Mater Dei is proud to announce that Rita (Schomaker) Winkeler will be inducted into the Mater Dei Hall of Honor on May 5, 2017, with fellow inductees Phyllis (Fox) Berndsen, the late James Kirby, M.D. and Jeff Ripperda, M.D.
Following her graduation from Mater Dei in 1973, Rita Winkeler earned a bachelor’s degree from McKendree College, a master’s degree from Southern Illinois University Edwardsville, and National Board for Professional Teaching Standards Certification. After staying home with her sons, Rita served as a third grade teacher at Carlyle Elementary School for twenty-one years, retiring in 2015. During her career, Rita assisted with the development of a new teacher mentoring program and implemented a volunteer program that paired third grade students with residents of Carlyle Healthcare Center twice per month.
Inspired by her son Mark, who is profoundly mentally and physically disabled, Rita answered our calling to “serve as our brother’s keeper” by championing the fight to cease the planned closure of Warren G. Murray Developmental Center in Centralia, Illinois, where Mark has lived since 1994. Under Rita’s leadership, the “Save Murray Center” campaign, which included fundraisers, rallies, letter writing campaigns, and meetings with legislators in Springfield and Chicago, proved successful, as Murray Center remains open.
Rita continues to advocate for developmentally disabled individuals by serving as the president of Murray Parents Association, as well as a member of the Board of Directors of VOR (a national advocacy organization) and the Advisory Board of Illinois League of Advocates for the Developmentally Disabled. Moreover, she shares her knowledge and talents for the benefit of Murray Center, Community Link, Community Integrated Living Arrangement (CILA) homes, and parents and guardians caring for developmentally disabled individuals. Finally, as a nationally certified guardian, Rita serves as a court appointed guardian for three disabled individuals, including her brother.
In recognition of her tireless efforts, Rita has earned the following honors: Public Citizen of the Year from National Association of Social Workers (Southern District), the Front Line Award from Illinois Advocates for the Developmentally Disabled, the Dr. W.P. Plassman Award from Murray Parents Association, the Humanitarian Award from the Centralia Chamber of Commerce, the Key to the City of Salem from the Salem City Council, and the Phenomenal Woman Award from Southern Illinois University Edwardsville.
As a resident of Bartelso, Rita is an active member of St. Cecilia Catholic Church, serving as a lector and member of the Ladies Sodality.
Rita and her husband Bernard (“Jitty”), a 1970 Mater Dei graduate, are blessed with three children: Robert (’99), Mark, and Adam (’06).
Established in 1997, the Hall of Honor recognizes alumni and friends of Mater Dei who have lived their lives as witnesses of her mission. The celebration will begin at 6:30 pm with Mass in the Mater Dei Chapel, followed by dinner and the induction ceremony. Proceeds benefit the Mater Dei Grant-in-Aid program. For reservations ($20 per person), please contact the office (618-526-7216).