Before she died, Rita Mountain made two women promise they would continue the Christmas gift program she chaired for 17 years, and they will.
But Tammy Pitzen and Terry Mithun asked Mountain's permission to rename the program in recognition of her frequent title for the people who helped, supported and loved her. Thus, this year the former Ecumenical Giving Tree, which last year assisted 124 families (351 children) during the holiday season, will be named Angels on Earth Giving Tree.
Mountain, 65, who was the mother of four and grandmother of five, died Jan. 20, 2017 after a fierce battle with pancreatic cancer.
She had been a long-time member of St. Bridget Church — one of five River Falls churches that worked with the Ecumenical Giving Tree.
Mountain's role included collecting the names of families that might need help at Christmastime and sending applications to those families. The gift lists for those families were then divided among the five core churches, other local churches and Sharing Families, based at the River Falls Journal.
"The program has been successful because of all the Angels on Earth in our community who have contributed, donated and volunteered to support it," said Mithun. "So we find it fitting to change the name to Angels on Earth Giving Tree Program to honor our beloved Rita."
Pitzen said when they asked Mountain about changing the name, she began counting on her fingers the forms they would need to change and the contacts they would have to inform if they changed the name.
"I guess that was her way of giving us her blessing," said Pitzen. "I can't tell you how much I miss her. I'm sure there will be a time in the craziness that I will grab my phone wanting to call Rita for help.
"Terry and I know she will be watching over us very carefully this year and will be sprinkling down some shenanigans to let us know she's watching."
Mountain's work was a vital part of Sharing Families, which is an independently incorporated non-profit, said Judy Wiff, chairman of that group.
"Each year for many years, Rita assigned us 50 families and usually dispatched her husband, Dave, to deliver the profiles for her," said Wiff. "Her devotion to helping all the families was an inspiration.
"Last year she said she prayed to make it through one more Christmas and she did. We thank Terry and Tammy for carrying on Rita's work."
Persons wishing to contact the Angels program may call 608-571-RITA (7482) or email firstname.lastname@example.org.