Vonda LaVerne (Merrill) Zaika
August 12, 1938 ‒ December 24, 2020
Vonda LaVerne (Merrill) Zaika was an avid reader of obituaries and would be pleased to know you’re reading hers. She died of melanoma on December 24th, 2020. Although born August 12th, 1938 in West Salem, Ohio, to James and Ruth (McGinty) Merrill, Vonda spent her life in Mansfield. She never complained about her hometown and always found ways to appreciate it. A highlight of childhood was time spent at the Ohio Theater, which her parents managed. A graduate of Mansfield Sr. High, she married David Wittmer in 1956 and had four children: David Wittmer, Jr., Julie Wittmer, Mark Wittmer, and Cynthia (Wittmer) Pina.
In 1966 she and Philip Zaika each joined in their second marriage, and Phil has remained her loving and fiercely devoted husband ever since. This union added four more children from Phil’s first marriage: Mike Zaika, Sherry Hannan, Soni Coey, and Cindy King. Together, this large and hard-working family took shape and continued to add other members who, although not blood-related, were loved equally.
Vonda had many jobs, notably: professional housekeeper, caregiver, and Reed’s department store associate. She was perhaps most known for the ways she spent the rest of her time, however. She enjoyed travel with her husband, Phil: frequently to Michigan, and as far away as Russia. Many of her summers were spent camping, fishing, boating, and/or entertaining, with legendary parties. She loved the arts and was constantly creative. Vonda could paint, draw, and loved to sew: everything from blankets to bags to dresses.
She was a member of the Malabar Farm Spinners and Weavers Guild alongside her beloved older sister, Carol, and was passionate about local history and using her time and talents to support community members in need. Vonda was always busy, whether she was talking on the phone for hours, working in the yard, visiting Amish friends, scouting around town for garage and estate sales, or hunting down a bargain any other way. She was easy to entertain and could make anything fun; her candy dish was never empty. You could never leave her home empty-handed, but more impressively, she always knew exactly what you would like or need.
Vonda accepted people and genuinely enjoyed learning more about them. Nothing was too “weird” for her, and she believed that judging anyone was a waste of time. Her spirit remained youthful and curious throughout her life. She always had breaking news to share, whether obtained by listening to a police scanner or by keeping tabs on numerous distant relations or friends (all while pretending she didn’t know how to use social media.) She was a people-person and unconditionally supported her children and grandchildren, still attending their events and milestones into adulthood. She had a strong, endearing personality even to those she met only briefly, and possessed a broad sense of humor that Phil, especially, helped shape.
Vonda was an intensely loved woman whose loss hits like a bomb across at least four generations. She was predeceased by her parents, parents-in-law, a sister, a son, a brother-in-law, and dozens of other family and friends. In addition to her husband of 54 years, Phil, she is survived by: her siblings Carol Rahall and Charles Merrill, a sister-in-law, Juanita Heed, seven adult children and their partners: David/Donna Wittmer, Julie Wittmer, Cindy/André Pina, Mike Zaika, Sherry/Gary Hannan, Soni/Jim Coey, Cindy/Jerry King, eighteen grandchildren, and numerous great grandchildren, nieces, and nephews.
Vonda is also survived by those she loved as much as her own family: from neighbors to lifelong friends of her children. She died peacefully and without pain. There are neither words nor space enough to describe Vonda to those who never knew her.
There will not be a funeral or calling hours: instead, a celebration of life will occur in summer 2021 if the pandemic has subsided. To honor her, please donate to melanoma research, local homelessness support organizations, and/or police and EMS support.
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