Lonija (Rencis) Zuicens, age 96, passed away suddenly on July 18, 2020. She had been living at Hooverwood nursing home in Indianapolis since January. Lonija often went by the nickname "Grandma Bubbles" by those closest to her. The nickname was bestowed upon Lonija by her then 2-year-old granddaughter, and it stuck.
Lonija was born in Saldus, Latvia, on April 25, 1924, to Janis Rencis and Liba (Hercbergs). She fled Latvia in attempt to escape WWII. She used a false identity to flee aboard the MV Wilhelm Gustloff, which was torpedoed and sunk in the Baltic Sea. More than 9,000 people lost their lives, but she was luckily rescued and for the most part unharmed.
Lonija was then taken to Germany, where she used her training as a nurse to work for the Red Cross. She married Arturs Zuicens in 1945, and they had two children. The family lived in a Displaced Persons Camp in Münster before leaving Germany. Under the Marshall Plan, the family immigrated to the U.S. as refugees in 1956. Shortly thereafter, the family settled in Indianapolis to be close to Arturs's cousin's family and the growing Latvian community.
Arturs and Lonija were founding members of the Indianapolis Latvian Center, which is utilized by many community groups in Indianapolis. Lonija was the center's secretary for more than 50 years and was actively involved in the Latvian Lutheran Church's Women's Auxiliary Group. She was most famous for making traditional piragi and torte cakes for the center's fundraisers. Lonija's cakes often started a bidding war, selling for up to $100 per cake.
She will be dearly missed by her family, daughter Brigitte (Marvin) West, son Dzintars "Zeke" (Mary) Zuicens, granddaughter Amanda (Stephen Williams) Zuicens-Williams, and the Latvian church and community.
The family will have a private graveside service this week. A memorial service will be held at a later date. Donations in her memory may be made to the Indianapolis Latvian Community Center Ladies Auxiliary, 1008 W. 64th St., Indianapolis, IN 46260.
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