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Josephine Rockhill

March 29, 1933 October 6, 2016
Josephine Rockhill
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Obituary for Josephine Rockhill

Josephine B. Rockhill, 83, of Pekin, died at 9:50 p.m. on Thursday, October 6th, 2016, at her home, with loved ones by her side. She fought a long and courageous battle against many illnesses, including diabetes, multiple myeloma, and heart and kidney diseases.

Jo was born in Pisgah, Illinois, on March 29, 1933, the fifth child of Otto G. and Pearl (Ferguson) Wood. She had two sisters, Marie and Frances, and two brothers, Glenn and Leonard.

On a blind date at age 14, she met the love of her life, 15 year old Donald Rockhill. She told her best friend, “I’m going to marry him someday.” With that goal in mind, she went on to complete Woodruff High School in three years, earning a scholarship to Bradley University, so that she could keep those other college girls away from her guy. She attended Bradley for one year, before marrying Don at age 18, on September 6, 1951. They moved to Fort Carson, Colorado, where he was stationed with the U.S. Army. Their first child was born the next year in Colorado, and six other children followed after their return to Peoria.

Jo was a young wife and mother of many talents. She learned all the ways to stretch a pound of hamburger, mend hand-me-downs, design and construct the very best Halloween costumes and Valentine boxes, sew Barbie clothes, bake cookies when serving as room mother, and support her kids’ crazy science fair project ideas. She tirelessly cared for her children through the lengthy bouts of measles, mumps, and chicken pox, that started with one child and made the rounds through all the others. In addition to all she did for her kids, she was never too busy to lend an ear and her loving support to Don, as he rose through the ranks at Caterpillar. He often said that any modest success he may have had in life could not have been achieved without her total support and encouragement.

In the early 1960’s Jo used her love of writing and began submitting slogans, poetry, and short stories to magazines and local contests. She also authored the declamations her children performed at grade school. She taught her kids how to write letters and thank you notes at an early age.

When Caterpillar was developing the site for their Proving Grounds, Jo fought for the survival of the log cabin standing at that site. She was insistent that it be salvaged for its historical value; that cabin was moved to Wildlife Prairie Park, where it remains today. A write-up in the Peoria Journal Star at that time focused on her efforts and success in this endeavor.

Besides cooking, sewing, and writing, Jo loved hunting and fishing with her husband and older son in the 1970’s and 1980’s. She loved music, especially the Big Band era, and she was a huge Janis Joplin fan. Both of her sons were talented musically, and she loved listening to them perform. She was proud of her younger son’s song-writing abilities.

Jo sure loved to dance and celebrate. For years, she and Don danced at the Hub in Edelstein. Later, she had many opportunities to join family and friends on the dance floor at family weddings and special occasions. She even performed karaoke a time or two. Jo loved socializing at parties, and her own casino-themed 70th birthday party was one of her all-time favorite parties.

She and Don had a love for antiques, and were antiques dealers for 45 years. They were owners of Cracker Barrel Antiques, with locations in both Illinois and Texas. During those years, she was also co-owner, with her two oldest daughters, of ‘Remember When,’ a shop on the Washington Square selling antiques, collectibles, and crafts. Jo retired from the antiques business, due to health, in 1994.

She and Don were members of a Civil War re-enactment group in the early 1990’s. They also owned the Rocking Double R Cattle Company of Callahan County, Texas, raising registered longhorn cattle, until their retirement from that business in 1993.

After Don’s retirement from Caterpillar in 1993, they spent the next two decades as members of several writers’ groups. Jo attended writing classes at Illinois Central College, and even did ride-alongs with a member of the East Peoria Police Dept., in order to build her knowledge of crime-solving for her mystery stories.

Jo loved to read, especially mysteries. She also collected books on cooking, collectibles, and interior decorating. She loved her flower gardens and added to them annually, something she couldn’t have accomplished without the loving, and resigned, assistance of her husband and two youngest daughters.

Jo loved dining out and any opportunity to dress up and wear high heels and fine jewelry. Her son-in- law said she could really “put on the dog”; sadly, none of her four daughters could ever hold a candle to her in that area. However, her daughters and granddaughters will forever remember her colorful reference to certain high heels.

With all her many interests and hobbies, Jo never forgot what was most important—her husband and children, and later, the grandkids who came along. Her marriage to Don was honest and real, full of joy and laughter, sadness and troubles. It was a tribute to their love for each other that they made it through raising so many independent, hard-headed children. Their love story and commitment to each other will be shared time and time again, and will live on through their children, grandchildren, and friends.

If you knew Jo, you knew she was always there to lend an ear, her love and support, her straightforward advice and opinions, and even her last dollar, if needed. Did we mention her opinion? You better believe it. Jo had an opinion on most everything, and whether you wanted it or not, you were going to get it. Nine times out of ten, she was right. And the other time, she was right, too.

So many wonderful and funny family stories are about her. An invitation to visit the Grand Canyon with her husband and youngest daughter’s family was refused, with the comment, “When you’ve seen one hole in the ground, you’ve seen ‘em all.” Her penchant for adding unnecessary details to prove a point led to what was affectionately referred to as “another of Mom’s rainy Wednesday stories.” Her family will never again visit Tom Sawyer's Cave without remembering her gentle approach with the guide. And, the special photograph that was sent to her grandsons in Iraq and Afghanistan will live on in infamy. What an incredible person she was. Our entire family knows how blessed and enriched our lives have been because of her.

Jo is survived by her husband and true love, Don. She is also survived by six children: Donald (Lisa) Rockhill, Jr., of Quitman, Texas; Deborah Fore of Washington, Illinois; Rebecca (Mike) Rollings of Groveland, Illinois, and Kevin Rockhill, Kathryn Rockhill, and Erin Rockhill (Jerry) Brown, all of Pekin, Illinois. Also surviving are her sister-in-law, Diane Freeburg of Peoria, two daughters-in-law, Karen Rockhill of Clyde, TX, and Mimi Rockhill of Pekin, 19 grandchildren, 25 great-grandchildren, 1 great-great-grandchild, 2 nieces and a nephew, and her beloved dogs, Molly and Rowdy.

Preceding her in death were her parents and siblings, an infant son, Adam, a grandson, a great-grandson, and her husband's parents, Ray and Lucille Rockhill of Peoria.

We wish to thank Dr. Honan, Dr. Jackson, Dr. Le-Lindquister, Dr. James, and Dr. Usman, along with the nursing staff at Pekin Hospital and Pekin Manor, for the excellent care given over the last several years. We will be everlastingly grateful to Harbor Lights Hospice for the loving care they gave to Jo. We could not have managed her care without your assistance and support. These words are not enough to adequately express our gratitude.

Cremation rites will be accorded, with a private celebration of Jo’s life at a later date. Please remember Jo with your memories, stories, and laughter. If you wish to honor her further, donations to Harbor Light Hospice, 3004 N. Main St., East Peoria, IL 61611, or the Greater Peoria Honor Flight, P.O. Box 5072, Peoria, IL 61601, are gratefully appreciated by her family.

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