OUR DIAMOND IN THE ROUGH
MARILYN A. KINSELLA
Seventy-five years! That’s what our mother, sister, aunt and dear friend, Rita Virginia O’B.... K...., gave us - 75 years. Some call it the diamond anniversary. And I guess that’s what she was - a diamond. A little diamond in the rough, maybe - but a diamond none the less. Oh, she didn’t wear diamonds mind you - polished stones were more her style - more earthy. But she herself was a diamond with many and varied facets to her life.
Rita’s life wasn’t easy. She was one of 10 children living in St. Louis. There were older siblings, Margaret, Ada and Ella, and then there were Joe, Terry, John, Dorothy, Kate and Eileen. Since she was born in the wild roaring twenties, that meant that she spent her teens in the depressed hard times of the thirties. So, by the time she was only 14 - a freshman in high school, she had to drop out of school and get a job at the Brown Shoe Company to help support her family.
Then, in her early twenties, she was given a diamond by a young farmer boy from across the river by the name of Cy K..... He took his city-gal to his family farm called Pleasant Ridge. But now World War 2 was raging in Europe. So, Rita became a farmer’s wife with Cy in the army overseas.
She slowly and steadfastly became accustomed to farm life. Cooking was a natural for Rita. She took whatever bits of scrap food were around and added her trademark bacon drippings and brown sugar to make a supper fit for a king. Rita's Recipes
But soon another facet of Rita’s life was to begin. She was to become a mother to her first son, Larry. Then, shortly thereafter, followed Ken. And what stories those two have about farm life with their mom and dad. After awhile they were blessed with a third son, Dennis - the son who brought song and drama into the house.
In the late 40’s Cy and Rita became active in starting in a new parish in the hinterlands of Fairview called St. Albert the Great. Cy became one of the first trustees, and Rita became one of the charter members and past presidents of the St. Ann’s Sodality. Life seemed pretty good for the K.... family. They even built a new brick home. And just when the three boys were in school came the news that Rita was going to have another baby. Rita and Cy were overjoyed - just perhaps they would get that little girl that they wished for.
But then the curtain come crashing down - as it does in every family at some time or the other. Rita’s beloved Cy was diagnosed with leukemia and in just five short days, he was gone. Rita was a widow at 40 years of age. three growing boys and a baby on the way.
However, when tragedies happen with the O’B... or the K....., that’s when the families are at their best. Everyone came together to help Rita and her family survive. And that wish of Rita’s and Cy’s? It came true when their little girl, Susan Eileen, was born.
This proved to be turning point in Rita’s life. She was put into a different setting, so to speak. The first thing she did was to learn how to drive. The family has some harrowing stories to tell about those early driving lessons. And then, she went to get her GED, so she could get a job. Later she worked at the PSOP in Belleville and retired from the Madison County Housing authority.
Eventually, the farm was sold to the city of Fairview Heights with the stipulation that it remain a preserve for all the citizens to enjoy. She moved the brick house to the end of the road and delighted in redecorating the inside and landscaping the outside. But soon the big house was too much to keep up, and she moved to her current address on Marabeth.
Even though Rita led a busy life, she always found time to read. Whether it was a recycled paperback novel from her niece, Peggy, or a mystery from the library, she kept on reading. She loved reading so that she became a charter member of the Friends of the Fairview Heights Library and was later honored with a golden lifetime membership. She was, also, an avid crossword puzzle buff and had a remarkable mastery of words. Here are some of Rita's favorite sayings....Rita-isms
As Sue was growing up and her three boys left one by one - marriage, college, whatever, Rita found that she finally had some time for herself. You know, if you take a diamond and turn it in the sun, it spreads tiny rainbows into the darkest of corners. And that’s just what Rita did when she began her work as a master gardener.,
She began by looking around Fairview and noticing that the view wasn’t so fair. Why the only things growing, and growing like weeds at that, were businesses and malls. Something had to be done to preserve the beauty of the city that Rita had come to call her home. So, she and some other visionaries from around town started the Fairview Heights Garden Club. She again was a charter member and past president. Two of her pride and joys were the old-fashioned garden behind the log cabin and the installation of the Blue Star Marker along Old Lincoln Trail. Fairview Heights took notice of the beauty that Rita brought back to the city and honored her with its cultural award in 1971. The club so greatly appreciates all her work over the years that a new garden will be started at Pleasant Ridge Park - “The Rita Kinsella Memorial Garden.” She will keep spreading those tiny rainbows of color.
Over the years Rita and Sue kept busy going to iris shows. Every weekend from late April to June was spent designing floral arrangements, judging events, and attending a regular plethora of meetings. She won countless ribbons and encouraged her grandchildren to participate in the competitions. Each came home with a ribbon. She belonged and was active in eight iris societies being a charter member and office holder in many. She studied and became a master judge, and, eventually, her highest honor was in becoming the Illinois regional vice-president of the American Iris Society.
There was even a dwarf yellow iris named after Rita. It won a national award for its unique qualities - a perfect tribute to a unique lady.
But, Rita’s light sparkled its brightest when her five grandchildren were around - Chrissie, Amy, Brian, Paul and Michelle. Christmas and Easter weren’t your typical celebrations at Grandma’s house. Rita and Sue made events out of these occasions. After an absolutely delicious Christmas dinner, there the surprise stockings with kazoos, bubbles, and balloons, the unwrapping of a tree full of gifts and, one year, the unveiling of the Rita Kinsella look-alike doll. A doll who miraculously over the years took on the attributes of its namesake. Then, on Easter, there were eggs with hidden messages and bribed talent competitions. And, who in our family will ever forget the naming of Lucy the Goose. And, always, always hidden amongst the toys was “the message” - give Grandma a kiss and get a dollar. She just couldn’t get enough kisses from her grandkids. Did she know she didn’t even have to pay the dollar for those kisses? I think so.
I know everyone here tonight and many who couldn’t be here were blessed by the light, the fire, that Rita held. And if you looked outside on Wednesday night, September 17th , you saw a big, full harvest moon. It’s light spread across the night sky blocking out all the other stars. All except one shining object at the foot of the moon. Oh, some people will tell you that it was a planet or star. But, I think we know differently. That was a diamond inching it’s way towards the heavens paving a way for us to follow.
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