Up Close & Personal: Rita Wolf
Honoring a Beloved Holiday Valley Ski Patroller
By Carol Fisher
A very beloved Holiday Valley Ski Patrol member, Rita Wolf, 93, of Williamsville and Ellicottville, died Sept. 11, 2017 at her Williamsville home. Her husband of 71 years, Dutch, and daughters Patti Wolf (Kohler) and Kathy Vasilius and other family members were at her side.
Rita’s Ellicottville connection started in 1957 when she, her husband, Dutch, Alma and Guido Bianchi were four of the first seven Ski Patrollers at Holiday Valley, which officially opened January 1958 (Holiday Valley is turning 60). One of the founders, Bill Becker called them and invited them to “come on down” to the newly opening ski area. Having been trained at Glenwood Acres, they came and were ready to go. Rita, a tomboy from the time she was a child, never stopped ski patrolling for 50 years. She skied until she was 80. Aside from raising two wonderful girls, and skiing and playing with her four delightful granddaughters, Kate and Laura Kohler, and Stephanie Vasilius and her sister Alexandra Pitnell, and nephew Nicholas whom she considered a grandson, Rita found time to do a variety of things. She and Dutch dragged their young family and a camper to practically every single National Park (her daughters’ words). She became an American Red Cross instructor, a skiing instructor, working for 20 years with the Valley’s Adaptive Ski Program after a fellow instructor lost a leg to cancer, and she held every board position at her girls’ school PTA. As PTA President during desegregation she helped the school, parents and students navigate the challenges of busing. Rita was an active member of the Williamsville Garden Club and she worked with her husband as the bookkeeper and secretary for their family business, Heinz Wolf Plumbing & Heating in Buffalo for over 30 years. Fellow skiers will remember that she was also a member of the Lederhosen Ski Club in Buffalo. Skiing was a major part of her life. She and her family and gal pals took ski trips throughout the United States, Canada and Europe.
Which brings me to a story that will help you understand the extra-large personality Rita was. Now, it is important to know that Rita was a bit height challenged and pleasantly full figured as I relate a story told to me about Rita’s antics by her longtime friend, Judy Gross. On one of their many Ski trips, Rita and 5 or 6 friends were at Vale, Colorado. They were standing 2nd or 3rd in line at Blue Sky base waiting for the rope to be moved to allow lift boarding. She overheard the man in front saying how much he wanted to be first on the lift. Hearing that, short legged Rita shot out of the line like a bullet, speedily skied under the rope and jumped on the first chair, laughing all the way. To be clear, Rita never sat on a chair where her feet touched the ground, say her daughters. Up she went with her friends close behind on the 2nd. She could be heard laughing all the way up, saying “next month I’ll be 78.” When she reached the top, she apologized to the man. She just had to do it. That’s how impish Rita was.
In her comments at the memorial service for Rita, Joan Reynolds told the delightful story about how she first knew that she and Rita would be friends. There Rita was, with her friend Alma, during Winter Carnival, skiing down the hill with their laundry on a line stretched between the two of them. That was their costume. Joan and Rita spent so much time together friends named them Schultz (Joan, the tall one) and Dooley (a nickname her husband called her). Clearly, Rita was the short, rounder Dooley.
Another friend, Joan Kelly shared the story of Rita trying to jump to hang her coat on a chandelier in one of the back cottages of what is now Edelweiss Lodge. She was always game and ready for a laugh. Bob Schmidt told the story at her life celebration of the surprise birthday party thrown for her by her friends which featured male strippers. This staunch Irish Buffalo First Ward Catholic loved her church but still had room in her heart for a good laugh. Speaking of her roots, folks from that area were sometimes called “Shanty Irish.” Rita would always respond upon hearing that, “no, no, we were Lace Curtain Irish.”
In the eulogy by her daughters shared for this piece, I give you this: “Words cannot describe this truly remarkable woman. Loving, tough, smart, feisty, proudly Irish, compassionate, democratic, civic minded, energetic, stubborn, fair, understanding and spiritual. She was our wife, our mother, our grandmother, our mother and grandmother in-law, our love and our light. She is an angel in heaven now but will be sorely missed here on earth. God Bless you Mom, and Rest In Peace
And, as Rita would always say upon leaving, “Toodle Loo!”
In lieu of flowers, the family suggests memorials to the Ellicottville Memorial Library, 6499 Maples Road, Ellicottville, NY, 14731 or Roswell Park Memorial Cancer Institute, Elm & Carlton Streets, Buffalo, NY, 14263.