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Teacher's bilingual skills made her an asset

| Sunday, Nov. 2, 2008, 12:00 p.m.

For decades, no one in her neighborhood knew Catherine Jankus' first name.

"Everyone called her Grandma. And since she passed away, all the neighbors have come by to say they are sorry about Grandma," said Kay Osborne, Mrs. Jankus' daughter.

Catherine Rywak Jankus of Ohio Township died on Wednesday, Oct. 29, 2008, after a long illness. She was 89 and would have celebrated her 90th birthday later this month.

One of nine children of the late Mary and Michael Rywak, who were Ukrainian immigrants, Mrs. Jankus was born on Nov. 17, 1918, near Indiana, Pa. She primarily grew up in New Kensington.

Mrs. Jankus' early life was heavily shaped by her marriage to Joseph B, Jankus, a North Side native and -- when they met -- a Marine officer. The two were married June 20, 1942, in Manassas, Va. Mr. Jankus was stationed at nearby Quantico, Va., at the time.

It was not long before the couple moved to San Diego, the base for Mr. Jankus' military service in the wartime Pacific. He participated in the battles of the Mariana Islands and Iwo Jima.

Catherine Jankus spent the war years working as a telephone operator and an assembly-line worker in an aircraft factory, her daughter said.

"She was a Rosie the Riveter during the war, like all kinds of women," Osborne said.

After the war, the couple returned to Pittsburgh, where Mr. Jankus earned a pharmacy degree from the University of Pittsburgh and bought a drugstore on Buena Vista Street in the North Side.

Mr. Jankus died in August 1964 at the age of 42.

By that time, Catherine Jankus was working as a teacher at St. John the Baptist School in Pittsburgh's South Side, whose students included many Ukrainian immigrants.

"She was bilingual, which I'm sure helped the school," her daughter said.

Mrs. Jankus taught for several years at St. Ursula's, a parochial elementary school in Hampton.

While working as a teacher, Mrs. Jankus attended Duquesne University, earning a degree after a decade of night classes.

"She just felt that a college education was so important and was very proud that she was a college graduate. We all went to her graduation at Mellon Arena," Osborne said.

In the late 1960s, Mrs. Jankus started a second career as an inspector of restaurants and apartment buildings for the Allegheny County Health Department. She retired from the health department in 1983.

Mrs. Jankus spent most of her retirement living with Osborne and her family.

"She loved to garden and cook. No one ever left this house without eating," Osborne said.

In addition to Osborne, Mrs, Jankus is survived a daughter, Carole Catalano of McCandless, sister Ann Krnacik of Cabot, brother Harry Rywak of Huntington, Conn., and five grandchildren.

Friends will be received from 6 to 9 p.m. Sunday at the George A. Thoma Funeral Home in McCandless. A Mass of Christian Burial will be celebrated at 10 a.m. Monday at St. Mary's Church in Glenfield, followed by burial at Christ Our Redeemer North Side Cemetery.

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