Rita Deutsch - beloved wife, mother, mother-in-law, grandmother, actor, singer, teacher, mentor, and aerobics kick boxer - died August 4th from lung cancer. Rita was born March 24, 1932 in Elizabeth N.J. to Maurice and Sarah Blinder. During her childhood, she lived with her parents, brother, uncle, and grandparents above the family-owned Economy Stove in downtown Elizabeth. In the mid-1940s, the family moved to a house in a neighborhood shared with other immigrants, Jewish, Irish, Italian, and Greek. In Elizabeth, Rita attended the all girls' Battin High School with good pals Roseanne, Florrie, Hindy, Janet, and Joni. Rita and her many...
Rita Deutsch - beloved wife, mother, mother-in-law, grandmother, actor, singer, teacher, mentor, and aerobics kick boxer - died August 4th from lung cancer.
Rita was born March 24, 1932 in Elizabeth N.J. to Maurice and Sarah Blinder. During her childhood, she lived with her parents, brother, uncle, and grandparents above the family-owned Economy Stove in downtown Elizabeth. In the mid-1940s, the family moved to a house in a neighborhood shared with other immigrants, Jewish, Irish, Italian, and Greek.
In Elizabeth, Rita attended the all girls' Battin High School with good pals Roseanne, Florrie, Hindy, Janet, and Joni. Rita and her many friends named themselves the Double Quints and remained in close contact throughout their lives. Although Rita was unable to attend their 65th Battin High School Class Reunion in 2014, Joni kept her in the loop, sending updates and photographs from the event.
Rita attended the University of Vermont for two years, and then Simmons College in Boston, where she majored in business and Spanish. She worked as an executive secretary when she finished college, commuting each day on the bus from Elizabeth to the Lever Brothers office in New York City.
In the summer of her 21st year, vacationing in the Catskills, where family members had a kuchelein, she was introduced to Leonard Deutsch. The two married in 1954 in Miami. The rabbi was not credentialed and the band played so badly that the newlyweds laughed their way down the aisle. Despite this inauspicious beginning, Rita and Lennie were married for 61 years.
They had four children: Phyllis, Marjorie (1956-1992), Jo, and Steven. As a young wife and mother, Rita expressed her natural vivacity as PTA president (multiple times) at Kenwood Elementary School, coordinator of the yearly carnival, and pianist for the annual Christmas show. Her yuletide piano performances instilled forever in her Jewish children all the words to virtually every Christmas song ever written.
For summers, Rita orchestrated wonderful family vacations, which included trips to Sanibel Island, New York City, Vancouver, Yellowstone, the Grand Canyon, Las Vegas, Disneyland, Boston, and Maine. As Rita was an early exercise fanatic, these trips always featured a lot of hiking.
In her 30s, Rita became an early aficionado of aerobic dance, even entering competitions. Exercise also came in the form of swimming, beginning with hundreds of laps in a neighbor's pool. She attended extremely challenging fitness classes at the University of Miami's Wellness Center until almost the end of her life. These included kick-box aerobics, "butts and guts" and Zumba. Although she was three times older than most of the other students, she not only kept up, but outdid many of them.
Rita loved classical music, as well as Frank Sinatra, Steve and Edie, Judy Garland, Barbra Streisand, Nat King Cole, the Beatles, Harry Nilsson, and Willie Nelson. She especially loved the Broadway musical theater, and saw dozens of musicals with her family on the Great White Way. Sadly, her biggest dream – to become a Radio City Hall Rockette –was never realized. Fortunately, she was able to channel her urge to perform into several critically acclaimed performances in Ring Theater musicals at the University of Miami in the first decade of the 21st century.
By the 1970s, Rita's natural inclination to liberal politics led her, with her daughter Jo, to the first National Organization for Women (NOW) meetings in Miami. She influenced her entire family with this early and ardent commitment to feminism and equal rights. Rita remained a political activist for the rest of her life.
With her two eldest daughters in college and more time on her hands, Rita returned to the University of Miami, where she obtained a Master's degree in English Literature in the mid-1970s.
Two major events transformed Rita's life in the early 1980s. Her beloved daughter Marjorie, only twenty-seven, became disabled following surgery for a brain tumor. Rita and Lennie lovingly cared for Marjorie in their home for nine years, until her death in 1992.
In addition, in 1980 Rita began full-time work at the University of Miami in the office of Student Academic Services. A few years later, she became head of the Department. Serving as Assistant and then Associate Dean in the College of Arts and Sciences for over 30 years, she managed a large office of freshman advisors, coordinated freshman planning and events, implemented and oversaw the prestigious Foote Fellow Program, and advised hundreds of students in the College of Arts and Sciences. One expression of campus-wide recognition was an invitation to accompany the Hurricanes to the 2002 Rose Bowl.
In addition to this busy day job, Rita taught classes in Women's Studies & Gender Studies, Judaic Studies, and American Studies. Her teaching earned her awards as Woman of the Year for Distinguished Teaching, and Professor of the Year.
Other awards garnered during her long and impressive career at the University included the May A. Brunson Award for Outstanding Contribution to Women on Campus, Outstanding Employee of the Year, and the Faculty Senate James W. McLamore Outstanding Service Award. She was also tapped for the University's exclusive Iron Arrow Honor Society.
For her extensive service in the University of Miami's Women's Commission, she was memorialized upon her retirement in May 2013 with creation of the Rita Deutsch Spirit of Excellence Award.
Rita will be remembered with great appreciation and love by her husband Leonard, her children Phyllis, Jo (Teresa Williams) and Steven, three grandchildren, and hundreds, if not thousands, of colleagues, students, and friends whose lives were enriched by her wit, intelligence, and compassion.
As for Rita herself, we are convinced she is doing a high kick in the chorus line upstairs.
The family would like to thank all of the nurses from VITAS Hospice who so lovingly cared for Rita in her last weeks of life.
In lieu of flowers, donations can be made to Teton Botanical Garden, Jackson, Wyoming; The National Women's History Museum, Washington, D.C.; or a charity of your choice.
The National Woman's History Museum: https://www.nwhm.org/support-nwhm/
Teton Botanical Garden: http://tetonbotanicalgarden.org/