Run For Rita 

Another Run for Rita? you never know 

Rita Stories

Hello Spyksma family,
I am a nurse at McKennan that took care of Rita during her sickness.  We all fell in love with Rita and the family immediately.  We all miss her and hope the family is all doing well.  It's people like Rita that make our job worth doing and that make it so hard to do.  We all still talk about her and Jeff and the girls.  We miss her very much.  See you at the race.
Melanie Johnson

To Autumn,
It was your years at Apple Tree that brought you and your whole family close to my heart.  Your mom became more than a parent, she was a friend.  It always amazed me that no matter how she was feeling, or what she was going through, she always asked about MY life.  To me, my problems were nothing compared to hers, but she always made me feel that my worries were real too.  She continues to be my life inspiration and help in the hard times.  I miss you too Autumn.  You were always a shining student and a joy to have around.  May you and Brooklyn fly as high as your mom and live your life as beautiful as she did.  
Amy Hamman

I can't say that I knew Rita as a friend but I had the pleasure of working with her for a short period of time at the Avera McKennan Fitness Center.  I knew from the moment I met her that I liked her.  She was such a geniune, caring person and immediately made every person she met, whether it was a fitness center member, an interested party or someone like me, an employee, feel like they were special.  One night when we were both responsible for closing down the center, we were visiting about our personal lives and came to realize that both of our significant  others were Rock Rapids men.  We had a chuckle about how small the world is and how we must have found the best two men in the world...and Rock Rapids was the place to find them.  Who could imagine?  :)  I remember her big blue eyes and how I thought she was such a beautiful person, not simply because of her physical presence but because her eyes convinced you.  She barely knew me, but yet, as I walked into t! he fitness center to give my resignation because I was expecting my first child, she took me into a huge bear hug and squealed "Congratulations!"  Rita and I ran into each other at a scrapbooking party a few years later and again, there was a big hug and squeal when we recognized each other.  I didn't stay in contact with her and hadn't heard of her struggle with cancer and finally losing the battle against it.  Shannon Thedens sent an e-mail about walking in October and I felt the need to send my blessings to Rita's family so forgive the lateness of this. I can't imagine losing a wonderful person like this from my life.  God bless your family and Autumn and Brooklyn...please know that your mother was a beautiful person who touched my life.
Jackie Wells

My Favorite Rita Moments –
•        I remember first meeting Rita in college, after Lisa introduced us, and thinking how beautiful she was. Her sparkling her blue eyes and gorgeous dark hair were just striking. I thought she was going to be way too sophisticated to hang around “freshmen” (Holly and I) but come to find out she was a little crazy, so kind, and had such an awesome sense of humor (yes, I think she almost made me pee my pants that first time I met her, because I was laughing so hard at her stories) that I was so hoping we could be friends. And we definitely became friends…with many more almost pants peeing moments!!

·        Rita took a few of my clothes to South Padre Island one year for spring break. She called me right away when she came back, and I was so excited to hear all her crazy spring break stories, but the first thing she did when I asked her how her trip was, was burst out sobbing. Come to find out, among a few other unfortunate events in Padre, that the red suitcase that had my clothes in it got rained on and turned some of my clothes a nice pink color! Although the pink did not come out, I did forgive her and did let her borrow my clothes again!
•        A few other college memories include……us at the HOBO house partying; Rita always falling asleep, many times at the bar (the Chevy), before anyone else was ready to go home; Rita always trying to talk her way into getting a free keg cup at house parties – which most of the time she did; her never being shy…always getting the “scoop” about certain guys for her friends; and always being able to make people laugh
•        Rita, the born saleswomen, easily talked our way into getting a free limo ride with a bunch of guys to and from a country concert in Sioux Falls.
•        After college, Rita and I went to Hobo days to party with all the girls still in college. We stayed at an old Rainbow co-worker of Jeff’s. The next day, after recalculating the previous day’s events, we realized we were in Ray’s Corner for 12 hours straight…minus one trip to George’s Pizza!
•        I remember how beautiful she looked on her wedding day….and her not wanting the “silver pumpkin” decorations to look a little strange.
•        Rita was so excited to be a new mom ….she just beamed with joy! She was just as excited to be a mom for the second time….but her advice to me was never go to the hospital without a boy and girl name if you haven’t checked the sex of the baby on an ultrasound! I’ll remember that!!
•        Rita, always a little daring, “accidentally” kicked her shoe on the awning of a building in downtown Lincoln. Needless to say, there were a few drinks involved prior to the incident. My future husband, Scott, had to climb up on the awning of the building to get the shoe before they would let Rita step foot in the next bar.  
•        I am so thankful that Rita got to share in my wedding day and parties- it made my wedding so much more special that she was there. She looked so beautiful and was such a big help to me, little did I know how sick she was.
•        Rita is such an inspiration to all. Her famous quote when I talked to her after she was diagnosed with leukemia was, “but I can’t complain.” No matter how terrible she was feeling she would always say that somewhere in the conversation. She lived life to the fullest, always kind, always willing to do anything for others, always ready to run or waterski and never short of some funny story or humorous line! I do not think I will every meet someone that had the sense of humor she did and carried herself with such grace and beauty. She was so full of love too. She was never short to tell you how much she loved you or to give you that delicate, but strong hug. I feel so fortunate to have been her friend. I love her and will miss her dearly!
Kelli Schreiner

I will always remember how Rita called me "Sara Bear."  I will always remember her laugh, her smile, and her kind heart.  And most of all, I will remember how much she loved (and still loves) Autumn and Brooklyn.  Her eyes and voice would shine when talking about them.  

Autumn and Brooklyn...always remember how much your mom loved you.  She will always be with you and watching over you.
Sara Swenson

I wanted to share something about Rita but it's not really a story but more like what when we first met, what I think of her and how much she means to us.  

I met Rita back in the fall of 1992 when we were college freshman!!  Entering a world which we just wanted to fit in and make friends.  We lived in the same dorm called Waneta Hall at SDSU.  I remember meeting Rita and thinking 'she is adorable'!!  Rita has the most amazing smile and most beautiful eyes!!  She is such a bubbly, happy person that you just want to be around her.  

There was a big group of girls that started making memories at SDSU.  I believe that God knew what he was doing when he had us meet, play flag football, take biology together and have fun times in whatever we did together.  I know I am blessed for having Rita in my life and will forever cherish all the times we had together.  God Bless You Always.
Sara Horner     

Brooklyn and Autumn,
Your Mommy has a very special spot in my heart. I hired her at the McKennan Fitness Center in 1997. She worked so hard at making sure everyone that came through our front doors very happy. She hugged members and made sure their experience here was very special. She called they all honey and touched their lives and their hearts. One of the very special things she did for me was when my Mom was sick with cancer. This was only 3 months after we opened the fitness center. I wanted to be by my Mom’s bedside through her 3 weeks in and out of the hospital. Your Mom made it possible for me to do that. She worked really hard so I could be with my Mom as much as I wanted. I had a very special relationship with my Mom just as you did with yours. When my Mom went to heaven I had to miss work another week and your Mom made it possible. I will never forget what she did for me. I was starting a new job in a new facility with new employees and had to miss a month of work. I could not of done that without your Mom. She was gracious, kind, beautiful, and loved you both very much. I thank God that I was blessed with her in my life. She will always be your guardian angel watching over you and with you at all times.
God Bless You,
Jackie Haggar-Tuschen

I love the idea of sharing stories about Rita, but I am having difficulty expressing the type of person she is by detailing one (or two, or three) short tales.  If I had to sum up all of Rita's amazing qualities in one word, it would be 'genuine'.  Sorry I can't do better than that, but in my opinion that one word says a whole lot.

Hope things are going as well as can be hoped for,

Dan Springman (Duece)

In trying to remember a story about Rita , I was also trying to remember when we’d first met. I then realized that our family heard of Jeff’s girlfriend at college from friends and cousins at SDSU long before Jeff himself introduced us to Rita☺. When our family finally did meet Rita, we knew immediately that we really liked her. Rita became the sister that I never had. We always found joy in the fact that we were family and still enjoyed spending our time together. The October trips to the Omaha Zoo and the week long stays in the summer were always an extra special treat!

· I also smile when I think about Rita as a mother. In the summer of 2000, Kory and I were quietly keeping the secret of a 2nd pregnancy until our first doctor visit. We were wanting to be sure that everything was alright before announcing our baby news, when we got a call from Jeff and Rita. They were so excited to be pregnant and expecting in February that Rita just couldn’t wait to tell!!! I remember telling Jeff that we also had news. . .a baby in January. Baby, Oh Baby. Allie and Megan were born early on December 29 and Autumn would arrive in February. At times the three would pass as triplets.
Rita was an awesome mommy. For her that meant that she was careful to follow the expert’s advice about when to take the pacifier away, to switch from bottles to a cup, to start potty training, etc. I remember many times talking with Rita as we were planning family gatherings. We would swap stories, laugh at our girls, and then I would hanging up the phone thinking, “crap”. . . . . . . now I need to get rid of the pacifier, need to use the sippy cup, need to get the girls trained.

· Rita kept me honest. As a mom of twins it was easy to get comfortable and not press on, but I knew that trips home would be more pleasant if all the girls were “on the same page.” Most recently I remember Rita’s inner strength. The past year has been one full of ups and downs for our family. There were many times that we packed up to make the 6 hour trip home and arrived feeling down about the medical dilemma at hand. In fact Rita and I began to call it the “Carty curse”. It felt like every time we planned to be together, leukemia called her back to the hospital or presented unforeseen problems. Without fail, simply spending time talking to Rita over the phone or seeing her in person always left me feeling better. I will so miss the “Hey Julie” on the other end of the line. She was a comfort to me when it was she who needed to be comforted. Amazing! Even now as I type this letter on a day the Rita was not expected to live, I am in awe. Just yesterday she informed Jeff that she would like to travel to our home one last time and “play a round of golf”. She’s one of a kind. That special kind of person who is so rare, and I will miss her dearly. It is truly a blessing that she was part of my life.
Aunt Julie Carty

I  think most funny moments really need to be experienced, rather than told about, so forgive me if you fail to see the humor in my memories of Rita. I met Rita at Dex training 6 years ago.  She was the young woman sitting in front of me in class.  As an ice breaker for the first day of class we were suppose to have people sign a square on the page if the statement in the square applied to them.  The object of the game was to be the first to have all the squares signed by your classmates.  One fellow was one square away from winning,  He needed someone to sign off that they disliked cats.  He asked Rita if she "hated cats".  She looked at him and sweetly said that "hate" was a really strong word and that while she wasn't really wasn't fond of cats, she didn't think she could sign her name to that statement. square.  While he tried to re-word it with her someone else got the winning signature!

· Also during this training time, we were driving back to Minneapolis one evening and spotted this gigantic orange ball in the sky. We decided as we drove closer to it,we would be able to determine what it was.  But no matter how many miles we drove we just couldn't get close to it. You can only imagine the things that went through our minds. We decided it was probably a business sign or maybe one of those promotional balloons new businesses use to attract attention..  After about 2 hours and a much darker sky we realized it was the moon.  We had a good laugh at our selves that night.

And finally, she was in Omaha at an advanced training class,and she said she thought she might be pregnant.  We decided to do an early pregnancy test. So after class we made the purchase and went back to my place so she could "take the test".   Rita took the test and laid the stick on the vanity.   I came in,  picked up up the stick  eager to see what it said. ..  Rita read to me the
directions...." leave  stick lying  on a flat surface for 2 minutes.   OOPS!  We laughed till  we cried!  (Rita was in fact pregnant with Autumn)

I will close by saying that as the years went by and I left the company, re married and moved away, Rita and I remained friends.  We both remarked that no matter how much time had passed between conversations, it was like we had just talked yesterday. The last time I talked to Rita, the topic was not about her, but about her family.  Rita  told me how much of a "rock" Jeff was to her, and how much she hated telling her brother that the marrow transplant wasn't working so well.  She knew he would take it personally, and she didn't want him to feel like he had let her down. Her wish was for her two beautiful daughters to have a healthy mom. I am so blessed to have found a friend like Rita.
Sheila Chance

Although I cannot say I knew Rita as well as many others, I do know that if I lived a whole lot closer we would have been great friends. We just clicked...with the stories, laughs, and even a few tears we shed in just the number of days we spent getting to know one another. I met Rita and Jeff for the first time in the summer of 2003.  Todd had told me all about them. I knew that Rita was going to be someone really special and I knew that Todd thought the world of both her and Jeff. He had described her as "The nicest girl he has ever met, a beautiful person on the inside and out". Autumn and Brooklyn will learn that for a man to say that about any woman, she must really be something else. That summer we went wakeboarding out on the lake, but unfortunately Todd and I were not able to stay around to celebrate the 4th with them and to see all the fireworks.  I was so impressed though with meeting Todd's friends for the first time.  They were all so nice and so friendly, especially Rita.  Something a little different than we we see back in Las Vegas.  We all agreed that next year we would spend the 4th together if we were back in South Dakota. So, this past summer we did just that.  We went out to the lake with Jeff, Rita, Dayna, Dave,
Brent, and Kristie and of course Autumn, Brooklyn, and Karsyn who truly made the night very entertaining. Impressive, heartwarming,caring, genuine, always positive, beautiful, and so so sweet....these are only a few of the words that come to mind to describe the kind of girl Rita is.  This past summer of July 2005, Todd and I were able to spend much more quality time with many, including Rita and Jeff.  I was in awe of all she had been through and yet how she never failed to be positive and cheerful about everything...even her illness.  On the 4th of July, we all spent the day together on the boat and then spent the night watching the fireworks while our captain Jeff drove the boat and took us to see all the best sights.  It was a beautiful night and truly we were all glad to be there together.  Autumn was so cute.....she had told her mom and
dad that she wanted to see the "big" fireworks...she wanted them right above us. No, not in front, but they had to be right above our boat. Well, that did not happen exactly the way she wanted and she was kinda upset.  Rita was holding her and gently told her that "it was important to appreciate the beautiful fireworks that we were seeing".  Rita also told Autumn that "she needed to have a better attitude and enjoy herself" and she was sure to point out all of the different colors and styles. Rita told Autumn that it would be hard for her to have a good time if she felt that way so she needed to change the way she felt.  Some big fireworks did come, and they were right above us, but what I remember most was when Autumn turned to her mom and said, "I'm sorry I wasn't being nice about the fireworks, mom. I am having a good time enjoying these!" And just like that, I witnessed a true example of the kind of mom I wanted to be and it was just like Rita.  What a beautiful lesson she taught Autumn and how happy Autumn now was,...just content watching the fireworks in her mom's arms and making comments like "That was gorgeous!  Did you see that one mom? Oh, wow, that is just beautiful"  The rest of us just laughed at how mature  Autumn was for her age.  In the next several days, the men spent some time together while the rest of us just hung out.  I
was never one to bring up her illness...but for some reason the subject was up and we talked about my job as a high school counselor.  RIta told me about how she would like to work in the hospital and help patients that have just been diagnosed with leukemia to adjust to their new changes ahead.  We talked about this for a long time....the ambition and motivation and experience she had led me to believe there could not be a better person for a job like that.  This is who Rita is....the one who no matter how much she has suffered or is sufferering, is so unselfish, and so willing to help everyone else. We talked about family a whole lot. One day while I was there, her dad must have called her about 6 times....and it was just the cutest thing I had ever seen. you could just tell that they had a great and healthy relationship.   I longed to know
how they had such a strong relationship and realized I was only seeing a glimpse of how much she truly loved her entire family. We talked about how neither of us were close to our dads when we were younger...they both traveled so much. Rita told me though how she and her dad have gotten a lot closer as she has gotten older. Autumn, Brooklyn, and Jeff though were her world.  Since being diagnosed, she said she has made a point to take long walks as a family or at least try to get them to go.  We had some laughs about that as well. All she wanted was time with her family, just them, together for more than just a few minutes of a busy day.  These I know are only a few memories, but Rita has made such a difference in my life.  She has made me appreciate each day I have been given, she has made me a better person, a better wife, and someday a really good mom.  I will always think fondly of seeing her with her own family and the love they share.  I am so blessed to know her and to be lucky enough to spend a few of her precious days in this life together, as friends.
Shana and Todd

I'm the fortunate person who has a great podmate and special friend.  I could never think of one story but stories everyday that make me smile. I know how much Autumn prefers wearing pretty dresses over jeans!  I know the hard work Jeff put into building their home and how much Rita admires his ability.  The excitement and pregnancy with Brooklyn and what color to paint her room.  How much love a person can have for their family, and how important family is.  I have met a lot of your family through pictures and stories we share about what we did over the weekend. Camping get togethers, trips to the zoo,
holidays, and visiting family and friends. How lucky am I  to have such a friend who is so kind & caring & would drop everything to help someone else. I'm sending my love, hugs and prayers-
Pat Ford

I can remember like it was yesterday when Rita came back to tell me that she was pregnant.  Her faced just glowed!  I have never seen a pregnant woman so enlightened by the onset of a new addition to their family.  Rita you are a role model for other woman.  I have never met someone with such a passion.  You can always tell that no matter what comes up you seem to always remind yourself of what is important and that has been your children, husband, and family.  
Autumn & Brooklyn are beautiful just like their mother!  Rita, just knowing you has helped make me a better mother and person.  You are BEAUTIFUL in every sense of the word!

Jill K. Adams

I am having a difficult time coming up with one single memory to share of time spent with Rita.  I can remember meeting Rita in college and have many (funny and sometimes embarrassing!) memories to share, but that is probably best saved for another time.  Outside of the times of laughter, I can honestly say that every serious conversation that Rita and I ever had ended on a positive note because of Rita's influence.  Rita has always seen people for their best qualities and I can't remember a single time when she had a negative comment or attitude about a person or even a situation at hand.  She always helped me to see that there was a reason behind everything that happened and to try to react positively to it.  I loved getting the occasional calls from her to get together for lunch and catch up.  We didn't get to see each-other on a regular basis, but she has always been the type of friend that you could pick up right where you left off, no matter if it had been days or months since we'd last seen each-other.  I forever looked forward to those lunches! Since Rita's illness, I have one memory in particular that will remain with me for the rest of my her frail little body was lying in her hospital bed and she was in pain that day, I sat with her and we talked about Heaven and what we thought it was about.  Rita said to me that if God's intention was for her life on earth to end, that she would watch over my daughter, Mara, in Heaven and asked that I do the same for her precious girls here on Earth.  I will do everything I can to fulfill that wish and hope that I will always have a connection with you, Autumn and Brooklyn...may God and the Beautiful Angel on your shoulder always bless you and keep you safe!
Jenni Struck

I remember all the advance planning,  each year,  to decide what she and Autumn would be for Halloween.  She has so much fun planning,  implementing the ideas,  and then trick or treating.

Rita and I have "our girls" in common.  Autumn was born exactly a month later (to the day) than my grandaughter Sophie.  We shared alot of stories, and did alot of comparisons about their early years.  I sort of adopted Autumn,  as she was nearby,  so I could watch her grow anddevelop.  My Sophie lives on the east coast,  and I see her a few times a year.  For Autumn and Sophie's second birthdays they both got baby doll cribs.  Autumn's was apple green,   and Sophie's was white,  handcrafted by Cal.

Late in the year 2003 (I would say Nov. or Dec.) I saw Rita at Hyvee,  and she told me she had "news."  Having just retired from Dex, I felt a little  "out of the loop" on what was happening with my former family there.  She told me she was expecting a sibling for Autumn,  but she hadn't told anyone at the office yet.  I felt so privileged to be one of the first to know,  and we did a big hug in the grocery isle!

You and I were pod-mates at work.  We shared the same ups and downs of the day.  I always admired your wisdom,  and sound reasoning.  It seemed you could analyze a situation and make a good decision very quickly.  I always wondered how you developed that talent.  I treasure our friendship and feel blessed,  and that you were placed in my presence.  We are all travelers in the wilderness of the world,  and the best I could hope for was to find you,  a special friend.

Prayers and blessings.       I love you,    
 Jeniene Peters

I remember the first time I met Rita. We were at a party at Shram's house. Rita was there with some of the other girls. She was so very nice! I remember thinking what beautiful dark hair she had and such a nice person! We were all watching a new video on MTV for Blind Melon. Rita commented on adorable the little girl was in the bumblebee suit. I don't know Rita as well as the other girls do, but I do know that she is such a kind and caring person. Always smiling and happy. Always good things to say about everyone. We were both pregnant at the same time and as we were talking about our babies, she was so excited about her unborn child and also talked about how great her family was. Rita is a very special person. One of those people that truly touches everyone she meets. I am so glad I met her that day back in college. Marin Bortnem

I met Rita the very first day at SDSU as we were moving into good 'ol Waneta Hall.  It was the hippest dorm that everyone wished they could get into.  Our "favorite" RA Jules introduced us because she knew we both liked to play sports.  Rita seemed very nice and we hung out during some orientation things.  The next time we ran into each other was in the community shower, we were lucky to have the only dorm on campus with those.  After that we were friends for life. We spent the entire freshman year doing everything together (we really didn't pick up too many  other friends until our sophomore year).  Lots of intramural sports, aerobic classes and a lots of learning the college ropes together.  We both thought we would have to drop out at one point.  I didn't have a student loan check there, and Rita realized we needed to study more than an hour for a biology test.  Good thing we both had older brothers to help us along.  I still remember meeting one brother and then found out there were two more there just as good looking. We spent the next three years planning our living arrangement for the next year so that we would be together.  Who would have thought the first person you would meet would end up being one of the best friends you would ever have.  I remember thinking how beautiful she was her dark hair and light eyes, and i wasn't the only one, all the guys we met felt the same way.  It didn't take me long to realize how beautiful she was on the inside as well.  I have never met someone that not a single person could think of something bad to say about.  My family fell in love with her too, after one bad spring break of Rita having to hang out with them.
Those four years are still the best time of my life and I know in large part due to Rita.  I'm am so glad we were able to remain such good friends with time and distance between us.  I will always cherish our Thursday survivor nights, which turned into Thursday lets look at Autumn nights.  She was such a beautiful baby we would spend all night just studying her.  Rita is such a wonderful mother, I have never seen anyone make it look so easy and natural.  I see so much of her in Autumn already.
I will miss Rita everyday until I see her again, but also know that she will be right here with all of us. I am grateful for each day she has been in my life and know how much sunshine and love she has brought to it.  

· I love you Rita! Lisa Schultz

One special memory I have about Rita is from just a couple of years ago.  Rita and Autumn stopped to see Nick and I right after he was born.  Autumn would have been about 2 at the time.  I remember watching Rita with Autumn (a toddler at the time) and thinking... Wow!  What a great Mom Rita is!  She was so gentle but strong and so encouraging all at the same time.  I remember thinking to myself... Rita is a friend who I will be calling in the future for "Mommy Advice" because she is so good at being a mom!  She has always related so well with kids and they all love her!  Before Rita and Autumn left that day I had offered Autumn something to drink... Little Autumn, who had been pretty shy up until then, spoke up in a loud voice and said, "Yes, water please!  It makes your poo poo soft, right Mom?"  Joe, Rita and I laughed and laughed and Joe and I have laughed at that story many times since then.  Obviously, Autumn had been given good advice from her Mommy! As I have known Rita over the years it's very clear - Rita is an AMAZING mom, an AMAZING wife, an AMAZING daughter, an AMAZING sister, and an AMAZING friend and still so much more!  I feel so blessed to know Rita and to call her my friend.  She has had an incredible influence on me and so many people.  I have always admired Rita, but as I watched Rita this past year on this journey, she has ceased to amaze me with her spirit and her courage.  Rita is such a brave person and I like so many others am better because I know her!
I love you Rita!
Marica Rase

When I think of Rita....some of the things I think of....

*Waneta hall at SDSU

*mud volleyball in the freezing cold

*Spring break at South Padre Island...and the ride in the van there and back!

*halloween parties at the light house and Chevy's

*Rita meeting and falling in love with Jeff!

*living a life of luxury at the hobo house! Trying to fix it up...ha!!!!!

*naps on the couch

*bowls of cereal

*Christmas shopping at the mall and getting interviewed on TV about Christmas traditions..both of us saying something dorky about having to do the dishes before opening presents!

*emails at work (a lot of them-oops!)

*water skiing; she's just good at everything!

*love for her children...savoring each precious moment....even before the leukemia....  Being
such a good mommy....

* A gentle-spirit, a kind heart, good natured.....someone you can't help but LOVE!
Jinny Struck

I worked with Rita at Dex Media. Last year, the first week of October, Rita, Pat Ford and I were driving back from a meeting in Omaha.  We were having a nice time chatting all the way home.  Rita was in the back seat pumping milk for Brooklyn.  It was so hard for her to be away from her precious family that means so much to her. I had just gotten some Livestrong bracelets that are for support for cancer research which was started by Lance Armstrong who is a cancer survivor.  I have experienced cancer situations in my family so I wanted to give the bracelets to my friends.  I gave one to Rita.  She said "what's this all about, I have never heard of it".  Unfortunately, the following Friday, Rita had gone to the doctor and was immediately put in the hospital and put on chemotherapy.  I cannot believe the irony of how this happened.  Our lives can change in a second.  It is a good thing that we do not know what lies in our future. I have had lots of fun times with Rita at work.  Her husband and Autumn and Brooklyn were very important to her.  She always had a positive attitude.  She lived her life to the fullest.  She faced her illness with strength and perseverance.  She is a role model to us all.
My thoughts and prayers are with you.
Judy Donahue

Rita Memories......
*When Jeff surprised her the night before their wedding with a beautiful new setting for her
diamond and wedding band.  She was so excited and had big tears of joy.  Jeff was so proud to
give it to her.  
*Sending out "baby" pictures of Cassie's first Halloween (Cassie was in costume).  They really
needed a baby!  I had Cassie's picture hanging on my refrigerator until Autumn came along!
*Scrap booking with Rita at their old house in the spare room.  We had it all set up with two tables
and LOTS of scrap booking stuff on them.  We worked so hard on those Creative Memories
books!  She always got a lot more done than me!  We had to always tell each other how cool our
pages looked because we needed the encouragement to continue the daunting task of sorting
and putting pictures in the albums.  I say daunting because do you know how many pictures we
take of our kids???
*Just hanging out at each others houses watching the cousins play.  
*I remember reassuring Rita that all would be JUST FINE on her first solo flight to visit Lisa in CA.  
Well......her flight was delayed, she missed her connecting flight, and was late getting there
leaving Lisa trying to figure out what in the world happened to Rita.  Ooops ....sorry Rita--I guess
those things can happen.  
*She was one of our first visitors at the hospital when we had Jack.  She loves those babies!
These are just a few and I know they may not be the best. Please don't feel like you have to use
them all!  
Stacie Bickett

Your mom is the most amazing person I know!  She always puts other people first and goes out
of her way to help them.  There are so many special memories that I have with/about your mom,
it's hard to pick just one.  But the one that sticks out most in my mind is when I had my first
doctor's appointment in Sioux Falls after I found out I was pregnant with Ashlyn.  I was so nervous
and scared.  So your mom took off work to come with me.  She knew all the right questions to ask
and made me feel so relaxed.  I was so glad she made the time to come with me that day!  
Afterwards, she took me shopping to buy my first baby clothes and then she treated us to ice-
cream.  What I thought was going to be a very stressful day for me, turned out to be one of the
best days...because of your mom!  

Your mom loves both of you so very, very much!  She has beautiful eyes all the time, but I have
only seen them really sparkle three times in my life.  The first time I saw that twinkle in her eyes is
when she married your dad.  But then I saw it again when each of you were born.  She was so
proud to show off her new baby girls.  She will always love you and be proud of you!!

Aunt Angie Bickett

My special memories about your Mommy are so many. I used to work with her for a company
called QwestDex, where they make the telephone books. I remember when she was hired, I
thought "What a beautiful young woman", and that was only the start of it. She ended up being
the most thoughtful, helpful, respectful, loving person I've ever worked with. I was looking for a
place to move with my family and she told me I should check out Harrisburg, so we did, and here
we are.  My family and I were going through some bad times back then, and I think God knew I
needed a special person like your Mom working with me because she really helped me through
my tough times. I always knew she was there for me and on my side if I needed her. That's your
Mom. She always watched out for me.... for everyone. She's an Angel on earth....and someday
she'll be an Angel in Heaven... I'm so thankful to God for having had your Mom in my life....

Tracey Blassl

Rita is such a good kind-hearted soul.  She is a true friend to so many.  The instance I have off the top of my head was before Rita, Marcia Rase (Rase) or I were married, Rita and Rase lived in Rase's twin home in Sioux Falls.  I was having relationship troubles and needed to sort some things out.  I called and talked to Rita in tears and she said "come on over and stay with us".  I drove over and after visiting wtih the two of them for a long while, she said, "come get some rest - you can sleep with me".  It didn't matter that it was late and all of us had to work the next morning, she was there for me with her uplifting "Everything will be alright, hon". Today all three of us are married to those same men that we spent nights talking so much about. Sorting things through, really listening as to what was in our hearts and then telling us to go for it, is a gift Rita has continuously given her friends. Somehow, even if we don't always understand it, everything does turn out alright, Rita. We love you.

Marcia Jones

My friendship with Rita was short but a special one.  We worked together at McKennan Hospital  and when I first met her I was almost intimidated by her natural beauty. But we quickly became friends and her genuine sweetness and honesty made me realize she was much more beautiful then I had originally thought because her beauty was just as much on the inside as the outside.  We had a lot of fun working togetherfor those few years. There was one day where her and my boyfriend at the time (who also worked with us) were acting kinda wierd all day long. Being secretive and wispering to each other a lot. By the end of the day I was REALLY starting to feel annoyed with them both. Only to find out a few hours later that they had been planning a surprise birthday party for me with everyone from work.  What a friend.  Some moments that stick out.... When Jeff proposed. Oh how excited she was it finally happened. Her wedding....what a beautiful bride.  When I came to see her after Autumn was born. She was so happy to be a mom.

Rita is very special. I'm only sorry that I let the busyness of life get in the way and didn't stay in
better touch. A lesson to be learned.

All my love and prayers always.
Barb Schock (Paulson)

For Autumn and Brooklyn,
It was great pleasure for me to work in the same office with your mom for the past five years. She is truly one of the most genuinely good people that I have had the opportunity to be around in my life.  She was always happy and upbeat, and she had the ability to make those around her feel happy and positive as well.  I remember the joy and pride she had after both of you girls were born.  She talked about you all the time, telling us about how you were learing to walk, to talk, and her face would just glow with the tremendous love she had for both of you.  Not only was she a treat to be able to spend time with, she was successful in everything that she put her effort into, and much of that was from her great attitude and positive outlook on life.  Your mom has so many wonderful traits that I wouldn't have enough time to list them all, but I know that all the great things she has, she passed on to you two as well.  You are both very
lucky to have the mother that you do, she is truly one of God's greatest creations.  
One of your mom's co-workers,
Todd Larson

Dear Autumn & Brooklyn,
I was fortunate enough to work with your Mother these past 6 years.  She is a rare combination of beauty and humility, strength of character partnered with   high intelligence yet with a heartfelt compassion for others.  She has a deep sense of goodness that eminates from her that it is hard to describe but noticed by all those fortunate enough to be in her presence.  It was always fun to be with your Mom. She was a great story teller and her greatest pleasure was to tell us stories about her girls latest achievements.  The greatest lesson I learned from your Mom was to live in the moment and to treasure one's family and friends.  She certainly did.

             Your Mom's friend,
Dawn Nelson

I'm a co-worker of Rita's who works out of our Dex office in Fargo, ND.  Several years back, Rita & I shared the same sales manager, Coleen Blackstone.  Coleen invited her sales team down to her lake cabin in South Dakota.  I had never been on a jet ski before and didn't want to try it by myself the first time.  I had an offer from Todd Larson to take me for a ride, and Rita also offered to take me for a spin.  I decided to go with Rita because I figured she's so sweet and petite, and I'd get a "kinder, gentler" ride for my first experience.  Boy, was I wrong!  I hopped on the back, and before I could even blink she gunned that thing and I hung on for dear life!  We were full throttle, twisting and turning, smashing into waves, changing directions on a dime.  I was hanging on to her life jacket and thought for sure I was going to rip her right off that jet ski!  I was screaming and laughing all at the same time.  By the time we pulled up to the dock, I wasn't sure I was going to be able to get off that jet ski on my own because my leg muscles were shaking so bad from being flexed in position so long so that I wouldn't fly off.  That was such an exhilarating experience.  You gave me the ride of my life, girlfriend, and I will never forget it, or you!  I learned
once again that day to never judge a book by its cover.  My sweet little Rita's got a "wild side"!  :o)

Rita, you're an awesome co-worker, salesperson, and friend.  I miss the "ND/SD Kickoffs" where we could get the sales teams together and let our hair down a little and have a lot of FUN.  You always kicked my butt on the sales performance charts, but I could never get "mad" at you because you were so sweet... and so deserving!  I have so much love and respect for you.  Your strength and courage inspire me.  You are truly a blessing to me, and to all whose lives you've touched.  You've left a footprint on my heart, dear girl!  God Bless you!

With love and friendship,
Carolyn Trana

Mine is only one of a couple of her that I have. A funny one, when she was at her first shoot with me I convinced her to do some 'naked baby' shots.  She was a little hesitant at first but liked the idea, and about 2 or 3 minutes in that beautiful baby girl gave her a nice, darkly-browned and runny present, all over her beautiful white top.  :)I felt so bad for her, and we scrubbed best we could to get it out, and finally ended up just touching them all up in Photoshop. :)  She was a sweetheart the entire time.   Nothing but beautiful smiles and a loving heart!   

When I first met Rita it was over the phone.  She was the rep for Dex, And it was her job to get me signed up for the Yellow Pages.  She was very sweet and personable on the phone, right from the start.  She was gentle and kind, even when that giant book came out, with our business listed in FARGO, North Dakota, instead of BRANDON, South Dakota, and with the number wrong!  I called to complain. I didn't care if it wasn't her fault, she was the face of that phone company, and I was upset and ready for war!. But talking to her on the phone made that an impossibility.   If you've ever seen Dinosaur (all of you mom's and dad's with little ones our age will completely get this), there's a scene where the grandfather of the tribe of monkey's picks up the baby dinosaur, perfectly ready to throw him to his doom to the rocks below and be rid of him, but then he looks up into his eyes, and is completely, irrevocably moved to compassion..well, that was me.   Yes, they'd gotten it all wrong, no, this just wasn't supposed to be, and all I could think of was the lost sales and leads. But it didn't matter, Rita was handling it, and she was so
good at her job that when she was finished, I was perfectly fine with things.  She kept in touch with the progress of that situation through email and phone calls, and she made sure that things were set straight.  Is this a story for the years, probably not, but it is a perfect testimony to her heart and her ambition, and most of all to her character. How's that for Employee of the Year?  The girl almost had me thinking I should just MOVE to North Dakota and change my number to whatever number they had listed.    :)    I think of the impact that her positive attitude has left on us all, from those of you who have known her all of your lives, to the everyday folks like me who've only had a glimpse, and I'm certain that with the time and energy she was exhausted on us all has left us with a gift that we are fools not to share and pass on.  We are the luckiest.

Thanks Rita, for your time!

Daniel C. Elliott

To Autumn and Brooklyn:

It was August of 2002 and a handful of friends had spent the weekend at the Strasburg cabin.  I was in awe of your mother.  I saw in Rita the kind of mother that I wanted to be.  Our son, Cole, was 4 months old at the time, so Autumn, you would have been 17 months or so.  Your mom was so calm, so caring, so loving.  Being a mother appeared to be so natural to her, so easy, like she had been a mother all of her life.  I couldn't understand it.  I always felt so stressed and that I couldn't get a handle on things.  When Autumn got a little fussy, your mom just calmly said that "Crabby Abby" was back and soothed you back down.  I never saw your mom get up-tight.  When
there was so much chaos going on in the cabin, she sat there, next to your daddy, with Autumn on her lap and read a book, like you were the only three in the world.  She was giving you her absolute undivided attention.

Though I am sure she never knew the impact she had on me that weekend, she changed me.  I have tried very hard to not stress about the little things.  We even adopted some of the same little sayings for our son, and now with our daughter.  When either of the kids are being a little fussy, I find myself saying that "Crabby Abby" must be back for a visit.  We call the pacifier the "paci," which I had never heard before Rita had said it that weekend.  We also call the blanket each of our kids sleep with their "loveys" after I had heard your mom and Autumn that weekend.
Your mom IS an amazing woman.  She made me feel so welcome to this new circle of friends (even though I felt so very awkward since my now-husband was your 'Aunt' Lisa's long-time boyfriend).  Your mom never once made me feel like I was an outsider looking in.  Your mom is a genuinely nice person who truly cares about other people.  The way I've seen your mom with you, Autumn, has made me, I think, a better mom for my kids.  Without even knowing it or without even trying, your mom has had such an impact on me...I will never forget her.  I am sorry, Brooklyn that I don't have any stories to share about you and your mom, but believe this: she lives in your heart and will always be there for you.  Talk to her...she will be listening.
Rita, thank you for what you've given me without even knowing.  

~Meranda Sylliaasen

I have so many fun and fond memorys of Rita from working with her at the fitness center.  She was always full of smiles and life and was always the one to cheer me up when I was down.  I will never forget the time that I put two and two together and figured out that she was engaged to Jeff Spyksma from Rock Rapids!  We laughed and were amazed at how small the world really is.  I will always cherish the smiles and hugs and I feel very blessed to have been touched in my life by Rita.
God Bless~
Shannon Hawf Thedens

When Rita was first going to College up here at SDSU, her and Lisa along with another friend, came to my apartment at Christmas time, they just kind of popped over with their Elf hats on and we went and got and decorated a Christmas tree, they wanted to do a theme tree, all red, when we were shopping we were joking about finding a red Angel, the funny thing is we found one.. It was one of the most beautiful Christmas trees I ever had, later when they moved into the house in Harrisburg, I gave them that tree. We had so much fun, and it was all so Rita.
It was my 39th Birthday, but some how Rita and Mary thought it was my 40th, the came over to my apartment in the middle of the night and put balloons and streamers etc all over my car. It so funny, of course more so because they had the wrong year.
A few years later and again my birthday, they were taking me out to eat at Red Lobster, Rita Mary and Mariah and Kate, and Pat and Stacie, anyway, Rita didn’t order a meal, she just picked off everyone else’s then ordered desserts, not sure but I think every dessert they had..

When Rita was first at SDSU, I think it was her first test, biology I think, she called me up, just crying she had gotten like a 55, and was sure she was flunking out, that she was not college material. It was so hard not to laugh, of course I told her not to worry, that 55 could easily be a decent grade, and that she just needed to study a little harder if she was worried, but that I was sure she would do fine.

One time Rita and Jeff were sitting in my office, just talking and Jeff said something about hating dancing, Rita said “you told me you loved to dance, of course that was back when you were trying to get me to like you ;)”

When Rita was about 12, I lived in Madison and so did Cathy, she was staying at Cathy’s and I was taking Rita and Bridget some place, I remember Rita was betting me that she had more money than I did, she had $35, and all I could do was laugh it was just funny how she was..

When Rita was going to School at SDSU, I would often come home and feel like someone had been in my house, and sure enough look in the sink and there would be a cereal bowl, meaning Rita had been here… I sometimes wonder if I will find a cereal bowl now..

Rita used to work at a fitness center here in Brookings, she worked many Friday nights, she would very often call me and ask me to go to Hardee’s and get her a ham and cheese, of course I would normally get her a strawberry shake and fries as well, knowing she probably had not eaten much that day…

When Rita was at SDSU I had a Blue Ford Bronco II or as Rita called it “the bucking bronc” She used to borrow it occasionally, ok a lot.. Anyway when she was first moving up her she borrowed and got a ticket for running the Rail Road Crossing when it had blinking red lights, though no train was coming, and the lights were broken. One summer she worked as a Life Guard at the Madison Pool, and lived in my trailer house that was in Madison, it was the summer Madison had a bunch of rain and floods, she had the bucking bronc, big surprise, anyway she had to drive out of the trailer park and through water up to the running boards.. Pretty scary but they made it through! She had the bucking bronc up on campus, and more than once had my magnetic computer store signs stolen off it, I guess some body got the worlds biggest refrigerator magnets!

The things I will always remember most about Rita is her kindness, and trying to find the good in all, I had a full time older person working for me we will call her Sue, she was mean to most people and didn’t really like the college students that worked there, Rita was the only one that actually got along with her at all, and I am sure it is because Rita is such a nice tolerant person. She was always the one trying to mend fences, to bring people together to make sure no got left out of things.

On the day of Rita’s funeral, one of the readings was Ecclesiastes 3:1-15 A time for every purpose, and reminded me of the song by the Byrds “
Turn! Turn! Turn!” which is that passage set to music, and very nice song. After the funeral I was on my way home and again thought of the song, I thought I should call a radio station and see if they would play it but then figured I would just wait until I got home, not 10 minutes later, I was listening to an oldies station, and There it WAS! I almost had to pull over.

Mark T. Sternhagen

These are stories that were sent for Autumn and Brooklyn I have tried to only edit to make them more readable.

The names of the persons who wrote them are at the end of stories. Make sure you have plenty of tissues handy.