WOODSTOCK – Rita S. Graff, 85, of Woodstock, died peacefully of respiratory complications Wednesday, Jan. 9, 2013.
Mrs. Graff was born in Chicago to Frank and Eleanor (Jaszkowski) Gurtowski on Nov. 29, 1927. She spent her childhood in Chicago alongside her brother, Leonard (deceased), and four sisters, Mildred (deceased), Marie (deceased), Leona (deceased) and Dolores.
After graduating from Steinmetz High School in 1945, Rita worked for A.E. Nielson. In 1946, after World War II, she met former United States Marine Corps
Pvt. Al (Alois) Graff at George's, the neighborhood bar and social club. They were married April 19, 1947, and began their 61-year journey together, raising their seven children and caring for their menagerie of pets, including Betsy (the dog), Maddish (the pig), Frank (the raccoon), Woolie (the sheep), and other assorted strays.
Rita always considered herself a "domestic engineer" and took great pride and joy in her home and family. In addition to working in the home, she always found time to volunteer in her community and help out friends, loved ones and strangers. Rita was a life member of the Wonder Lake Woman's Club.
There always was room in Rita's heart for someone needing help. In 1993, she was honored by the Illinois Alliance for Aging with the Illinois State Treasures Award for being a "legendary personal care assistant to the disabled, the ill and the dying." She responded to the award, which was presented to her in the grand ballroom of the legendary Drake Hotel in Chicago, with her usual good humor and humility: "I ordered new teeth," she said. "This award is costing me $1,000."
In her usual can-do style, Rita helped her daughter, Denise, at the launch of The Woodstock Independent with her group of friends, known as "The Label Ladies." She also volunteered her time at Greenwood School in Greenwood and for 27 years did the church wash for Christ the King Church in Wonder Lake, joking, "Every piece I iron gets me closer to heaven." No job was too big or small for Rita to tackle. She just loved giving in her simple way.
After raising their family and spending 70 winters in the Midwest, Rita and Al retired to Lecanto, Fla., in 1997, where they enjoyed golfing and socializing with their neighbors at the community clubhouse. She continued to volunteer at St. Scholastica Catholic Church and in her community.
Rita is survived by her seven children, Karin (Jim) McGrath of St. Petersburg, Fa., Jerry (Judy) of Wonder Lake, Susan Larson of Redwood City, Calif., Ken (Jo) of Wonder Lake, Dan of Dunedin, Fla., Denise (Jim) Graff Ponstein of Woodstock and Russ (Holly) of Capron; 12 grandchildren and 12 great-grandchildren. The grandchildren include Missy (Charlie) Klimkowski of Ringwood, Derek (Bonnie) Graff of Wonder Lake, Chance McGrath of St. Petersburg, Fla., Jarret (Stacy) Graff of Wonder Lake, Justin McGrath of North Hollywood, Calif., Travis (Ashleigh) of Springfield, Nicki (Martin) Boswell of Pewaukee, Wis., Morgan McGrath of Cincinnati, Danny (Lindsay) Graff of Woodstock, Jacob Graff Ponstein of Woodstock and Reaganne and Addison Graff of Capron. The 12 great-grandchildren include Bella Biwer, Grace Graff, Abby Klimkowski, Gretchen Graff, Lucy Rose Klimkowski, Jack McGrath, Zoe McGrath, Griffin Graff, Eddy Klimkowski, Kenzie Graff, Keasen Graff and Addie Graff.
She was preceded in death by her husband, Al, of Lecanto, Fla.; and grandson. Brandon Ware of Bradenton, Fla.
The family invites relatives and friends to join them in celebrating her life from 4 to 8 p.m. Friday, Jan 11, at Schneider-Leucht-Merwin & Cooney Funeral Home, 1211 N. Seminary Ave., Woodstock. The visitation will continue at 10 a.m. Saturday, Jan. 12, at St. Mary Catholic Church, 312 Lincoln Ave., Woodstock. The funeral Mass will be celebrated at 11 a.m., followed by a luncheon in the church hall. Interment will be in Florida National Cemetery in Bushnell, Fla.
For those who wish, donations may be made in her memory to Gavers Community Cancer Foundation, P.O. Box 1724, Woodstock, IL 60098.
For information, call the funeral home at 815-338-1710.