Mrs. Juanita Carlene Ownby Burks, 98, of Woodbury, Tennessee passed away on Saturday, November 5, 2022. She was born on a cold day, January 29, 1924 to Samuel Rufus and Ruby Gray Gaither Ownby in the Burt community of Cannon County, TN. In addition to her parents, she was preceded in death by her husband, Tom Burks, Sr.; brother, Charles Ownby; sister, Jean Combass; and son-in-law, Ken Moore.
She is survived by her sons, Tommy (Carolyn) Burks of Murfreesboro, Ronny Burks of Woodbury, and Richard (Karen) Burks of Woodbury; daughter, Alicea Moore of Manchester; 8 grandchildren, 15 great grandchildren, special friend, Evelyn Turney; and special caregiver, Becky Knox.
Juanita Burks was a woman of faith who centered her life around family and lived her life with a dash of fashion. She was named after her mother’s friend, Carlene Davis, and knew how to carry herself from a young age. At just 14 months old, Juanita won the baby show. That attraction toward glamour followed her throughout her life, but she still lived with practicality in mind.
At the age of 5, her family left Woodbury and moved to Watertown. Even with the Great Depression looming, Juanita dazzled the grocery clerk enough that he let her pick out a candy bar for her birthday. She chose a Baby Ruth and also got a baby Jean just a few months later.
Growing up, Juanita lived an adventurous life and was ever the independent and curious spirit. From making mud pies to playing in her dad’s milk truck, there was never a dull moment. Her curiosity also tended to get her in trouble from time to time, like when she knocked her dad’s milk truck out of gear and rolled it into a light pole. However, Juanita was someone who accepted instruction and edification readily. She learned quickly from her mistakes and was certain not to make the same one twice.
Much of that coachability originated with her being raised in the church. From a young age, she wanted to make it to church. After accidentally talking too long with a neighbor and missing her ride to church one Sunday, Juanita decided she wasn’t going to do that again. Starting as a child, she formed the opinion that there was no excuse for missing church (and that went double when she had kids of her own).
But living life on the move was also a common theme for Juanita. When she was 6, the Ownby family moved across town to Richland Avenue, and that was also the year that Charles was born. She had the measles in that house and decided for herself that she wasn’t taking the medication offered to her. You could set the glamour aside when she set her mind to something, and that tough shell didn’t break unless it was for the Lord.
At the age of 12, Juanita obeyed the gospel during the meeting held by Bro. Clyde Hale, and God watched over her. At 14, she had her first date with a boy from Alexandria but got hit by a drunk driver on the way there. Whether it was missing the date or walking away mostly unscathed that was the blessing, she would never know. And oh, how she loved church singings, especially in Woodbury.
Juanita’s dad would bring her down to Poppa’s house in June to spend the summer. Their travels to Woodbury lined up with all-day singing, and then she would stay at Poppa’s until the Fourth of July picnic at Culpepper. It was around one of those Julys that Mr. Tom Todd’s house caught fire. Walking down the road from Uncle Bridges and Aunt Mary’s house, she saw men running to help. It was then that she unknowingly first crossed paths with none other than Tom Burks.
That excitement must not have been enough because later on Juanita decided to go check on a house for herself. She went into the woods with Hyburnie Hayes during the same time period that soldiers were stationed to train before being deployed to Germany during WWII. They both got into loads of trouble (but the house was okay), and Juanita again learned quickly!
Speaking of learning, up until her late 90s, Juanita could name nearly every single one of her elementary school teachers. However, seventh grade was when her fashion side really blossomed. She and a friend wrote letters back and forth about their imaginary lives as movie stars. So when Juanita got permission to buy a new pair of shoes for her 8th grade graduation, she was over the moon.
High school ended up not being as much fun as elementary school, and after graduating in May 1941, Juanita watched several of the boys in her class go into the service. Staying on track with her own schedule, she was back in Cannon County that June and decided to take off on her own grand adventure.
Traveling to Michigan to see family apparently wasn’t far enough for that adventure, so she and Marge Finley decided to float on up to Boblo Island in Canada from Detroit. They spent the day there and came back just in time for her Uncle Howard to finish getting the church ready for Sunday. It was also during that trip that Juanita got to enjoy some of the finer things in life.
She took her first bath in a bathtub and got to listen to the big bands on the radio at her Uncle Ralston and Aunt Lillian Gaither’s house in Eloise. When they decided they were going to take a vacation to Tennessee, she hitched a ride and went back to Watertown. Coming home reignited Juanita’s fire that she would not work at the shirt factory even though she was quite the seamstress and made an evening dress for a friend.
Instead, a new opportunity came her way in the form of housing and education. Juanita made the decision to attend Andrew Jackson Business University in Nashville. When she was riding on the bus to the college, she saw a building with large columns and thought how wonderful of a school it must be. Then, the bus turned the corner from what she later found out was Belmont to the actual university she would be attending. Even though she originally was disappointed by the exterior, she learned to not judge a book by its cover and enjoyed going to school there for 12-14 months.
Straight out of school, Juanita got hired as a secretary at Tennessee Book Company during its busy season. Making quite the impression, she got references from her employer and hired on as a secretary at W.A. Case and Son Plumbing and Heating. She remained there until after she was married in 1946. Now, that may seem odd since Tom Burks has been out of the picture since the unbeknownst encounter with the house fire, but their story happened just a year prior.
Tom and Juanita officially met in 1945 after she rode the bus to Woodbury for the summer. Her cousin, Clyde Todd, said they were catching a ride home with Cora Burks who was waiting on her brother to come in from the Army. As soon as Juanita saw him walking in his dress uniform, she thought he was the best looking man. And since Juanita was coming to town for the summer guess what also was happening?
Why an all-day singing of course! This time it was at Ivy Bluff, and Tom and Juanita actually had dates with different people. It just happened to work out that they all went on an outing together. By the end of the date, Juanita and Tom were exchanging addresses. In one of her first correspondences to him, she sent him the lyrics to a popular song. On Tom’s next leave, he was taking Juanita out for a date. He picked her up at the beauty shop and took her to the Cannon County Fair. From then on, every time he was on leave from Ft. Lee, VA, he and Juanita had a date.
They corresponded regularly, and finally when Juanita had a good excuse, she came to visit Tom in Virginia for Sam and Sally McBroom’s wedding. A wedding sounded like a great idea to the two love birds, and they decided when Tom got his discharge papers to plan a double wedding with Mary Lillian and Adam Todd. The more the merrier, right?
Driving to Atlanta, GA and only delayed by a flat tire in Marietta, Tom and Juanita pulled into the parking lot for the court house 5 minutes before it closed. They were rushed in to get their license and then set off to J.M. Powell’s house. He married them that night, and his family served as the witnesses.
After getting married, Tom and Juanita lived in Nashville for a while. She kept her job at W.A. Case and Son, and Tom worked for the Veteran’s Administration. Then, they got the opportunity to move back to Woodbury when Mason Brandon offered Tom the job conducting on-the-farm training of veterans. At the time, Juanita was already expecting Tommy, and luckily, they settled down right next to the hospital. Tommy was born on October 24, 1947, and Tom and Juanita decided three new adventures were better than two.
Together, they bought a grocery store on the corner of the square from Mr. McMillen. They must have needed more hands on deck or decided they weren’t busy enough because Ronny was born February 10, 1949. Running the store, raising children, and of course making it to church and the beauty parlor were Juanita’s joys. But even though there was no excuses for missing church, Juanita wasn’t on time unless she was late. So, it made sense that their next move was to the house across the street from the church of Christ.
While they were in that house, Richard was born on January 24, 1953, and with 3 kids, they decided it was high time to move yet again. Moving to the first house on the left on Hayes Street made Billy Smith and his mom their across-the-road neighbors. By that point, they had sold the grocery store, and Tom was selling insurance.
For various reasons, Tom and Juanita ended up moving 2 more times and doing a square dance around Hayes Street. First, they moved to the second house on the right since it was larger and had a basement. Then, Alicea was born on March 7, 1956, and it was somehow determined that the best course of action was to swap houses with the neighbors across the street. This put them the second house on the left, and right next door to Billy Smith.
From there, Tom and Juanita decided to open up a new business venture by buying a dry cleaners and laundry service. In addition to this, Juanita worked for Hoyte and Bill Bryson Attorneys for 10 years, doing the dry cleaner on the weekend. During that 10 years, the Burks family built their home on Terrace Lane using the GI Bill and became one of the original families of Terrance Lane (4th to be exact).
It wasn’t until Tom’s aunts decided they wanted to move to town that the Burks family moved again. This time, they bought the family farm and moved to the Burt/Burgen community. The boys spent their spare time clearing land, cutting bushes, and raising pigs. Juanita had several fun farm experiments over the years with anything from remodeling to hatching eggs in an electric skillet.
After Tommy was drafted and sent to Vietnam, Juanita occupied herself hosting a Boy Scout troop that Tom led. Years later, they moved back to town in the same house on Terrace Lane. Juanita remained employed as a secretary for the Vice President of Business at MTSU for several years before retiring. She spent her retirement years and her entire 98 years, 9 months, and 7 days doing what she loved.
Her life is a testament of faith, carried on by family, and fondly remembered by her fashion. There were three things you always knew about Juanita. 1) She was going to make it to church and serve the Lord. 2) She was going to get her hair done. 3) She was going to go out of her way to be there for her family and those she came to regard as family. 98 years may seem like a long time, but it won’t seem like enough to the lives she touched.
Visitation will be held at Gentry-Smith Funeral Home on Tuesday, November 8, 2022 from 4-7 pm and on Wednesday, November 9, 2022 from 12-2 pm. Funeral services will follow in the Gentry-Smith Funeral Home chapel. Billy Smith and Wayne Lankford will officiate. Interment will be in Riverside Garden.
In lieu of flowers, memorial donations may be made to the Tom and Juanita Burks Scholarship Fund, Boyd Christian School, or World Christian Broadcast.
Share memories and condolences at www.gentrysmithfuneralhome.com Gentry-Smith Funeral Home, 303 Murfreesboro Rd. Woodbury, TN 37190, 615-563-5337 Because every life has a story