Rita Faye Wagner Hayes, age 97, passed away on December 17, 2020 at Accura Care Center, Carroll, Iowa.
Visitation will be held on Tuesday, December 22, 2020 at the First United Methodist Church in Knoxville from 10:00 A.M. to 11:00 A.M. A private family funeral will be held on Tuesday, December 22, 2020 at the First United Methodist Church. The service will be Livestreamed on the First United Methodist Church Facebook page. Burial at Graceland Cemetery will follow at approximately 12:00 P.M. and is open to the public. Face masks and social distancing are required.
Rita was born on November 13, 1923 in Knoxville, Iowa to Harry Edward and Clara Louise (Guelch) Wagner. She married Norland (Toar) Hayes on November 27, 1946. To this union three daughters were born, Jill, Barbara, and Joyce.
The life of Rita Faye Wagner Hayes is a story of the strength of family and love that brought the nation and its people through hard times with resolve and courage she passed on to all of us who follow her today.
When she was 19 months old, Rita’s mother died giving birth to the last of her 8 children. Her alcoholic father soon abandoned what Rita proudly called the “Wagner Kids.” It was 1926 and what became known as the Great Depression was beginning to be felt by many families. The Wagner Kids ranged in age from 19 years to 4 months old. The kids had no choice but to face the reality that all they had to keep them together was each other. They raised themselves in humble surroundings on East Marion Street in Knoxville, Iowa. Rita was raised by her oldest brother, Arthur (Stubby) Wagner and his wife Lena. Rita called Arthur “Daddy” the rest of her life. She never talked much about those years. But she and her brothers and sisters remained close, always, sharing each other’s joys and sorrows and successes and failures as they came.
Rita graduated Knoxville High School in 1941 with good grades and as the school’s first Homecoming Queen her senior year. It was known as Sadie Hawkins Day back then. After attending Hamlin University in Minnesota for a year, she returned to Knoxville at the start of World War Two and never left her beloved community. She worked as a switch board operator at Bellamy Telephone Company and a bookkeeper for L.D. Tucker car service. After he returned from the war, Rita married Norland “Toar” Hayes. Toar also had a tough family life. Together the couple started with love of each other and little else. They began their family and became very successful business owners in Knoxville. Haye’s Bump Shop became known for it’s top-notch wrecker service and auto body work throughout the county. As a homemaker and bookkeeper for the business for 45 years, Rita still found time to serve her community.
She showed her children and then their children the importance of family love and joy. By example and instruction, Rita taught them the importance of good, hard work, ethics, responsibility, and honesty. She made time for everyone at family gatherings, which she looked forward to sharing.
Her community family was shaped by 30-year membership, including chairmanship, of the Hospital Auxiliary, member of the M.P.E.O., Mentor Study Club, 53-year membership of Chapter Laureate Alpha Kappa Beta Sigma Phi, in which she maintained perfect attendance for 50 years, six-year member of the United Way Board, and board member of the Knoxville Concert Association. She loved music and taught it to her three girls, who performed locally as the “Singing Hayes Sisters.” At the age of 70 she performed in the musical “Oklahoma.” After she and Toar moved to a new garage and business office near the Knoxville Raceway, she personally parked cars on the property and made many friends from around the country and as far away as Australia. She truly lived the lessons life had taught her throughout her life.
Some people become heroes for a single act lasting minutes or maybe days. Rita was a hero to all of us throughout her life. Instead of giving up or hiding behind self-pity, she moved forward with determined resolve. Rita is a life lesson worth celebrating and cherishing always.
Those left to cherish her memory are her daughters, Jill (Tom) Cook of Helena, MT, Barbara Wenberg of Spring Park, MN, Joyce (Dan) Smith of Carroll, IA; seven grandchildren, Nathan Cook, Natasha Cook, Heidi (Jason) Marquette, Trevor (Heather) Wenberg, Dustin Wenberg, Jenny Smith, Angie O’Donohue, and three great-grandchildren, Trevor, Layla, and Charlotte.
Rita is preceded in death by her parents, husband, four sisters, Lillian, Vonis, Vera, and Melva; also three brothers, Arthur (Stubby), Eddie, and Kenny.
In lieu of flowers, memorials may be given to the First United Methodist Church in Knoxville and can be mailed to Joyce Smith, 142 Orchard Ln., Carroll, IA 51401.