‘Arms big enough to hug Rochester’: Family remembers Rosa Wims

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ROCHESTER, N.Y. – By her 100th birthday, Rosa Wims had “officially” retired at least three times, founded a community health center later renamed in her honor, and also managed to raise five children and several grandchildren. Wims died over the weekend, leaving behind a legacy of community care.

“She loved the city of Rochester. She loved people,” her granddaughter Camisha Meeks said.

Wims was born in Florida. She came to Rochester in the 40s with her husband and eldest child. Soon after, she started working at Rochester General Hospital as a candy striper.

“She had this longing to be a nurse and finally she made that decision to go to school,” her eldest daughter, Renee DeCruz said.

DeCruz and Rosa’s grandchildren remember the woman who raised them as a true humanitarian. After almost thirty years as a nurse, she retired.

“She loved what she did, she enjoyed the people that she did things for. But she needed something a little more,” DeCruz said.

That’s when she founded the Faith Community Health Awareness Center on Genesee Street.

“It was a little empty storefront,” DeCruz said. “She gave out clothes, she gave out food. Whatever she could do to help somebody, she did.”

It was eventually renamed in her honor. The center was also where she started her famous Thanksgiving dinners.

The first year, a year or two after her retirement, it was a small event with a huge amount of work.

“It was phone calls, and organizing, calling family members and friends and saying hey, can you make this, can you donate a couple pies, can you donate a couple turkeys,” granddaughter Rachel McDonald said.

The next year, Wegmans and Tops started donating. Eventually, Foodlink got involved, too. They’d ultimately take over the event, bringing dozens of volunteers into the fold.

But even with the extra hands, when the granddaughters were still young, they were helping out, too.

“We served. We had to serve,” McDonald and Camisha said, laughing.

“And she did that along with the HIV screenings, the blood pressure,” Tiffany said. “So she did things to make sure that not only you were fed, but your health was maintained as well.”

As a nurse, Wims was always looking out for folks’ health, and teaching others how to do the same.

“She loved to be able to teach someone behind her so she knew her work would carry on, long after she was gone,” Camisha said.

Up until the end, Wims was teaching. At 98, she was moved to the nursing home where McDonald worked.

“We would get student nurses, and she would sit and talk to them for hours, about how important it was to be a good nurse, and a good person,” McDonald said.

At 100, Wims was honored by the city for her work. But she didn’t do it for the praise.

“She said God has blessed me and its my job to bless others,” McDonald said. “And if you stood in the way of that, you better watch out.”

A fiercely determined woman, her daughter and granddaughters laughed about the whirlwind that was Wims.

“I keep telling people it was horns under the halo,” Camisha joked. “It was horns. She did not play. She didn’t play around.”

“She was a very determined woman. She never gave up and she did not give in,” DeCruz said. “If something didn’t go right, she did not give in, she did not give up. She would find a way to make it work.”

Last year, Rochester Regional Health started a scholarship in her honor. That’s something McDonald said is the best way to continue the legacy of a woman who loved teaching almost as much as healing her community.

“She knew that nursing provided a way for you to take care of your family, she knew that,” Tiffany said. “So she wanted people to be able to be educated, have a good career.”

You can donate to the scholarship fund here.