Brayden Olmsted and Rita Simon.

Rita Simon, Champion of Volunteers

story and photo by Bob Gustin

Rita Simon is one of Brown County’s most active volunteers, a familiar sight at fundraisers and charity events for a wide variety of causes.

Her generosity comes naturally. Growing up north of Terre Haute, she says her family was poor, but her father, a farmer, stressed the importance of sharing.

“If we had extra garden produce and flowers, he would give it to people. If people came and couldn’t afford to buy the flowers, we were instructed to just let them have them,” she said.

A registered nurse, Rita got her master’s degree in public health education from Indiana University, and moved with her husband Lyle to Nashville in 1972, after he got a job at Cummins Engine Company in Columbus. She worked as a school nurse in parochial schools and ran a clinic for the Brown County Health Department before becoming a public school nurse in 1982.

“I grew up in a small community pretty supportive of children’s activities,” Rita said. As a public health nurse, her niche was working with children and promoting health, rather than treating disease.

Her husband died unexpectedly in 1995 and Rita retired from the school position in 2002. She set up a scholarship fund at the Brown County Community Foundation in Lyle’s honor, and has been active tutoring children through the Literacy Coalition, where she is a past president.

“I guess my priority is to give back some of what I’ve been able to receive,” she said, listing among her blessings the scholarships she received in college, a good marriage, two “really good” children, and many good friends.

“Rita has a huge heart for children,” said retired Nashville Elementary School Principal Carolyn Emmert. “When I first met her she was the school nurse for Brown County schools. She was never shy about advocating for a child, whether to me, the teachers, or the parents. The welfare of the children was always her first concern.

“After I retired, Rita and I worked together on the board of the Brown County Literacy Coalition. I can easily say that she was the hardest working member of the board. Wherever there was a Literacy activity, Rita was there. She is totally committed to the children of Brown County and one of the most unselfish people I have known,” she said.

Since retiring, Rita’s community activities have increased, and she has been an active traveler, going across the U.S. in her RV. Her daughter, Beth, lives in San Diego, California where she is on the faculty of the computer science department of the University of California. Her son, David, lives in Nashville and works as a materials planner for production at Cummins Emissions Solutions.

“Rita is the champion of volunteers,” said Linda Todd, who is also very active in improving Brown County. “It seems that anywhere you go in town, Rita is there volunteering.” She cites Rita’s fundraising work with the Literacy Coalition and the Tri Kappa philanthropic sorority.
“She has been president of our United Methodist

Women’s group at church and is currently chairman of the mission work area,” Linda said. “She started the sock and underwear campaign at church and provides many of the items herself. She also volunteers to fill backpacks for the BC Weekend Backpack Program. She was second vice president of the Historical Society and, in that position, found volunteers to man the Pioneer Village.” And some days it was Rita.

Though she recently left the Literacy Coalition’s board of directors after serving for about 12 years, including a term as president, Rita continues to help children learn through the coalition’s free after-school tutoring program.

“Rita’s service to the community goes beyond all the agencies and groups that she helps,” said her friend Carol Birkemeier. “She is never too busy to say ‘yes’ to a need for a helping hand. She gives of herself, never seeking recognition or acknowledgement. Her impact on our community will be a lasting legacy, and life in Brown County is better for everyone because of her.”

But Rita says her activities are not entirely fueled by altruism.

“I believe and I know from reading the research that happier people are volunteers. They live longer and are healthier. Many things I do in conjunction with friends, so there’s a social aspect to it too,” she said.

Rita Simon’s charity and volunteer work has included:

  • Girl Scouts
  • Nashville United Methodist Church
  • Brown Co. Literacy Coalition
  • Brown Co. Historical Society
  • Tri-Kappa sorority
  • League of Women Voters
  • Brown Co. Community Foundation
  • Pioneer Village
  • Lutheran Food Pantry
  • Mother’s Cupboard
  • Brown Co. Backpack Program
  • After-school tutoring
  • Love Chapel in Columbus
  • YMCA
  • Habitat for Humanity
  • We Care Gang
  • Salvation Army
  • St. Vincent DePaul
  • Fabulous 50 Women’s Circle of Care
  • American Cancer Society