Rita Ann Messerschmidt age 83, of La Crosse, passed away peacefully surrounded by family and dear friends on Friday, Feb, 13, 2015, at Bethany Riverside.
She was born in La Crosse, to the late John â€œGeorgeâ€ and Jutritia â€œTessâ€ (Richards) Simmerling on Feb. 15, 1931.
Rita was raised in La Crosse and cherished the fact that she lived in the house her grandfather had built in 1875 in the early days of La Crosse. She was proud that six generations of her family had lived, laughed and loved in her beloved home of 82 years. Rita attended Aquinas High School in La Crosse. It was at the local roller rink that she met a handsome young soldier Leslie â€œLesâ€ Dean Messerschmidt, on leave from Fort Mc Coy, who was wearing an â€œugly pink shirt.â€ Les learned that Ritaâ€™s lifelong passion was sewing, and she wanted to make her own wedding dress. Les asked Rita, â€œIf you accept a second hand ring, I will buy you a state-of-the-art sewing machine.â€ She accepted the offer, and they were married on May 25, 1957.
The couple loved and supported the arts. They helped their children produce neighborhood amateur theatre productions and take them on the road to local schools, hospitals and nursing homes. She was an active costume volunteer for the La Crosse Community Theatre and was given a Dionysus award for her years of service to them.
Rita loved kids of all ages and was a caregiver to many throughout the years. Neighborhood kids knew that they were always welcome, that there was a seat saved for them at the dinner table and a bed made if they wanted to stay. Meals always were made for, â€œone more.â€ She loved games and parties. As a couple, they were known for their creative, epic Halloween and birthday parties for young and old.
She and Les, were devoted foster parents to many teenagers, but it was when Michael Mitchell, John Nielsen and Thomas Oliver were living with them that their family felt whole and complete. There was much joy and love with their family of seven kids. It was during this time that she was affectionately given her nickname, â€œThe RAMâ€ (her initials) by â€œall of her kids.â€
Rita had a profound love for animals all her life. Neighborhood kids would bring homeless, stray and injured animals to her. The Coulee Region Humane Society has always been one of her favorite charities; she knew the phone number by heart.
Though Rita coped with many health issues, she appreciated the joys of a simple and uncomplicated life. The grass was always green on her side of the fence. She was never envious of others. She was happy with her life and lived intentionally, with no regret. She felt she had, â€œa great life and would not have changed anything!â€
She is survived by her husband, Leslie of La Crosse; children: Theresa (Scott) Smerud of La Crosse, Barbara (Christopher) Bielat of Lisle, Ill., Donna (Mark) Dudenhoefer of Milwaukee, and Gary (Rhonda) Messerschmidt of Menomonie, Wis.; Grandchildren: Anna Taylor (Michael), Aidan, Quinlan, Kristian and Emma Smerud; Collin and Connor Bielat; Claire, Conrad and Mary Rose Dudenhoefer; and Bauer Messerschmidt. A special thanks to the kind, compassionate caregivers at Bethany Riverside for her superb end-of-life care.
Funeral services will be held at 11:30 a.m. Sat., Feb. 21, at the Roncalli Newman Center, 1732 State St. La Crosse. The Rev. Fr. James Kurzynski will officiate with entombment in the St. Francis Mausoleum in the Catholic Cemetery. Visitation will be held from 4:30-6:30 p.m. Fri., Feb. 20, at Blaschke & Schneider Funeral Home, 1501 West Ave. La Crosse, and from 10:30 a.m. until the time of service at the church on Saturday.
In lieu of flowers, donations may be offered to the Coulee Region Humane Society, 1911 Critter Court, Onalaska, Wis.; La Crosse Community Theatre, 428 Front St. South, La Crosse; or Roncalli Newman Center.