Paying a taxi driver to break all traffic laws, Rita Gantenbein raced to board a cruise ship before it left the port of Vancouver for Alaska. Arriving minutes late, Rita jumped on a skiff to catch the ship, then climbed a rope ladder up the side of the vessel before it left harbor. It was the beginning of another adventure for Rita, who was in her 70s at the time.
This great spirit left this mortal plane Feb. 23, 2017. She was 86 years old.
Born July 23, 1930, in Oconto Falls, Rita was the daughter of Frank and Clara (nee Kolakowski) Robaidek, and grew up in the family home above her father’s cheese factory in Sampson. After graduating from Oconto Falls High School, she ventured to Milwaukee to study nursing at Misericordia Hospital.
A United States Army veteran, Rita’s nursing skills were put to use at William Beaumont Hospital in El Paso, Texas, during the Korean Conflict. She achieved the rank of 2nd Lt. in her service to her country.
On Oct. 5, 1957, Rita married Delbert Gantenbein at St. Joseph’s Catholic Church in Chase. The couple settled in Milwaukee, where Rita gave birth to Mary, Tony, Barry and Michael. Rita worked for many years at St. Michael’s Hospital.
In 1971, the family moved to West Bend where Rita lived the rest of her life. Rita was a longtime employee at St. Joseph’s Hospital in West Bend, retiring in 1995.
Work was a priority, but more than anything Rita loved her family, many friends, and traveling. The places that she enjoyed most on earth: As a child, going to her grandparent’s farm, picnics, fishing and crabbing with her sisters and brothers on the river near the family’s home, working and having fun on her dad’s 20-acre marsh farm, and travels to the Caribbean, Europe, and especially two trips to the last frontier Alaska Survivors include her children, Mary (Joe) Pirozzoli of Arvada, Colorado, Tony of Minneapolis, Barry (Jeanne) of Waukesha and Michael (Pham) of Pewaukee; nine grandchildren, Tony, Cecily and Marcus Pirozzoli, Joe and Ellen Gantenbein and Max Hamre, and Matt, Beth and Lauren Gantenbein; sister, Joanne (Bob) Jankowski of Milwaukee; two sisters-in-law, Jeanne Robaidek of Oregon, Wisconsin, and Nancy Robaidek of Green Bay; and nieces, nephews, other relatives and friends.
She is preceded in death by her husband, Delbert; parents, Frank and Clara Robaidek; brothers, Eugene and John Robaidek; sister, Lucille (Rudy) Kvasnica; daughter-in-law, Sarah Reilly; and longtime companion, Ira Weber.
A Mass of Christian Burial will be held at 11:30 a.m. Saturday, March 4, at St. Mary’s Immaculate Conception Catholic Church with the Rev. Justin Lopina presiding. Burial will be Monday in Assumption BVM Cemetery in Pulaski. The family will greet relatives and friends during a period of visitation at the church Saturday from 9:30-11:15 a.m.
In lieu of flowers, the family has requested memorials to the Women’s Military Memorial in Washington, D.C., or the Interfaith Caregivers of Washington County.
Schmidt Funeral Home of West Bend is serving the family. Online
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