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This and That — Women in history PDF Print E-mail
Friday, March 28, 2014 8:31 PM

March is Women’s History Month, so I would like to pay tribute to some of the women who have played a role in our local and area history, as well as in my own history.

We are made up of the people we have met through the years…good or bad. Now and then someone comes along who touches the lives of many, many people. Rita Turnwald was one of them. Rita was born in Columbus Grove but spent most of her life in or near Ottoville. Rita’s family lived on a farm near Columbus Grove until she was 14 years old. She was the oldest of 12 children born to Steve and Mary (Weber) Miller.

Rita graduated from Ottoville High School in 1941. Following graduation, she did housework, as did many young girls at that time. She later worked at the cigar factory in Delphos. She married Leon Turnwald in 1944. They lived in the country, west of Ottoville, until moving to town in 1999. Leon was a deacon for the Immaculate Conception Church in Ottoville. They had six children, Dorothy Flores, Steve Turnwald, Jeanette Hazelton, Agnes Ellerbrock, Irene Helms and Nancy Suer. At the time of her death on 8 March 2011, she had 20 grandchildren; 42 great-grandchildren and 83 nieces and nephews. She was 87 and the first of her siblings to pass on. Her siblings were Ethel Burgei, Julie Kaskel, Lou Madigan, Irene Horner, Dolly Mesker, Donna Schlagbaum, Norb, Ralph, Donald “Doc”, Virgil and Art Miller.

Rita was dedicated to God and her family — and then to Ottoville. She was a visionary.

She envisioned the history of Ottoville passing by without being recorded, so she decided to do something about it. She helped write an early history of the Immaculate Conception Church in Ottoville but wanted to go further. Rita knew this would take time, not just months but years. She began saving newspaper clippings. Her daughter recalled that as a young girl, he mother had her cutting clippings from the newspapers. They were stashed away until it was time to write the book. This project required several trips to the library to search records and newspapers on the micro-film. She spent years putting this book together because she wanted it to be complete and “just right”. People would ask: “Is the book done yet?” They didn’t realize how much went into it. Although Rita enjoyed the work, it would still take years of research and writing.

She put her writing on hold during the time of her husband’s illness, to devote her time to him. Leon passed away 19 May 2002. Gathering and writing helped Rita get through her grief. The book was sent to the publisher in 2005. She sold more than 700 hard-bound copies. This manuscript covered everything. There were chapters on the Black Swamp, the Miami and Erie Canal, Coming to America, farming, schools, sports, businesses, church, prohibition, organizations, the park, military history, manufacturing, the life of a homemaker, etc. You name it, it’s in the book. Anyone who did not get the book, “History of Ottoville and Vicinity, 1845 – 2001”, can find a copy at the Delphos Public Library and the Putnam County Library in Ottawa. In Putnam County, the book is known as “Rita’s Book”. In 2006, Rita won an Outstanding Achievement Award for her book at the Ohio Historical Center in Columbus.

The book is not Rita’s only accomplishment. She was a stay-at-home mom, who baked wedding cakes and made rosaries and was a 4-H Advisor for more than 25 years. Rita loved to read. She used to get books from the Putnam County bookmobile and when the branch library was established, she served as the librarian for five years.

After her youngest started kindergarten, she became a library aide for the Ottoville Schools. When her husband did his training to become a deacon in the church, she went along to get the education. She graduated in ministry and became a certified religious education teacher, serving as religious education co-coordinator for the Ottoville parish for seven years.

Rita also helped with the Ottoville Sesquicentennial and pageant, served as president of the Putnam County Historical Society for 11 years and also held each of the other offices for the organization.

The Ottoville Church Museum is a result of Rita’s dreaming and working. She credits many others for their help in setting up the museum, which is second to none in the diocese. Millie Ruen inherited the position as curator after Rita’s death.

Rita was also one of the authors of “Reflections”, a pictorial history of Delphos, Landeck, Fort Jennings and Ottoville. More recently, she helped with the “Putnam County, Ohio History and Families”. These two books are still available for purchase.

Rita was also chosen as the 1984 Woman of the Year by the Delphos Herald and was also featured as a “Good Gal” in the Delphos Herald. Also, who said “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks”? Rita got her first computer at age 83 and I got mine at age 82.

Rita’s list of accomplishments could go on and on but we might run out of paper. I consider it a pleasure and a privilege to have had Rita as a friend and fellow historian.

Although March is labeled Women’s History Month and the month of March is over, I plan to feature more Women of History in This and That on April 12.


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