Former Waitsburg resident Rita Donnelly slipped from this life Feb. 8 at the Odd Fellows Home in Walla Walla. She was born January 24, 1924 in Camden, N.J. to Polish immigrants Joseph and Margaret C. Smith. Her sister Bernice was born in December 1924. Less than two years later, Margaret was widowed for the 2nd time, leaving her with two toddlers and five older children from her first marriage. A housekeeper when the depression came, she could no longer afford to care for the two young girls still at home. In 1931 they were placed in an orphanage run by the School Sisters of Notre Dame in Philadelphia. And their mother was able to visit them frequently at St Vincent's (The Home as Rita referred to it).
In the seventh grade, Rita started working at St Vincent's in the kitchen. She left the orphanage at 21 to work, eventually working for a good family in Ridgeway, N.J. In 1951 she began exchanging letters with Richard Donnelly, a Waitsburg gentleman she met through the 'Chaperone Club,' a Catholic magazine. They exchanged pictures and she invited him back East for her birthday party in 1952. While there, he proposed.
She came out on the train by herself, and they were married at St Mark's church in Waitsburg on May 4, 1952. Over the years she made several trips back east, and family members were able to visit her occasionally as well.
In June 1955, they began their family, with the birth of a son, Louis. An asthmatic, he spent most of his early years in hospitals, an asthmatic foundation in Tucson, and a foster family to be near to the hospital. All this took a toll on Rita, as she was all too familiar with separation from those she loved most. A daughter Rose was born to them in November of 1958.
Despite her own health issues, Rita worked cleaning houses, mowing lawns, and occasionally cleaning the post office in Waitsburg. She was a member of the American Legion Auxiliary, and active in St Marks' Altar Society. She took care of the church, trained altar servers, and taught catechism. She was widowed in 1987, and moved to Walla Walla in 2002 to be closer to her daughter.
She was a devout Catholic and devoted letter writer. Unable to drive because of epilepsy, she rode a bike everywhere. When she could no longer bike, she walked. Rita enjoyed her daily walks, even after being relegated to a walker. She loved visiting with friends and neighbors, having family dinners, and being around her grandchildren.
Besides her husband, she was preceded in death by her son Louis, brothers Michael Swiacki, Stanley 'Jack' Swiacki, her sisters Kathryn Swiacki, Agnes Andruzzi, Vicki Licketto, and Bernice Lapiola. She is survived by daughter Rose and son- in-law Sam Worth of Walla Walla, her grandchildren Jena and Casey Worth, and numerous nieces and nephews.
A Rosary will be held at Herring-Groseclose Funeral Home (315 W. Alder, Walla Walla) at 6 p.m. on Friday, Feb. 17. Funeral services will take place at St. Mark's Church in Waitsburg (405 W. 5th) at 9 a.m. on Saturday, Feb. 18. In lieu of flowers donations can be made to the Walla Walla Catholic Charities, St. Mark's Altar Society, or KHSS Catholic Radio, in care of Herring-Groseclose Funeral Home.