Without pause for thought, Daniel “Dan” Hutzell said there are two words that really reflect his mother’s life — community and church.
A lifelong member of St. Mary Catholic Church, Rita Hutzell devoted much of her life to religious education and the choir.
“I remember being dragged all over to religion classes she was teaching and weddings she was singing at,” said Dan, her only child.
Dan and his wife, Kathleen, were students together at St. Mary Catholic School from fourth to sixth grade, until Kathleen went to public school. In time, Kathleen taught Confraternity of Christian Doctrine (CCD) classes under Rita’s supervision.
Dan, who lives in Westminster, Md., attributes Rita’s passion for helping others to her growing up in the Depression.
“She said you can always get something for nothing and turn it into something good for someone else,” Dan said.
Rita was the oldest of three children and despite how tight finances were, her father always managed to do something special for Christmas.
“We think it’s that spirit from her father that she carried into her own life,” Kathleen said.
“We had a close-knit, loving family. My father — Christmas was his love,” said Rita’s sister, Audrey Bowman of Williamsport.
The Clark family lived in a duplex on Maryland Avenue, with family members living on the other side. That made for close relationships through the generations.
Rita and her husband of 63 years, Elmer “Hezzie” Hutzell, lived in one side of the duplex for 50 years. About 30 years ago, after the last of the family residents had passed away, the Hutzells found renters who eventually bought the other side of the duplex. A close relationship developed and help was only a knock on the wall away, should the Hutzells need it, Dan said.
The couple’s large network of friends allowed for an active social life, then later, a good support system. Hezzie cared for Rita at home, especially in the last three years as her arthritis made her almost homebound and in a great deal of pain. He was hospitalized with pneumonia right after his wife died.
As Rita’s health declined, she no longer was able to garden. She was known for her garden and the thousands of bulbs she planted on their small property, Kathleen said.
She also had a soft spot for animals, especially dogs.
“I believe she took in over 100 strays over the years,” Dan said.
Hezzie, who grew up in Tilghmanton near Fairplay, and Rita met through friends in their late teenage years. Ninety days after Hezzie graduated from high school, he was shipped to basic training, then to the West Coast before heading to the Pacific, where he was in the U.S. Army Artillery.
The couple corresponded by letters during the war, until Hezzie returned home in 1946. They married in 1948 and Hezzie got a job at People’s Drugstore. Afterward, he retired from the Maryland Correctional Training Center, Dan said.
The Hutzells were not big travelers, but for their honeymoon were headed to Jamestown, Va., when they saw the signs for Williamsburg, Va., and changed destinations. They liked it so much that they made an annual trek to Williamsburg, sometimes accompanied by friends, including the Rev. George Limmer, a retired pastor of St. Mary Catholic Church.
“She enjoyed history, especially the history of Williamsburg,” Limmer said. “She said if the occasion ever arose, she’d love to work there.”
He said when he came to the parish in 1975, Rita was one of the first people he was introduced to because of her involvement in religious education. He said when the person directing the CCD program, which was for youths attending public schools, left in the late 1970s, Rita was asked to take over the paid position, which she did until 2000. She chose that year to retire, he said, because it was the 40th anniversary of her involvement with religious education at the church.
“It didn’t matter if she was paid or not. She just loved it,” Limmer said.
The Hutzells had one grandson, Sean Hutzell, 17, who was a source of pride for Rita. Sean and Rita shared an interest in creative writing, photography and reading.
“They would banter back and forth and recommend books to each other,” Kathleen said.
Audrey remembers lovingly that Rita was a typical big sister — bossy.
“She told me what to do as a child and told me what to do as an adult,” Audrey said. “And you know what, I was dumb enough to do it.”
The sisters shared a special bond and were confidants who spoke regularly, she said.
“We had a wonderful relationship,” Audrey said. “We were not just sisters, but best friends.”
Tom Clark, the only brother and youngest of the three siblings, said Rita had many gifts.
“She was an immensely talented person in many ways,” including her singing voice, her devotion to home and her writing skills, he said. She also was very bright, graduating at the top of her class at St. Mary School when it was a high school, before St. Maria Goretti High School was built, he said.
Tom, who lives outside Detroit, wondered if Rita would have moved away as he did to pursue a career if she had had the opportunity to go to college. He said the family couldn’t afford to send to Rita to college on the earnings of her father, who was a specialist machine operator at Fairchild Industries.
She turned down an opportunity her junior year of high school to audition for Fred Waring and his Pennsylvanians, a national choral group, because she didn’t want to leave home, Tom said.
“Rita was devoted to home, very much a person of Hagerstown and remained that forever,” Tom said.
He remembers being an altar boy at her wedding, as well as sharing her love for reading with him.
“She forced me to read. She fed me books that accelerated my mental acuity,” said Tom, who added that she was a natural teacher. Rita not only taught religious education, but also ran a children’s choir at the church for years and later volunteered as an English and writing tutor at Hagerstown Community College.
Rita’s writing skills were showcased when she was hired as a writer for Cracker Barrel magazine. She had gone to school with the sister of Vernon Davis, who started the magazine and asked her to write for it.
“That was a labor of love,” Audrey said.
“One of the most fun for her was the interview of Babe Ruth’s sister,” Dan said.
Audrey said Rita combined her love for history and writing when she penned the history of St. Mary Catholic Church.
“She was just very intrigued by history and genealogy,” Kathleen said.
Rita attended Mass until about the last year of her life. Since Rita was not able to get out much, four female friends from church would go to her home every Monday for Bible study. Each had known her for more than 30 years.
“A group of us met with her for two years on Monday afternoons for Bible study because she was devoted to studying the Bible,” said friend Linda Field. “It was a special time of bonding. She was very beloved.”
“It’s a personal loss, as well as the loss of a parishioner,” said Limmer, who added that the Hutzells’ home was a place he always felt welcome.
Editor’s note: Each Sunday, The Herald-Mail runs “A Life Remembered.” Each story in this continuing series takes a look back — through the eyes of family, friends, co-workers and others — at a member of the community who died recently. Today’s “A Life Remembered” is about Rita C. Hutzell, who died May 19 at the age of 83. Her obituary was published in the May 23 edition of The Herald-Mail.