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Rita Ann (Held) Chandler made her way home after a brave journey with pancreatic cancer on March 3, 2023, at the age of 75. She was born to Valerius (Shorty) and Alnora (Schneider) Held at St. Ann’s Hospital in La Crosse, WI.
Rita attended Blessed Sacrament grade school, Aquinas High School and graduated from West Salem High School in 1965. During her school years, she was more interested in dancing with the live bands at Shorty’s (the bar owned by her parents) than she was in doing schoolwork. She later attended the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse and WWTC pursuing a degree in Business Administration.
She married Bruce Chandler on February 7, 1970, and they divorced in 1977. She loved nature. Being on the hobby farm they owned together riding and showing her horses were among her most memorable moments of that time.
Rita was strong, independent and hardworking. She very much valued and respected hard work in herself and others. She was employed by three companies in La Crosse: the Garment Company, La Crosse Rubber Mills and Trane Company. She was extremely persistent in her pursuit to work at Trane Company applying many times before being hired there. She proudly worked at Trane Company for 32 years and retired in 2010. During her time at Trane Co., she had much involvement in union activities and the community. She found in herself hidden talents that led to amazing experiences in the political realm as an energetic, powerful voice of change. She held many titles and won many awards for her service. One of her proudest achievements was leading the campaign to stop the taxation of benefits for all workers and she received the Award for Women in Labor as well as the Campaign Volunteers Award for that work. She was the Coordinator for the Legislative Committee for Local Union, Union Counselor for the La Crosse Area Unions, Delegate to the La Crosse AFL-CIO Council, Delegate to the Democratic National Convention in San Francisco, California in 1984, Delegate to the National Convention of the International Association of Machinists & Aerospace Workers (1984 & 1988) and Judge for the YWCA Women’s Outstanding Achievement Award. She represented Women in the Labor Movement as Labor Chairperson for the United Way and attended the Legislative Seminar in Washington D.C. for the AFL-CIO which led to her becoming a lobbyist for the Machinists Union taking to the nation’s capital many times where she met several senators and congressmen. She was an entrepreneur in business and owned and operated Star Bright Ultra-Sonic Cleaning and Star Bright Window Fashions all while working full time at Trane Company.
Rita was a powerful force of action, with an enthusiastic, adventurous, strong, determined spirit who humbly poured her heart into everything she did in her life. Rita was fun and feisty and always on the go. She enjoyed many hobbies throughout her life including gardening, ceramics, reading, knitting, working in and around her home, trying new recipes, and going to rummage sales and auctions looking for antique rhinestone jewelry. Whenever she went out, she always sported bold, sparkly, shiny, beautiful jewelry to match her bold, sparkly, shiny, beautiful self.
Rita was not blessed with children of her own, however, she felt very fortunate to be blessed with nieces and nephews to love on which she fully did. Rita’s children were of the four-legged variety. Her dogs (and in earlier days, cats) were her world and she cared for, spoiled, and loved them more than anything. They brought her immeasurable joy and filled her life with companionship, entertainment, unconditional love and affection.
Rita was the friend a friend would like to have. Her spirit lives on through her special friend Sara Kromke, whom she loved as a daughter for over 30 years, her great nephew and niece Nicholas and Gracie Kromke, whom she loved like her grandchildren, Debbie (Russ) Saley her best friend of 55 years, who lovingly cared for her in her Florida home along with many other special Florida friends until the end of her life. Rita had innumerable friends who loved her dearly.
Rita was the baby of the family, the last of six children. She is survived by her brothers Al and Roger Held, her sister Valerie Kromke, and many nieces, nephews and cousins who will forever cherish her memory. She was preceded in death by her parents, her brother Duane Held and her sister Barbara Nelson.
Rita believed that “if life isn’t going the way you want it to, it is time to sit down, write out what’s wrong, what can be done to change it, and then DO IT, because LIFE IS WHAT YOU MAKE IT!”
Rita’s door was always open for everyone and inside there was always a special goodness. Good times, good food, good drinks, good music, good dancing and lots of fun and laughter.
Memorials in Rita’s name may be made to Good Shepherd Hospice in Sebring, Florida or the Bud and Donna Somers Hospice House in Sebring, Florida.
A Celebration of Rita’s Life will be held on Saturday June 17, 2023 from 2-7pm at the Holmen American Legion.