Rita S. Graff, 85, Woodstock, died peacefully after respiratory complications Wednesday, Jan. 9, 2013. She was born Nov. 29, 1927, in Chicago to Frank and Eleanor (Jaszkowski) Gurtowski.
She spent her childhood in Chicago alongside her brother and sisters. After graduating from Carl Schurz High School in 1945, she worked for A. E. Nielson. In 1946, following World War II, she met former United States Marine Corp Private Al (Alois) Graff at the American Legion.
On April 19, 1947, she married Al Graff. Together at the Polish Ponderosa, they raised seven children and cared for a 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. She was a life member of the Wonder Lake Woman’s Club, and there was always room in her 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. In 2011, she moved to Woodstock to be closer to her Illinois children.
Survivors include her seven children, Karin (Jim) McGrath, St. Petersburg, Fla, Jerry (Judy) Graff, Wonder Lake, Susan Larson, Redwood City, Calif., Ken (Jo) Graff, Wonder Lake, Dan Graff, Dunedin, Fla., Denise (Jim) Graff Ponstein, Woodstock, and Russ (Holly) Graff, Capron; 12 grandchildren, Missy (Charlie) Klimkowski, Ringwood, Derek (Bonnie) Graff, Wonder Lake, Chance McGrath, St. Petersburg, Jarret (Stacy) Graff, Wonder Lake, Justin McGrath, North Hollywood, Calif., Travis (Ashleigh) Graff, Springfield, Nicki (Martin) Boswell, Pewaukee, Wis., Morgan (Matthew Nagel) McGrath, Cincinnati, Ohio, Danny (Lindsay) Graff, Woodstock, Jacob Graff Ponstein, Woodstock, and Reaganne and Addison Graff, Capron; 12 great-grandchildren, 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; and a sister, Delores Galkowski.
She was preceeded in death by her husband; a grandson, Brandon Ware, Bradenton, Fla.; a brother, Leonard; and three sisters, Mildred, Marie and Leona.
A celebration of her life was Jan. 11 at Schneider-Leucht-Merwin & Cooney Funeral Home, Woodstock. Visitation and the funeral Mass were Jan. 12 at St. Mary Catholic Church, Woodstock, followed by a celebration luncheon in the church hall. Internment will be at Florida National Cemetery, Bushnell, Fla.
Donations can be made in her memory to Gavers Community Cancer Foundation, P.O. Box 1724, Woodstock, IL 60098.