R.I.P. Rita Smith 2011-2012 President Rebekah Assembly of Illinois
Please Keep Brother Bob Smith and his Family in your Thoughts and Prayers
When reflecting on the life of Rita Smith, words such as faithful, selfless, and loving rise to the surface. With her warm and kindhearted personality, she naturally drew others to herself and was a friend to all. Although she treasured her role as a mother, Rita just may have argued that being a grandmother was her greatest reward. She was a humble woman who was content to always be behind the scenes, yet the lives she touched in her own special way are too numerous to count. Life will never be the same without Rita here, but her brilliantly colored collection of memories will remain a lasting treasure for generations to come.
As the year 1945 dawned in America, our eyes were focused on the hostilities of WWII overseas. Countless young American men and women were called to fight for the cause of freedom while those who remained stateside became well acquainted with rationing on common goods such as coffee, paper, tin, and sugar. People planted victory gardens in order to lessen the demand on the nation’s food supply and gathered around radios to hear the news of the day from the front lines. This same year was one of great anticipation for one young couple from East St. Louis, Illinois, as they were eagerly awaiting the birth of their new baby. Their wait was soon over as baby Rita made her arrival on January 9th of that year and was welcomed into the arms of her parents, Walter and Mary Rose (Malmberg) Gardner. She was one of three children in her family and was raised in the family home in East St. Louis alongside her brother, Glen, and her sister, Sherie. In order to support his family Rita’s father owned a few truck stops and restaurants while her mother focused her attention on her family and home.
New and exciting changes were in store for Rita as a young woman when she met the man with whom she would share the best years of her life. His name was Robert Smith and they met at church. He was with a group of teenage boys who all sat in the back row of the church, and it was actually Bob’s friend, Jim Clark, who noticed the young Rita. She caught Jim’s eye, and he poked Bob when she walked past him, declaring that she was the woman Bob would marry. Bob then tripped Rita to get her to notice him and although his action was a little less than chivalrous, he was able to get her to agree to a date. Their first date was spent at the Ice Capades in St. Louis, and from there a dating relationship began. With a desire to build a life together the couple was married on April 13, 1963, at Aldersgate United Methodist Church in East St. Louis.
The couple settled into married life and was thrilled with the birth of their daughter, Renee, in 1965. With the birth of another daughter, Michelle, in 1967 their family of four was complete. Rita fully embraced her role as a mother and instilled a deep faith in her girls through the example she set each day. Of course there was a time and place for instruction, but Rita enjoyed having fun with her girls. There was always an open door policy at the Smith home for other kids as well, and many viewed Rita’s home as a safe haven for kids in need of a listening ear or a tender touch.
Although Rita’s main focus was always on her family, she enjoyed a fulfilling career as well. She earned her associate’s degree from Wabash Valley College and then went on to earn her B.S. degree in education from Indiana State University. Rita was a school teacher for 28 years including many years spent as a reading specialist and an authority in early childhood development. She primarily worked with kindergarteners and first graders within the Jasper County School District, the Massac County School District, and the Mason County School district until she retired in 2006.
There were so many things that meant so much to Rita through the years. She possessed an unwavering faith and was viewed by many to be a prayer warrior. For many years Rita was a member of Asbury United Methodist Church, a member of the United Methodist Women, and a member of the Rebekah Assembly of Illinois. In October of this year she was installed as the president of the Rebekah Assembly at the banquet her grandson escorted her to. With many years of service to those around her, it was nice for Rita to finally be recognized for her unending love for those around her. She was also a member of Phi Theta Kappa and Kappa Delta PI as well as a member of P.E.O. With her free time Rita enjoyed playing board games, primarily youth and family oriented games.
As the years went by Rita continued to delight in and care for her family. When grandchildren joined the family she couldn’t have been happier, and spending time with them quickly became a favorite activity. She created precious memories baking cookies and making chocolate chip pancakes with her grandchildren that will never be forgotten. Her devotion to Bob was unmatched - so much so that he describes his beloved wife as his life. When he needed extra care, Rita set to work and was fully content in doing so without any recognition or praise. She always had a festive home and got into decorating for all the seasons including fall leaves, spooky things, and pumpkins in the fall in addition to snowmen in the winter and leprechauns in celebration of St. Patrick’s Day. Rita went all out as even the bathroom got decorated!
A woman of unmatched character and grace, Rita Smith was a gift in the lives of those around her. She was a stranger to none and a friend to all who had no enemies. With a special place in her heart for children, Rita inspired people of all ages to be their very best each day. She will be deeply missed and warmly remembered.
Rita Smith died peacefully on December 16, 2011, at her home in Bourbonnais, IL. Rita’s family includes her husband, Bob, of Bourbonnais; two daughters, R. Renee (Randy) Edmondson of Des Plaines, IL and C. Michelle Gelso of Metropolis, IL; grandchildren, Megan, Libby, and Matthew Edmondson and Katie and Paige Gelso; brother, the Rev. Dr. Glen (Kayla) Gardner of Grande Blanc, MI; and sister, Sherie (Jerry) Huber of Fenton, MI. Rita was preceded in death by her parents. Visit with Rita’s family and friends on Tuesday, December 20, 2011, from 4-8 p.m. at the Kankakee Chapel of the Schreffler Life Story Funeral Homes and again one hour prior to Rita’s celebration of life funeral service on Wednesday, December 21, 2011, at 1 p.m. at Asbury United Methodist Church in Kankakee, IL. A Rebekah service will be held Tuesday at 7:00 p.m. also at the funeral home. Burial will follow the funeral service at Grand Prairie Cemetery in Bonfield, IL. Memorials can be made to Asbury United Methodist Church or to the Rebekah Scholarship Fund. Please visit www.lifestorynet.com where you can leave a memory or sign the online guestbook.