Rita Mary Wilhelm (nee Bechtoldt), 94, of O’Fallon, Illinois, formerly of Lebanon, passed away May 15, 2021, at her home in Heritage At The Colonnade.
Rita was born August 6, 1926 in Belleville, IL, the seventh child of the late Henry and Hilda (nee Cordie) Bechtoldt. In addition to her parents, Rita was preceded in death by her husband of 67 years, Eugene, and a daughter, Helen Andersen. Also preceding her in death were five brothers, Elmer, Cletus, Raymond, Robert, and Hank Bechtoldt, two sisters, Marie Zimmerman and Catherine Pingsterhaus, as well as brothers-in-law and sisters-in-law.
Rita grew up on her family’s farm in rural Belleville, IL, one of nine children. She first attended Plum Hill School in rural Belleville and later Notre Dame Academy in Belleville. Rita was unable to complete her education due to illness caused by a burst appendix. She spent many days hospitalized until a correct diagnosis was made, and her situation was dire. Fortunately, the antibiotic, penicillin, had recently been discovered. Rita was one of the first in southern Illinois to try this new drug. She recovered, but her convalescence was long, requiring a six-week hospital stay, and more than a year for complete recovery.
Later Rita worked on the farm, raising produce and animals for sale; as well as cleaning houses. On October 15, 1952, Rita married Eugene Wilhelm (of Mascoutah, IL), in Belleville. They began farming in rural Lebanon, where they started their large family of 13 children. Rita was a wonderful partner to Gene, running the household, managing the children and their finances. Each year, Rita, with the help of her children, grew a large garden and orchard, from which they canned and froze produce. She could always be seen working at one project or another; or reading a book or magazine. Cooking, cleaning, and laundry were daily tasks with the large family, and she managed the household well. She was especially known for her excellent pies with flaky crusts and her holiday cookies. Her grandchildren especially remember her ready hugs, baking projects, and sailing paper boats on the creek by their farm.
After retirement, Rita and Gene moved from the farm to Lebanon, where they lived their dream of building and owning their own home. They spent much time in their later years traveling with their children, visiting many of the national parks. Rita was a lifelong Catholic and an active member of St. Joseph Parish in Lebanon for more than 60 years.
Rita’s love for her family was evident in everything she did. She was a loving wife, mother, grandmother, and great-grandmother. She is survived by 12 of her 13 children: David Wilhelm of Woodbury, MN, Thomas (Joan) Wilhelm of Belleville, IL, Ann Hammer of St. Louis, MO, Jane Crabtree (Marc Ginsburg) of Clearwater, FL, John (Kelly) Wilhelm of Trenton, IL, Mary (Mike) Matteson of Lynchburg, VA, Paul (Wendy) Wilhelm of Trenton, IL, Robert (Jane) Wilhelm of Lebanon, IL, Daniel (Chris) Wilhelm of Bloomington, IL, Pete (Jasna) Wilhelm of Coppell, TX, Mark (Lanie) Wilhelm of Lebanon, IL, and Edward (Ericka Havecker) Wilhelm of Kirkwood, MO; 22 grandchildren: Jeff Hammer, Erica Kelly, Vicki Bland, Matt, Josh, Sam, Hannah, and Jacob Wilhelm, William Matteson, Laura Arnold, Jenna Wilhelm, Tim Wilhelm, Tiffany Kruse, Katie, Nicki, and Erin Wilhelm, Alexander, Taylor, Megan, and Mackenzie Wilhelm, Isaac and Owen Wilhelm; one step-granddaughter, Jennifer Maine; and 14 great-grandchildren. Rita is also survived by a sister, Rosemary Bechtoldt; son-in-law, Mike Andersen; and numerous brothers-in-law, sisters-in-law, nieces, nephews, great-nieces, and great-nephews.
In lieu of other gifts, memorials can be made to Heartland Hospice or to Our Lady of Refuge Catholic Church, c/o Father Paul Wilhelm, P.O. Box 156, Roma, TX 78584, to serve the needy of their community.
Visitation: Tuesday, May 18, 2021, from 4 pm to 8 pm, and Wednesday, May 19, 2021, from
9 am to 10 am, at St. Joseph Catholic Church, Lebanon, IL.
Mass of Christian Burial: Wednesday, May 19, 2021, 10 am, St. Joseph Church, Lebanon, IL.
Clergy: Monsignor James Margason
Interment: St. Joseph Cemetery, Lebanon, IL.
Meridith Funeral Home, Lebanon, IL