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An Extraordinary Life: Minooka woman's faith spanned 2 countries

'I always wanted to be strong like her'

Never seen without her trademark smile, Salud “Lula” Mejia of Minooka lived for her family and took her Catholic faith very seriously. If she missed Mass at her own church, she would find another Mass at another church.
Never seen without her trademark smile, Salud “Lula” Mejia of Minooka lived for her family and took her Catholic faith very seriously. If she missed Mass at her own church, she would find another Mass at another church.

In the Bible, God tells Abraham to leave his homeland and his family to go to another country where God would bless him.

In faith, Abraham did.

In similar faith, Salud “Lula” Mejia of Minooka also left her homeland to begin a new life in the U.S.

That’s one reason why Susan Torres of Minooka admires her mother.

“I always wanted to be strong like her,” Susan said.

Born in 1950 in Moroleón, Guanajuato, Mexico, the youngest of six children in a strong Catholic family, Lula attended Catholic schools and later worked in her father’s store, a bank and a mayor’s office.

Lula met her husband, Richard, who lived in Joliet, when he returned to Mexico to visit his family, who were friends with Lula’s family. Richard was one of 17 children and eight years older than Lula, Susan said.

Richard liked a lot of things about her, Susan said, especially her intelligence, beauty and faith.

“My dad was a citizen; he was born and raised in Joliet,” Susan said. “He met her down there [Mexico] and they had a long-long-distance relationship for four or five years and wrote letters to each other.”

At 27 and never having lived on her own, Lula married Richard, left Mexico, and came to the U.S. to make a life “in a brand-new country” and find just the right church home, a place where their children-to-be could receive the sacraments and receive a solid Catholic education.

They found it at St. Joseph Catholic Church on Joliet’s east side. Lula’s children and grandchildren are still members.

The pastor at the time (Rev. George Klepec, deceased) became close with the family and Lula “sought out his advice when she needed someone to talk to,” Susan said.

“She learned how to cook, sew and garden. She could fix anything,” Susan said. “Anything she wanted to learn, she learned basically at home through trial and error … she was a ‘jack of all trades,’ very smart and talented. But she didn’t flaunt it.”

Lula learned English by picking it up through conversation and on television, Susan said. Lula was so proud of knowing English, she wouldn’t speak Spanish to her grandchildren, even though Spanish is part of their heritage.

She worked as a crossing guard for the city of Joliet and was a member of Stone City VFW Post #2199 Ladies Auxiliary, and Joliet Elks Lodge #296 Ladies Auxiliary, according to her obituary.

“If I had a question how to cook something, she would just come over and make it for me,” Susan said.

Lula always loved dancing to the song “Vámonos de Fiesta” with her son Richard, Susan said.

When Lula’s youngest son Rogelio (Roger) needed company (because Richard was working and his older siblings, Richard and Susan, were busy with school, sports and activities), Lula took him to lunch buffets and movies he liked and played catch with him in the yard.

“She loved her family so much,” Susan said. “The kids, her grandkids, her husband. She would do anything to make us happy.”

A traditional woman, Lula initially objected when Susan, who made the military her career, joined the U.S. Army at 18.

“But she supported me because it was something I wanted to do,” Susan said. “She was very proud of me. She went to all my ceremonies when I was promoted … she came to Family Day and she came to my office. A lot of people knew her.”

Lula loved to host family Christmas parties, even when those parties grew to 100 family members and the family had to rent a VFW for the celebration, Susan said.

Ask Lula to make some of her famous tamales and she’d prepare a giant pot of them. People also liked her pasta salad, flan and pozole (a stew with pork and hominy), Susan said.

Lula attended all academic and sports activities of her grandchildren. Even when battling breast cancer, Lula traveled to southern Indiana, almost to the Kentucky border, because she didn’t want to miss a granddaughter’s soccer game, Susan said.

She also went to Chicago to help another granddaughter decorate her college dorm room.

“She knew how to decorate a house,” Susan said. “Every season, she decorated the entire house. The bathroom, everything, was super decorated.”

Lula’s battle with breast cancer began in 2001 when a mammogram revealed a lump. Lula had scheduled the mammogram because her sister was battling breast cancer.

So after Lula recovered from a double mastectomy and chemotherapy, she headed to Mexico in 2003 to visit her sister. Lula’s sister died in 2004, Susan said.

“My mom was in remission for about 16 years,” Susan said. “Then it came back in 2017.”

The return of the cancer began with a lump under Lula’s eye. This second cancer was grueling, and Lula fought back very hard.

“She prayed a lot in the hours before she went to bed…she was very faithful to the rosary,” Susan said. “Her faith was very, very strong. I think that helped her be at peace with it.”

Still, Lula’s heart never left her family. In the days before her death and using her walker for balance, Lula insisted on cooking for Richard, Susan said.

And in her final hours, Lula made sure one granddaughter knew where to find a special shirt in the laundry room, Susan said.

After Lula died on April 27 at the age of 70, Susan said the family has received many cards from people saying they missed Lula’s smile, that they always saw her smiling, Susan said.

“She always told my girls to smile,” Susan said. “The last card she gave my daughter told her to keep smiling. It will make her feel better.”

• To feature someone in “An Extraordinary Life,” contact Denise M. Baran-Unland at 815-280-4122 or dunland@shawmedia.com.

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