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Local News

Joliet woman taught children how to live and love

Beltzhoover’s home day care was faith in action

JOLIET – Lisa Morel Las of Joliet was torn. Her in-laws no longer could care for her 3-year-old daughter, Lauren, because her father-in-law was ill. Should she stay home? Seek out day care?

Someone recommended Rita
Beltzhoover’s Joliet home day care. Lisa liked the home aspect, checked it out and was blown away.

Rita’s basement was a miniature preschool.

But it was Rita herself who swayed Lisa the second Lisa met her.

“She was just pure love,” Lisa said. “She just radiated love for the kids she had with her.”

Born to Czechoslovakian
immigrants and the youngest of five children, Rita had a childhood of hardship and poverty. Rita’s mother made jam, which Rita’s father used to barter for food, said Gretchen Troha of Joliet, one of Rita’s seven children.

Rita met her husband, Edward Beltzhoover (deceased), while he was serving in the U.S. Army and she was attending secretarial school, Gretchen said. They married the following year, and 13 months later, Rita had her first child.

The combination of Rita’s devotion to her Catholic faith and her penchant for service led her to begin her own day care.

Rita’s business was three years strong by the time Gretchen, the youngest of the seven, was born.

Half the finished basement was dedicated to the day care. It contained miniature furniture and shelves filled with books and puzzles.

For many years, the area had no TV, only Rita entertaining and education the children for eight hours, Gretchen said.

Rita gave the same attention to her children. She cooked, cleaned, packed lunches and never missed an event, Gretchen said. She volunteered at church and often went to bed at 2 a.m. and was back up at 6 a.m.

But Rita also was humble and never drew attention to herself.

“She was truly the most selfless person I have ever known,” said Christine Beltzhoover of Naperville, Rita’s daughter. “She had so much grace and class, just a beautiful spirit.”

Rita would take her day care kids on walking field trips to the fire station near her home or to collect leaves. They used the leaves in a craft and discussed the science behind them.

“I almost never felt comfortable leaving my daughter anywhere,” Lisa said. “But Rita was so calm and patient and understanding. She was exactly the sort of person you’d want your child around.”

Lauren balked if Lisa arrived early to take her home. If Lisa had the day off, Lauren would plead, “Can I please go to Rita’s?” When Lauren aged out of day care, she still went to Rita’s to “help out.” Lisa said people asked her, “Aren’t you jealous?”

“I had no reason to feel jealous,” Lisa said. “I was so grateful for this type of care.”

The care continued even after Lauren stopped going to Rita’s. Rita would bring her a Christmas ornament to hang on the tree.

When Lauren went to the state competition with Joliet Catholic Academy volleyball team, Rita was there.

When Lauren, a Harvard graduate, turned 21, Rita sent her a paper crown, which all “Rita’s kids” received for their birthdays.

In 1994 and at age 61, Rita earned her associates degree in child development from Governor State University in University Park.

The passing years and a battle with Alzheimer’s never changed Rita’s inherent personality.

Gretchen said her mother was always “as sweet as could be.” Gretchen recalled the last words her mother spoke, just days before her death Aug. 8 at the age of 82. A caregiver had just adjusted Rita’s hospital bed to make her more comfortable.

“She said, ‘Thank you,’ ” Gretchen said.

• To feature someone in “An Extraordinary Life,” contact Denise M. Baran-Unland at 815-280-4122 or dunland@shawmedia.com.

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