Rita Rosso Haugh, 96, died Wednesday, March 15, in Lawrence. She was born Nov. 11, 1920, in Minneapolis, Minn., the daughter of Dan Rosso and Paulina Peterson. She married Oscar Haugh on Dec. 20, 1947, in Minneapolis, Minn. and they moved to Lawrence in August 1950, where Oscar started teaching at KU.
She graduated from Edison High School in 1938, where she was editor of the yearbook. Her father, an Italian immigrant, had a third grade education, and her mother, a Swedish immigrant, an eighth grade education, but both emphasized the importance of school. Every Saturday and summers during high school and college, Rita worked in a Danish bakery in Minneapolis, gaining a reputation for her beautifully decorated cakes. She graduated with a degree in elementary education, with minors in art and geography, from the University of Minnesota in 1942. She taught fifth grade with nearly 50 students in the class in Lindbergh School in Dearborn, Michigan, and later taught fifth grade at the demonstration school at Wisconsin State in Superior. Oscar brought his university students to observe her teaching and was quickly smitten. Shortly after they married, she “retired” to become a housewife and mother. While Oscar finished his PhD dissertation from the University of Minnesota in the summer of 1950, she gave birth to their first child, also named Rita. In 1953, son Dan was born.
She enjoyed many university activities including basketball, football, plays, concerts, and lectures. She was active in many groups and organizations in Lawrence. As a parent, she was involved in PTA, Girl Scouts, Boy Scouts, and Luther League. As a university wife, she was an officer in Newcomer’s Club and University Women’s Club. She was a long-time member of Zodiac Club, which she hosted at Presbyterian Manor twice in the last two years; she helped plan Zodiac’s 120th anniversary in 1997. She was the last surviving founder of the Endacott Society, the KU Retiree’s Club, where she particularly enjoyed the Gardening Group, Ten O’Clock Scholars, birthday parties and potluck dinners.
Much of her time and effort served Trinity Lutheran Church, where food was often the focus: she helped with Fellowship Hour between services, more than 32 years of preparing funeral meals, the Advent Brunch, several smorgasbords. In 1967 she was elected the first woman to serve on the Church Council, when the congregation was 100 years old. She was also lector, communion helper, worked in Altar Care, and was a president of the Lutheran women’s group, and was the first woman on the property committee, where she led the work on renovating the upstairs kitchen. She was chair and a member of Christian Education, worked in Vacation Bible School and taught Sunday school.
She was an early member and president of the Jayhawk Audubon Society and enjoyed early morning treks to see birds in Kansas and everywhere she traveled. She was also an avid gardener. During 23 years of living at Sprague Apartments on the edge of the KU campus, she planted trees, flowers, and a flourishing vegetable garden. She appeared on Jayni’s Kitchen cooking show in 2008, sharing Swedish foods for Christmas.
She and Oscar enjoyed traveling the USA and the world. They spent many Augusts in Minnesota visiting extended family. In 1960-61 they were part of the KU group that went to help the University of Costa Rica for two summers. While Oscar set up the English as a Second Language program, Rita provided social gatherings and dinner parties several times a week so that the Costa Ricans and Americans could gather in a relaxed setting. Before going to Costa Rica, she studied Spanish and was quite capable in conversing in Spanish. In college, she had studied Swedish, her first language, spoken with her mother, and later in life studied Italian. Both languages were beneficial when they went to Sweden to visit relatives and when they went to Italy to search for her father’s family. Beyond that, they traveled yearly to visit her sister in Acapulco, Mexico, to England to visit author’s homes, and to Japan, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and more than 10 trips to Europe including Spain, France, Germany, Switzerland, the Netherlands, Belgium, Sicily, Greece, and all the US states except Alaska. She took a week-long ocean cruise on Allure of the Seas for her 90th birthday with her daughter and family.
Survivors include daughter Rita (Bill Oates) of Coral Gables, FL, son Dan (Jay) of Lawrence; grandchildren Elizabeth Oates (Paul Ochoa), Daniel Oates, Alden Haugh and Emily Haugh; her sister, Laura Rosso; nieces and nephews in Minnesota, North Carolina, California, and Hawaii; and Janne Skold and Eva Sodling, cousins in Sweden, and their children and grandchildren. She was preceded in death by husband Oscar, brother Paul, sisters Melba and Elizabeth, and a nephew.
Visitation will be from 3 to 5 pm Friday, March 17, at Warren-McElwain Mortuary in Lawrence. Funeral services will be at 11 am Saturday, March 18, at Trinity Lutheran Church, 1245 New Hampshire St. and a reception will follow in the church social hall. Private inurnment services will be held at Pioneer Cemetery.
Memorial contributions may be made to the Oscar and Rita Haugh Telecommunications Classroom at the KU School of Education through the KU Endowment Association; to Trinity Lutheran Church; or to the Endacott Society through the KU Alumni Association and may be sent in care of Warren-McElwain Mortuary.