School 12


Rita M. de Werd

January 8, 2019

Rita Mae de Werd (Birner), loving wife, sister, mother, grandmother, and great-grandmother, passed peacefully surrounded by family at Koda Living Community on January 8, 2019, at the age of 88. Rita Mae Birner was born on April 12, 1930, in Milwaukee, WI. She attended Nathan Hale High School in West Allis, WI, and later studied business administration at Marquette University while working full-time as a private secretary. She was a member of the Marquette U Ski Club, active at the Cardijn Center, and took dance lessons during her time in Milwaukee. In pursuit of her dream to travel, Rita interviewed and was accepted as a flight attendant in the class of January 1954 for American Airlines. Rita was an adventurous spirit and enjoyed traveling for the airline, with frequent visits to Boston, LA, New York, and San Diego. While living in Chicago in 1954, Rita met and started dating Dr. Robert de Werd, M.D. Bob and Rita were married on June 11, 1955, in Milwaukee, WI. After Bob's time in the Air Force in San Antonio, TX, and Chandler, AZ, Bob and Rita moved their young family to Owatonna, MN, where they would raise five children together and become lifelong members of the community. To say Rita was active in the community is a bit of an understatement. As her children were growing up, Rita served their many organizations and sports teams: Rita was a Cub Scout den mother and a Brownie troop leader; she wrote articles for Let's Play Hockey; she served on the Board of the Owatonna Gymnastics Club; she taught CCD classes and was a Miss Owatonna consultant. She loved hosting and entertaining and was actively involved in the Owatonna Women's Club, Bridge Club, Owatonna Country Club, and served as a Home Ec Officer. Rita was also a talented artist and crafter and was involved in many creative pursuits, both at home and as a teacher: from candle making and macramé, to painting and knitting, she loved all forms of art and shared her talents generously. Since childhood, Rita was a grammar aficionado and an avid reader of books of many topics; she was particularly fond of Mary Higgins Clark's novels. Rita, along with Bob, was a tireless and dedicated volunteer throughout her life. Together, they gave their time and support to many Owatonna organizations, including the Chamber of Commerce, Contact, the Owatonna Arts Center, and the Steele County Historical Society. Rita also volunteered with the Women's Auxiliary at the Owatonna Clinic and hand-painted many memory boxes for stillborn babies. Rita was a long-time member of St. Joseph Catholic Church. Rita's greatest source of joy came from her own family. Her favorite saying in reference to her large and close-knit family was "we are truly blessed," a phrase often quoted by her children and grandchildren. She was a doting mother and adoring and imaginative grandmother, and a wholehearted supporter of her children's and grandchildren's high school and collegiate athletics, musical performances, and many activities. Rita enjoyed spending summers at the family cabin on Green Lake in Spicer, MN, where she was an attentive caretaker of the hummingbirds, finches, and orioles that visited her many birdfeeders and beautiful geraniums. She and Bob, with whom she shared sixty-one happy and devoted years of marriage, also enjoyed their many travels and often visited friends and family across the United States. Survivors include Rita's five children, Dr. Thomas (& Katherine) de Werd of Plymouth, MN; Bradley (& Jane) de Werd of Rochester, MN; Douglas (& Ingrid) de Werd of Willow Springs, TX; Michael (& Joni) de Werd of Chetek, WI; Mary (& David) Johnston of Rosemount, MN; eleven grandchildren, Theresa Bennett; Ryan (& Lauren) de Werd; Christopher (& Bethany) de Werd; Andrea de Werd; Sondra de Werd (& Kyle); Jesse Hellerud (& Lexy); Morgan (& Josh) Gulbranson; Nicholas (& Kylie) de Werd; Alaina (& Bryce) Sweet; Olivia Johnston; Anna Johnston; and great-grandchildren Alyssa, Lilly, Aubree, Maia, Goeller, Chase, Maxwell, Mia, Nixon, and Ashton; sister Janet Straseski, sister-in-law Eva Birner, brother-in-law Thomas de Werd, and brother-in-law Dr. Daniel (& Constance) de Werd. Rita is preceded in death by her husband Bob, parents George and Theresa Birner, Pearl Jezeski, brother Ronald Birner, sister Marieta Remington, brother-in-law Carson Remington, brother-in-law Leo Straseski, brother-in-law Dr. Maurice de Werd, sister-in-law Dorothy de Werd, and sister-in-law Diane de Werd. Friends may greet the family from 4:00 p.m.-7:00 p.m. on Friday, January 11, 2019, at the Brick-Meger Funeral Home (1603 Austin Rd., Owatonna). There will be a parish rosary at 3:45 p.m. preceding the visitation. A celebration of Rita's life will be at 11:00 a.m. on Saturday, January 12, 2019, at St. Joseph Catholic Church (512 S Elm Ave., Owatonna), with a one-hour visitation starting at 10 a.m., and a luncheon following mass at the Elks Lodge (126 E Vine St.). Memorials are preferred to the Owatonna Arts Center (435 Garden View Lane, PO Box 134, Owatonna, MN 55060). The family would also like to express their sincere and profound gratitude for the dignified and attentive care and friendship that both Rita and Bob received from the staff at Koda Living Community

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