By Dedra Cordle
It was a bittersweet day for those in attendance at the Aug. 6 Franklin Township National Night Out.
While smiles were shared and the laughter of children could be heard across the grounds at Central Baptist Church, people could not help but think of the woman who would no longer be there.
For more than two decades, Juanita Kaufman was a fixture of the community crime-fighting event. Months before, she could be found going door-to-door or business to business soliciting sponsors and donations for food and raffle prizes. Weeks before, she could be found rounding up more than a hundred volunteers. Days before she could be found in the kitchen, making pies and cakes and her famed popcorn balls. And bright and early on that first Tuesday in August, there she would be until the end.
“National Night Out was a real passion for her,” said Ralph Horn, a township trustee who has called Kaufman a friend for 30 years. “Ever since it was created nationally in the 1980s, it just struck her fancy.”
He said the mission of the event meshed with who was she was as a person.
“Juanita was someone who cared very deeply about her community and the safety of the people in it,” he said. “But most of all, she cared about the children and wanted to make sure their world was a better place.”
In March of 2018, Kaufman announced that she would no longer be able to take on an active role in NNO due to her health. However, the then 96-year-old swore she would be there to enjoy the festivities and she was.
In the weeks leading up to this year’s NNO, her health kept declining. On July 25, she passed away.
Patricia Davis, a township resident who has also called Kaufman a friend and mother-figure for more than 30 years, said it was hard to be at the event and not see her fluttering around.
“She was always smiling here, and everywhere, really,” she said. “We’ll really miss her. She was a very special, very kind lady.”
While Kaufman may no longer be a physical presence at the event, her legacy is all around it. In 2008, the township trustees designated the first Tuesday in August as ‘Juanita Kaufman Day.’ They also established a community award in her honor, recognizing one resident who has helped enhance the community the way she did. This year, the award went to Davis, whom trustee Aryeh Alex called “one of the most caring individuals.”
“Patricia is very active in her local block watch, pitches in when neighbors need help with their yard work, and is always there to lend a hand to our elderly residents.
“She is just such a caring individual and truly deserving of the Juanita Kaufman Award.”
Davis said she was honored to receive the award, calling it a “big surprise.”
“I like to help out because everyone has been so friendly to me,” she said. “It’s just a really caring community.”
Davis, who has been living in the township for 53 years, stated that what made the recognition even greater was that the name of her friend is on the award.
“Juanita would always be out helping others,” she said. “I wanted to do that, too.”
In addition to founding the local chapter of NNO, Kaufman established the Eastfield/Westbrook Neighborhood Association and block watch, was named the recipient of the 2007 Northwest Civic Association’s Anna Mildred Henderson Award, and was a member of the Southwest Area Commission since 2004.
Stefanie Coe, the current chair of the commission, served alongside Kaufman from 2008 until her term expired in 2018.
“Juanita was very passionate about the community,” Coe said. “Not only was she driven to serve but she was also very dedicated to children in particular. She was an advocate for herself and for those who were not able to advocate for themselves.”
Horn said there is much he will miss about Kaufman, such as seeing her house decorated for the holidays, driving her to government meetings, and hearing from the latest person she helped.
“She turned away no one,” he said.
He said what gives him comfort is knowing the impact she made in the community and on their lives will withstand the test of time.
“She was an inspiration to many people, myself included,” Horn said. “There can never be another Juanita but if there were three or four more people like her, the world would be a better place.”
A public memorial will be held for Juanita Kaufman on Aug. 24 at St. John’s Evangelical Lutheran Church, located at 3233 Columbus St. in Grove City. The service will begin at 11:30 a.m.