Rita Decker took pride in orderly appearances, a point reflected in her home, where she scrubbed the windows and buffed the wooden floors at least annually.
A traditional Catholic and a multitasker at heart, she sought to usefully fill every minute of the day. With nine children to raise on the family dairy farm, doing so proved a necessity. But Rita did so with a gentle touch.
She died in late January at the age of 90.
“Mom was the one, for me, that took the edge off of growing up on a farm, where there were chores to do and animals to take care of,” said her eldest child, Leonard Decker, 68, of Dubuque.
Rita raised nine children, whose ages spanned 15 years — Leonard, Janaan Anderson, Wayne Decker, Nancy Thompson, Judy Ward, Debbie Kirby, Barb Kass, Tina Ries and Roger Decker.
Each family member, including Rita and her former husband, Robert Decker, who died in 2014, celebrated a birthday in a different month.
Rural life resided in Rita’s DNA. She grew up on a dairy farm in Asbury, Iowa, and continued to help run an operation in Cascade, Iowa, after she married.
“If it wasn’t taking care of the kids, it was out in the garden and cleaning the house,” said Tina, 54, of Monticello, Iowa.
When the family’s status as a Grade A milk producer was threatened, Rita grabbed anyone at hand and spent the day sterilizing the milking parlor.
“She always got it back,” Tina said.
Even the weekly occasions when Rita watched “The Lawrence Welk Show” became opportunities for her daughters to put curlers into her hair.
Rita’s children could steal moments of exclusive attention. Tina and Roger occasionally woke in the middle of the night and called out to her.
“Mom would take us both out into the living room, sit on the rocking chair and rock us back to sleep,” Tina said. “It was one of the few times we could get her to sit down.”
Rita valued family meals and filled the table. Her children gleefully recalled freshly baked bread, onion rings hot from the fryer and apple pie filled with the fruits plucked from the trees outside.
Rita seemed to fill the farm with magic during the holidays, especially Christmas. The children left milk and cookies out for Santa Claus and a carrot for his reindeer.
Their mother made sure bites were taken out of the treats, and she walked a calf outside to impress mock reindeer hoof prints into the snow.
Rita worked as a nurse prior to her marriage and returned to the profession following her 1976 divorce.
“Back in that time period, you weren’t even supposed to receive communion if you were divorced,” said Barb, 58, of Bellevue, Iowa. “There was a lot of shame attached to that that Mom had to work through.”
Rita became a supervisor at Bethany Home and also provided in-home nursing services. She continued to attend to families through her early 80s. Staying busy gave her a sense of purpose, Barb said.
After her retirement, Rita surrounded herself with people, filling their stomachs with warm meals and, for those who lived in distant places, their ears with regular telephone calls.
Through life’s knocks, she held fast to humor and enjoyed a bit of fun.
“She loved to dance,” said Roger, now 52 and a resident of Yuma, Ariz. “She wasn’t much of a socialite, but I just turned on some music, and I said, ‘Come on, Mom. Let’s dance.’”