Back in the late 60’s and 70’s when I was an eager-beaver Jaycee, just breaking into community service with projects such as delivering sand, hiding Easter eggs, punt-pass-and kick, the Miss DuPage Pageant, Christmas lights downtown and Last Fling, Rita Harvard wouldn’t have known me from the Easter Bunny.
However, as distant as her world was from mine, I was aware that she was “The Cock Robin Lady.”
I graduated from the Jaycees when I turned 35 and made the natural progression of joining the Rotary Club of Naperville. In those days Rotary had not yet accepted women into membership, but for some reason Rita was an honorary member and I was blessed to finally meet her. She was so gracious, lovely and positive. She immediately made me feel like we were best friends.
As time went on, Rita and I got to know each other pretty well. In 1992 she asked me to help start the Naperville Education Foundation along with friends John Matsock, Ken Koranda, John James, Ray Lenart and a few others.
In 1994 she encouraged me to chair the fundraiser for the south/east extension of the Riverwalk. I enlisted Glen Ekey as co-chair. She chipped in by serving on the committee. She also served on my board when I was Rotary president in 2005-06.
One of my proudest moments came when Rita asked me to chair the fundraiser for Fredenhagen Park. I received a call from her one day inviting me out for breakfast and assumed it was Rotary business. When we met at the Colonial Café, she was especially cheerful and glowing. Her enthusiasm for life was simply infectious.
As she laid out her plan for the fundraiser I raised my hand and said, “Rita, I’m still tired from the Riverwalk 2000 fundraiser. Every time I walk down the street and see a friend approaching they clutch their wallet and change to the other side.”
She assured me I’d be fine, continued with her plan and recommended John Schmitt as co-chair.
Rita also suggested we involve a well-known community leader right away so that everyone in town would want to be associated with the project. My natural choice was Ken Koranda who everyone knows and loves. He agreed to sponsor the Fredenhagen Park Kickoff breakfast at Naperville Country Club and the rest is history.
Over the years, I got to know and love Rita. She’ll always be remembered as lovely, gracious and the most positive person I’ve ever met.
As I mentioned above, after spending 10 minutes with Rita Harvard, everyone always felt he or she had a new best friend.
Editor’s Note: In Memoriam / Rita Fredenhagen Harvard / June 28, 1929, to June 15, 2012.