It’s always a shock to the system when an Old Mission Peninsula icon passes away. Someone you’ve known your whole life, who’s always been there through the years, and who’s basically part of your extended family.
Such is the case with Vi Solomonson, who owned the Peninsula Telephone Company with her husband Jack for more than 60 years, from 1949 to 2010. Vi passed away on June 13, 2020 at the age of 92.
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Tim and I were fortunate to be able to spend time with Vi and her daughter, Mary Jo, last year, chatting about their history on the Old Mission Peninsula and what it was like to run a rural telephone company. You can read Tim’s story here.
Here’s a photo of Mary Jo and Vi from Lorey Kroupa’s retirement party in July 2017.
Vi is one of those kind and lovely souls who never had a bad word to say about anyone. I’m sure running the phone company was challenging at times, but you’d never know it talking with her. And I always marveled that she knew every single phone number on the Old Mission Peninsula by heart. Comes with the territory, she’d say.
Vi will be so greatly missed, and her contributions and activities in our OMP community will be felt for generations to come.
Vi – “Violet” – was born on March 19, 1928 to William and Henrietta (Korb) Rokos in Traverse City. Her ancestors immigrated from Czechoslovakia in the 1800’s and eventually made their home in the Traverse City area.
She attended Immaculate Conception grade school, along with her brother Ernie and sisters Rita and Sandi, and graduated from St Francis High School. Her parents operated the Rokos Grocery at the corner of Elmwood and Randolph. Sometimes Vi would hurry home at lunch time to work the counter at the store and sell penny candy to the other students. Her father died when she was twelve years old. The store was sold, and her mother had a house built on Hill Street.
While in school, Vi worked in a soda shop at a local drug store and then as a telephone operator for Michigan Bell. She met Jack when he was working as an installer for Western Electric. They were married on October 3, 1948 and moved to Chicago, where Jack was enrolled at an electronics school. Vi worked as a telephone operator supervisor while in Chicago.
Jack and Vi moved back to Traverse City and began a “temporary” part-time job at Peninsula Telephone Company on the Old Mission Peninsula. Together they managed the phone company for 60 years, growing it from cranker phones and a switchboard in their living room to cell phones and high speed internet.
Vi was a gracious hostess and cook, often orchestrating Sunday dinners with 30 or more friends and family. She was always active in community and church events and volunteered her time for many fundraisers. She was a member of St. Joseph and Immaculate Conception Catholic churches, and also a member of the Old Mission Woman’s Club.
Here she is pictured with my mom, Mary Johnson, at an Old Mission Women’s Club meeting in November 2015.
Upon retiring, she returned to her Slabtown roots, and eventually moved to Cordia Senior Living Apartments. It was hard to keep up with her, as she so enjoyed the many friendships made. She played euchre and Mahjong, participated in Chi Gong exercise classes, and walked the Route 66 and Appalachian Trail via virtual programs.
Vi was the matriarch of a strong family and modeled love and grace. She was respected and admired by her family and provided unconditional love to her beloved children, grandchildren, great grandchildren, great-great grandchildren and extended family.
She was committed to her faith and attended services faithfully. Her strong religious belief provided her great comfort in all aspects of her life and helped her to pass peacefully. Her daughters were able to spend her last days by her side and were blessed to share this time with her.
Violet is survived by her sister Sandi Green, daughters Mary Jo (Dana) Lance, Barbara (Jan Doran) and Kristina McLain, and lovingly remembered by many nieces and nephews, grandchildren and great grandchildren. She touched many lives and will be remembered fondly.
The mass of Christian burial will be held on June 26, 2020 at 11 a.m. at Immaculate Conception Church with Father Anthony officiating. Burial will at the Bohemian Cemetery in Old Mission following the mass.