In the early morning hours of October 7, 2023 Rita Catherine Gonzalez of Chatham NJ skated away.
Rita was a tiny baby (4.5 lbs), born at home in the North Bronx, New York on August 17, 1929. She was the second of five children of Attilio Ciliotta and Rose DeMarco, both immigrants from Italy. Her father and brothers started a successful ceramic tile setting and mosaic business during the Great Depression of the 1930s with jobs in and around NYC, including the Holland Tunnel. Youngest brother Eddie suffered brain damage in utero. He had daily grand-mal seizures throughout his 30 years. Rita and her siblings were deeply affected and carried the experience as they grew in the family and in later life. Rita maintained a strong connection to her adoring relatives in Valle di Cadore, Italy.
After grammar school, she and her lifelong friend Rosemary Imundo (Walsh), enrolled in a Manhattan pre-nursing school. They volunteered as “Candy Stripers” (aides) in a local hospital, which convinced them they were not suited for such work 🙂 Rita’s social life included double dating with Rosemary, often at parish weekend dances at various Bronx Catholic churches. She first met Efren W. Gonzalez at one of these gatherings and they began to date regularly at the end of their high school days. Rita & Efren were married June 14, 1952 (Rosemary was her maid of honor of course, and Rita hers).
The newlyweds moved to Efren’s mother Grace’s apartment with a Castro Convertible temporarily in the living room.
Their first three children soon arrived: Efren Thomas born in 1953, Janet Marie in ‘54 and Barbara Ann in ‘55. Rita learned to take a nap whenever the children napped. The new family moved to St. Louis, Missouri where Lisa Marie was born in ‘63. Efren was transferred to NJ and the home in Chatham (borough) was purchased just in time to welcome Lara Elizabeth to the family in ‘68. Rita was a wonderful cook who managed a household of 7 masterfully. Her clashes with the cheese grater and salad spinner provided her audience with comedy gold. She sewed many clothes for herself and the kids with a great eye for color and style.
When all 5 kids were in school, Rita reclaimed some of her time to resume her passion: figure skating. She became adept at ice-dancing, enjoying many hours at South Mountain Arena and other local rinks in her custom skates. She watched broadcast competitions with great devotion and interest. Rita was a mover who also enjoyed, walking, bike riding, dancing, yoga and cultivating roses. Active members of St Patrick’s Church and school, Rita could often be found on lunch duty or popping and bagging popcorn with Efren for church movie night in the auditorium.
All her kids recall she threw great birthday parties with wonderful homemade party bags. Rita was an engaging, creative, loving mother – despite her challenges with anxiety and depression. She taught several of her kids to drive a stick shift, made sure they all had swimming lessons as well as music, dance and art. Rita made sure all her children spent plenty of time outdoors, climbing trees, making snow angels, watching birds and critters, rolling in the grass, splashing through the sprinkler, making sand castles at the beach, and getting knocked down by waves only to get up again with delight. She tended broken hearts, scraped knees, a few fractures, throbbing toothaches and many fevers. All ailments were cured by “Star Soup” pastina pasta with homemade chicken broth. She instilled a love of flowers, birds, music, art, drama, romance and parmigiana cheese in all of them.
Over the next years, Rita and Efren welcomed 7 grandchildren and 3 great grandchildren into their lives. Rita and Efren travelled around the country and the world including; Hawaii, Alaska, Canada, Bermuda, England, Portugal and Italy. They were also jazz aficionados – when Efren wasn’t playing piano or drums himself, they attended many concerts and performances in the NY Metro area. Thanks to Rita, skating and jazz aligned at a gathering with skating friends for lunch at Super Foodtown. She heard world renowned pianist Rio Clemente playing his heart out for shoppers and the lunch crowd – a 30+ year friendship began. Rio, Rita and Efren became inseparable friends on many bandstands and beyond – fun fun times.
In 2016 they retired to Juniper Village at Chatham (Twp) and welcomed their 2 great grandsons during this time. They enjoyed this environment, made many friends and brought Jazz to Juniper (including Efren on piano or drums). His #1 fan Rita had VIP seats to every concert. The couple celebrated their 90th birthdays there with a big, live- streamed party, with friends and family from near and far. If not for the COVID virus they likely would have stayed.
More presciently, they moved back to the Chatham Borough house in March 2020 to be looked after and cared for by their two willing, loving daughters: Lisa and Lara.
Dementia was an unwelcome companion for Rita these last years. Her care at home supported, challenged and adjusted to this. Her environment was intentionally and naturally engaging, creative and loving, despite the challenges of the disease. “She had better care than Rose Kennedy” states daughter, Janet Gilmour. In the end she knew who she was, her husband, the names of each of her children, along with those surrounding her in her final hours. Thanks to technology, her entire family, and her friend, Rio Clemente, were able to say goodbye, and Efren William was able to play piano for her transition. The tiny baby of the Ciliotta 5 was a beautiful gift to all, who kept on giving as she skated through the ups and downs of life and made it to all the way to 94 years young.
Rita was beloved and is survived by: Her husband & love of her life, Efren William Gonzalez and her sister, Virginia Ciliotta. Her children; Efren Thomas (and Lori
Gonzalez), Janet Gilmour, Barbara May (and Peter May), Lisa Gonzalez (and Joe Howell) and Lara Gonzalez (and Victor Burks). Her grandchildren; Danielle Gonzalez, Efren Michael Gonzalez (and Candace Gonzalez), Damien Gilmour, Rachel Gilmour (and Matt Bloch), April May (and Eric Schwarz), Emily May and Max May. Her great grandchildren, Alexis Pedler, Wesley Schwarz and Milo Schwarz. Her nieces; Kara Ciliotta, Toni Catlin and Ellen Carter. Her nephews; Bruce Catlin and Bradley Carter as well as many beloved cousins, friends and admirers in the US and abroad. She is pre- deceased most recently by her beloved son-in-law, David Gilmour, sister and brother- in law Barbara & Dick Catlin, brothers Edward and Robert Ciliotta, and her parents Rose and Attilio Ciliotta.
It takes a Village! The Family would like to thank their excellent support team for Rita’s care: Ricardo Camacho, MD, Nurses and Staff (Primary Care, Summit Health), Pelorus Behavioral Health (Michelle Domingo), Fox Rehab (Ryan Hedderich, PT), Visiting Nurses Association of Northern NJ (Nurse Kristen, Ellen OT, Mila PT, Lauren & Angela ST). Unicity Senior Advisors (Kirsten & Jewel, Mary Ellen and staff), Juniper Village at Chatham (Nurse Ellen Reggiani, Director Frank Pascale and staff). Chatham Center for Dentistry (Dr. Mallika Murali, Hygienist Marcia and Staff), Monica Khalil (MD, Opthalmology), Dr. Janet Leight (Podiatrist), Liberty Drug and Surgical, Chatham Senior Center (special volunteer Katie Kuyk for endless ice cream and her sweet companionship), Chatham Emergency Squad (thank you for being gentle and calming), Rita and Efren’s dear neighbors always ready and willing to help (Tara & family, Dean & Wendy, Michelle & Lisa), Bayada Morristown (Directors, Kelvin and Kelly, our amazing team of Home Health Aides too numerous to mention here, Nurses Kim and Kelsey). We want to acknowledge Rita’s final Bayada home health aide, Jaqueline Funny. Her dedication to Rita’s care was unmatched, she was by her side until the end of Rita’s story.