After a years-long battle with heart disease, longtime Winlock resident Rita Louise (Sydnor) Larson passed away peacefully at home – with her loved ones at her side – on Dec. 27, 2021. She was 74.
Rita was born June 29, 1947, in Washington, D.C., and grew up in Mechanicsville, Md. The eighth of Robert and Hulda Sydnor’s nine children, Rita learned the value of hard work on the family’s tobacco farm.
A gifted typist and straight-A student with perfect attendance, Rita excelled in school. Fiercely independent with a strong will and a kind heart, Rita would lend a helping hand to anyone in need. She developed a solid sense of right and wrong at an early age, and she would later instill that moral compass – as well as her drive, compassion and kindness – in her children and their children.
Not long after graduating from high school, Rita met a handsome Army soldier, Dennis Larson, at a firehall dance in Oxon Hill, Md. The smitten serviceman was captivated by her radiant smile and infectious laugh, and the two exchanged love letters for a few months before exchanging wedding vows in Maryland on Sept. 16, 1966.
The newlyweds moved to Lewis County, and they welcomed the first of their five children a year later. With a new baby in tow, Dennis and Rita started building their forever home on 40 acres in Winlock.
Rita’s mother-in-law, Katie, transformed the young bride’s kitchen and garden into classrooms, and soon Rita mastered all things flour and flower. From limitless loaves of homemade bread to countless jars of homegrown peas, peaches, beans and potatoes, Rita fed the family a steady diet of love cultivated from the land they called home.
A highly skilled, self-taught seamstress, Rita also sewed a lot of her kids’ clothes (including matching jammies long before matching PJs were all the rage). Some of her most spectacular projects included homecoming dresses and gowns for her daughters’ bridesmaids.
An avid reader, proficient painter and talented toy-maker – cars, trucks, blocks and trains were her specialty – Rita’s true passion was gardening. She loved seed catalogs, and the rhododendrons, lilacs, azaleas, dahlias and other plants she propagated were a huge source of pride – and additional income. Rita spent years at the helm of Chehalis Farmers Market, selling cut flowers, potted plants and hanging baskets, in addition to owning her own business, Rita’s Rhodies.
When she wasn’t tending to the kids or her gardens, Rita could be found at the old Fuller’s Market Basket in Chehalis, where she worked for two decades before settling in to retirement.
Rita is survived by her devoted husband of 55 years, Dennis, at their Winlock home. Also surviving are two brothers, Russell Sydnor and Roland Sydnor; four daughters, Laura Hylton (John), Dawn Ahrens (Richard), Marcy Scheuber (Rick) and Becky Butler (Sonny); a son, David Larson (Dena); 19 grandchildren, six great-grandchildren (with a seventh on the way); numerous nieces and nephews; countless other cherished family members and friends; and her loyal little Chihuahua, Joey.
In addition to her parents, Rita was preceded in death by her mother- and father-in-law, Gunnar and Katie Larson; three sisters, Ruth Crowe, Rose Hoovier, Dorothy Watts; three brothers, Raymond Sydnor, Richard Sydnor and Robert Sydnor; and a brother-in-law, Louie Larson.
The family plans to hold a celebration of life in the spring, when Rita’s prized rhodies are in full bloom.
In lieu of flowers, the family asks that friends and loved ones do something special in Rita’s memory, such as plant a flower, pick a bouquet, stroll through the woods with a loved one, do something kind for a stranger, tell a loved one how much they mean to you or just take a moment to appreciate nature’s beauty.