-in restaurant, who after high school moved from the Henry County farm where she grew up to the nearest big city -- Toledo -- and over the decades kept moving in support of her husband's career, died Monday in Hospice of Northwest Ohio, South Detroit Avenue. She was 90.

She had chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

She moved 24 times in her life, 17 with her husband, Jack, their son Michael figured. Her husband died in 1996, and in 2000 she moved from southern California to Sylvania, where she could be near longtime friends and her sisters.

Early in their marriage, she and her husband owned and operated the Holland House on Holland-Sylvania Road in Sylvania Township. The auto-teria, as the pioneering drive-in was called, was renowned for its massive "Moronburger."

"The restaurant looms large in our past," their son said, not least because oft-repeated family stories grew from the adventures of living above Holland House. Several years later, though, the restaurant was sold, and Mr. Lee had a new business venture.

The family moved to Fort Lauderdale, Fla., in 1957. They returned to Ohio when Mr. Lee became an executive of the Red Barn restaurant chain. Eventually, he was president, and they lived again in Fort Lauderdale and in McLean, Va. Later, he was a major franchise holder of Wendy's restaurants in Reno and in Portland, Ore., where they lived.

An investment in a juicer company took them to Las Vegas and California.

After Holland House, the couple never worked together officially.

"She kept the family finances, [and] she was mainly there to support him," their son said.

Her husband seemed the adventurous one, but "If you think about it, she was able to leave the farm.

"She had her own kind of wanderlust," their son said. "Ultimately, I think she found the whole thing kind of exciting."

She was born Rosella Marie Vajen on Nov. 23, 1920, and grew up on the family farm in Henry County's Flatrock Township.

She was valedictorian of the class of 1938 at Florida High School, after which she moved to Toledo and attended what is now Davis College.

"She decided fairly early on that she did not want to be a farmer's wife," her son said. Before marriage, she was executive secretary to the head of the former Chevrolet plant on Central Avenue in Toledo.

Mrs. Lee was a longtime bridge player. The last 25 years, she made quilts, many with intricate designs, for family members and friends.

She and John A. Lee married Nov. 19, 1949.

Surviving are her sons, John Stephen Lee, Michael Lee, and Christian Lee, daughter, Cynthia Lee Smet, sisters, Mildred Tomanicek and Norma Nagel, eight grandchildren, and two great-granddaughters.

Services will be at 11 a.m. Saturday in the Walker Funeral Home, where visitation will be from 3 to 8 p.m. Friday and after 10 a.m. Saturday.

The family suggests tributes to Hospice of Northwest Ohio.

Contact Mark Zaborney at: mzaborney@theblade.com or 419-724-6182.

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