Trailblazer for women in St. Clair County
By Barb Pert Templeton
She was intelligent, interesting, outspoken and a tireless supporter of communities in St. Clair County.
Those are just a few of the many accolades being directed at the late Rita M. Roehrig, of Marine City, who passed away on Nov. 1 at the age of 98. A funeral mass was held on Nov. 9 at Holy Cross Church in Marine City with arrangements provided by Young Colonial Chapel Funeral Home in China Township.
In an obituary, Roehrig was described by her family as someone ‘who loved life, her family and lived it fully. Rita was never afraid to speak her mind and she will be greatly missed.’
It also noted that she married her late husband, John P. Roehrig in 1948 and they moved to a 40- acre farm in Ira Township in the early 1950’s where she raised six children while taking care of the farm.
In addition to serving nearly 20 years as clerk, treasurer and supervisor in Ira Township, Roehrig later moved to Marine City in 1995 and served as Marine City’s interim manager for six months. She also served on the Planning Commission and was a Marine City Commissioner for eight years. Other posts she served included a member of the Algonac School Board, the Senior Citizen’s Advisory Board, the County Mental Health Board, and occasionally the county Drain Board. Roehrig was the co-founder of the Downriver Community Services, Algonac and did volunteer work for battered women at Turning Point in Mt. Clemens.
The obituary further stated that Rita is survived by her children, John Roehrig II of Illinois, James Roehrig of Oregon, Rita Roehrig of Marine City, Roberta (Keith) Harrison of Florida, Cathee (Glenn) Roehrig Evans of Marine City and Lisa (Tim) Hendrick of Marine City and siblings, John (Juanita) Mallmann and Theresa Mallmann.
Along with her parents, Rita is predeceased by her husband John P. Roehrig; siblings, Catherine (Bruno) Peinado and Anthony “Tony” (Dot) Mallmann.
Memorials are suggested to the Friends of the Marine City Library.
A brief look back
When you are an active part of the community and in particular, involved in politics, appearing in the local paper is a foregone conclusion. Here are a few highlights from the decades of public service Rita M. Roehrig gave to St. Clair County during her lifetime as reported by the Times Herald Newspaper in Port Huron.
- Sept. 21, 1975: a profile piece noted that Roehrig was not only the only women serving as a township supervisor in St. Clair County but also was the head of the only all-female administration in the county. As an anecdote to how the mother-of-six who lived on a farm in Ira Township entered politics Roehrig said she used to attend township meetings as they were “cheap entertainment”. She said before too long she decided to run for supervisor to show that a woman could in fact handle what was assumed at the time to be a man’s job. She admitted that at the end of the day her main job remained making sure there was dinner on the table for her family and how her husband, a quiet man who was just happy that she was happy, would remark, “So what did we get into today?”
- January 1980: She was appointed Supervisor of the St. Clair County Chapter of Michigan Township Association.
- January 1987: Roehrig resigns from the supervisor seat in Ira Township after serving 18 years including several as clerk and treasurer and 11 as supervisor. She’s quoted as stating: “I’ve given over 18 years to the township I feel in the year 1987, I should give some of that time to me.” At the age of 61, Roehrig said she had no immediate plans but may end up volunteering in her community.
- December 2000: In an editorial the paper comes to Roehrig’s defense after a fellow commissioner in Marine City – Yes, she went on to move to the city and quickly became part of the fabric of the administration there – wanted her censured for arguing with the city manager at meetings. ‘Mrs. Roehrig is a tough politician; she asks hard questions and holds city officials accountable. She may not always be right; few politicians are but she has a right to speak even if her style may offend some citizens. Mrs. Roehrig isn’t going to change nor should she. Forging public policy doesn’t have to be polite, just effective.” The attempt to censure her as a step to removing her from office failed.
- May 2003: In a letter to the editor, a Marine City resident stated that while they didn’t often agree with Roehrig they praised her questioning a $3,000 bonus that was to be given to then City Manager Michael Nagy. “Thank goodness for a watchdog like Rita Roehrig.”
- May 2010: Despite putting local political offices behind her Roehrig, then 85, came to the defense of local police officer, Wally Reichel, a 23-year veteran of the force who had been fired in April. In a front-page story that included a photo of Roehrig sitting alongside Riechel, she stated that she was “Outraged and up in arms that they (the city) would do this.” In a settlement with the city a year later, Reichel accepted an early retirement.