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Remembering Eleanor Josaitis

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In this 2005 photo, Eleanor Josaitis is surrounded by the group of Focus: HOPE students. (Credit: Joe Wilssens Photography)

In this 2005 photo, Eleanor Josaitis is surrounded by the group of Focus: HOPE students. (Credit: Joe Wilssens Photography)

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DETROIT (WWJ) – Following the passing of Focus: HOPE co-founder Eleanor Josaitis, several members of the community are remembering the local civil rights leader.

Josaitis, 79, died early Tuesday morning at Angela Hospice in Livonia, where she spent the past several days. She was diagnosed with cancer less than one year ago. (Read More)

WWJ City Beat Reporter Vickie Thomas caught the reaction of students at Focus: HOPE. Detroiter Tyrone MacLamore reminisced on what he’ll miss most about Josaitis.

“How kind she was. She gave everyone an opportunity, no matter what happened in your past. She was always open-armed, she always believed in helping people and that there was always good in people and that’s what she always saw. She’s a beautiful woman. You couldn’t meet a better person. We need more like her. She gave me an opportunity that I couldn’t get anywhere else.”

- VIDEO INTERVIEWS: Remembering Eleanor Josaitis –

Tim Sullivan, Director of Manufacturing at the Focus: HOPE Center for Advanced Technology, said the center remained optimistic while preparing for this day.

“Eleanor has been struggling with a lot of health issues in the past year or so and we have been preparing for something like this, knowing at some point this day would come. Personally, I’m extremely sad. I’ve been here for almost 20 years. Eleanor hired me and I’ll miss her.”

Jack Kresnak, President of Michigan’s Children advocacy group, knew Josaitis well. He said while Josaitis had just a high school education, she used her skill and common sense to become a force in the community. As for the future of Focus: HOPE, Kresnak said Josaitis worked her entire career to make sure the organization would survive for generations.

Focus: HOPE CEO William F. Jones called Josaitis a remarkable woman. “All of us at Focus: HOPE are deeply saddened by the passing of our co-founder Eleanor Josaitis. For 40 years, her courage and commitment to intelligent and practical leadership has informed and inspired us.  Her loss is immeasurable, but we are firmly committed and well positioned to make her work continue.”

Josaitis served on the Board of Directors of the Barbara Ann Karmanos Cancer Institute since 2001. The institute issued this statement:

“We at the Barbara Ann Karmanos Cancer Institute are deeply saddened to learn of the passing of Eleanor Josaitis, who served as a member of the Institute’s board of directors with distinction for many years. Eleanor was unique in her passion and devotion to our community and especially to its most vulnerable citizens. Together with the late Rev. William Cunningham, Eleanor took the lead in helping to heal and unite Detroit after the 1967 riots by creating Focus: HOPE, which in time became one of our city’s true crown jewels. Eleanor was selfless and self-effacing, but at the same time, she was strong and steadfast in accomplishing her goals of assisting those in need. She truly made a difference and will be greatly missed by all who knew her. We send our heartfelt condolences to her family and the staff of Focus: HOPE. May her legacy endure and inspire others to continue her important work.”

Detroit Mayor Dave Bing issued the following statement:

“Eleanor was a stalwart of community activism.  She has touched the lives of countless Detroiters and built a legacy of hope and help that will last for generations.  She will be sorely missed as a friend and community leader.”

Governor Rick Snyder issued the following statement:

“Eleanor Josaitis was an inspiring woman whose spirit and determination helped transform a city. Eleanor and Father William Cunningham founded Focus: HOPE at a time when the city of Detroit was in turmoil and their words and their deeds brought out the best in anyone who knew them or was associated with them. She was a tireless and devoted leader who served the entire state of Michigan by bringing people together to solve problems and providing opportunities for those who had none. Her compassion and resolve live on through the work of Focus: HOPE and the countless men, women and children whose lives were forever changed for the better because of her. My sympathies go out to her family and friends and the Focus: HOPE family.”

U.S. Representative John D. Dingell issued the following statement:

“Eleanor Josaitis was an inspiration to us all and her ever present passion will be missed on the Detroit landscape. Eleanor was about changing the world one person at a time. She cofounded Focus: Hope in 1968 and built it into an organization that employs over 500 people and has more 50,000 volunteers. Eleanor was the embodiment of the civil rights movement and her presence will be sorely missed. The thoughts and prayers of both Deborah and I are with Eleanor’s family at this difficult time.”

Mike and Marian Ilitch of Ilitch Holdings issued this statement:

“Eleanor Josaitis was a dear friend and our community has lost one of its most determined supporters. We’ll miss her gentle demeanor and friendly smile, whether she was in a corporate boardroom or the soup kitchen. She was a talented, passionate and courageous woman who truly believed in the good of the human spirit. She was a role model, clearly demonstrating in everything she did that an individual, committed to a cause and belief and working with others, can make difference. She found her “voice” at probably a most unexpected time in life, and in turn, followed her calling to build a legacy that will carry on forever.  Eleanor touched all of us – she encouraged all of us to stand up for decency and the common good and importantly, to help our fellow neighbor. Our hearts go out to her family, and to her many friends and colleagues at Focus:HOPE. We’ll remember Eleanor fondly and truly believe that the greatest way any of us could honor her would be to carry on in her spirit, each finding our own “voice” to make a difference in the world.”

The Urban League of Detroit issued the following statement:

“Eleanor Josaitis was a giant among those working to make Detroit a better place, never taking no for an answer. But she was also a charming, sweet and genteel lady whose thoughtfulness and kindness knew no limits. In March 1999, the Urban League was fortunate enough to recognize and salute her as one our Distinguished Warriors. An individual who has given a lifetime of unselfish service to our community in the areas of civil and human rights, while never seeking personal fame or praise is how we describe a Distinguished Warrior. It is difficult to find a person more fitting of such a distinction.”

Although funeral arrangements are pending, her son Mark said the family plans to hold a public visitation at the Church of the Madonna, followed by funeral service at Blessed Sacrament Cathedral in Detroit.

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