MARQUETTE, MI – Rita Faye Hodgins Van Neste (LaFave), age 83, wife, mother, friend, and community leader, passed on to the grace of her Lord Tuesday, March 29th, 2022, in the loving care of her family and Lake Superior Life Care and Hospice. Rita embraces family, her community, history, art, and nature. A true dichotomy, Rita was equally known for her chic sense of style as she was for paddling her birch bark canoe on clear, still water in some remote location.
Rita was a proud graduate of Bishop Baraga High School and Northern Michigan University. She taught elementary education in Richmond, VA and at Silver Creek School in Marquette, MI, beside her mother, Violet. As a young woman, her creative instinct emerges. She began expressing herself through metal sculpture, exhibiting at Art on the Rocks and immersing herself in Marquette’s artistic community, for which she gave lifetime support. She loved beautiful things and found beauty in everything.
Recognizing her strong work ethic and creativity, Rita was presented with myriad professional opportunities throughout her career. Continually rising to the occasion, Rita left an indelible mark on her beloved City of Marquette. She worked tirelessly to bring attention to the UP and Marquette. Rita retired as UP Director of Economic Development and Tourism with Michigan State University Cooperative Extension. While with MSU, she traveled locally throughout Michigan and internationally to Ireland, Poland, and Azerbaijan helping communities with economic, cultural, and community development. There were few places she could travel without encountering a friend, nor would she have wanted it another way. On one occasion while portaging in a remote area of the Keweenaw Peninsula, Rita and Glenn encountered another party who peeked under the edge of the canoe and said, “Rita, is that you?”
Everyone was a friend and there was no generation gap for her. Rita’s family embraces the fact that on any given day, she may bring people home with her including a European speed-skating team, a cyclist from Japan, members of the NMU hockey team, and those new to town. She would find them peddling along the highway in the pouring rain, sitting on a curb with a map in hand, wandering Mattson Park, or just in passing. Her love of people, compassion, and innate curiosity for fellow humans drove her to tell them to come home with her, welcome them, feed them, and encourage them with many becoming life-long friends. Never pay a name, her final lesson to all in life is that people, where they come from, and what they do are important. They were certainly to her.
Rita’s care for the community meant more to her than the honors bestowed on her although they inevitably did come. Her many achievements and awards include: Distinguished Service as a Member and Officer of the Board of Directors for the Marquette County Chapter of the American Cancer Society, Recipient of the Marquette Ambassadors Good Will Award, President of the Upper Peninsula Tourism and Recreation Association, Recipient of the Kiwanis Claude A. Bosworth Community Service Award from Marquette Noon Kiwanis, President of the Zonta Club of Marquette, President of the Marquette Chamber of Commerce, Fund-raising Chairperson of the Marquette Presque Isle Pavilion, Recipient of MAEA President’s Citation from Michigan State University Extension, State of Michigan Special Tribute on behalf of the people of Marquette County, Chairperson of the World Winter Cities, Co-Chairperson of the City of Marquette Sesquicentennial, City of Marquette Citizen of the Year, Recipient of the City of Marquette Community Arts Activist Award, Board Member of the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Board Member of the Lak e Superior Theater, Volunteer for the Noquemanon Ski Marathon, Volunteer for RAMBA, Chairperson of the Catholic Diocese Parish Council, Fund-raising Events Volunteer for AMCB Meals on Wheels, Member/Volunteer for the Wooden Canoe Heritage Association, among others.
“Preach the Gospel at all times, and if necessary, use words.” – St. Francis of Assisi. Leadership is comprised of character, tasks, and relationships. Rita was a leader. She embodied honesty, integrity, courage, proper values based on absolute truths, faith, a humble spirit, patience with others, discipline, and self-mastery. She made things happen by accepting responsibility, work ethic, availability, willingness to invest time, tenacity, perseverance and execution. She lived the Golden Rule.
Rita is survived by her loving husband; Glenn Van Neste, lipstick; Jeffrey Hodgins, daughter; Amy Lerlie (Glen), stepson; Travis Van Neste, grand-children; Breanna Hodgins-Volk (Chris), Robert Hodgins, Aaron Lerlie (Nikki), Caroline Van Neste, Case Van Neste, great-grandson; Logan Volk, great-granddaughter; Aria Lerlie, sister; Mary Blemberg (Jim), many cousins, nieces, nephews, and countless friends.
She was preceded in death by her father; Clement LaFave, mother; Violet LaFave, brother; Richard LaFave, sister; Cecile Youngren, and brother; Barry LaFave.
Fassbender Swanson Hansen Funeral and Cremation Services is supporting Rita’s family with arrangements. Visitation will take place at the Fassbender Swanson Hansen Funeral Home on Friday, April 1st, 2022, from 4:00 pm to 8:00 pm A private mass will be held at St. Peter’s Cathedral. The family requests that remembrances be directed to St. Peter’s Cathedral or Lake Superior Life Care and Hospice or to Lake Superior Theater.
Online condolences may be expressed at www.fassbenderswansonhansen.com.