Gustavus resident Ritabell Wilson died peacefully at her home on Feb. 15, 2011 after a yearlong bout with cancer. She was 81.
She was born Laura Ritabell Zink on March 28, 1929, at her family’s ranch in Durango, Colo. Her parents were Leonard and Laura Zink. She graduated from Durango High School in 1947 and graduated from William Jewell University in Liberty, Mo., in 1951. Next she attended graduate school for a year at the University of Colorado in Boulder, Colo.
She worked for Continental Airlines in Denver and Colorado Springs, where she met her future husband, Eldon Wilson. She married Eldon in Colorado Springs in 1962 and they began driving to Alaska the day after their wedding. Ritabell and Eldon lived at Tee Harbor, north of Juneau, for the next six years where she worked for Pacific Northern Airlines. Their daughter, Lori, and son, Steve, were born in Juneau. The family moved to Haines for a year and a half, where Rita and Eldon operated the Alaska Coastal Airlines station. Next, they moved to Anchorage where Eldon worked for Alaska Airlines and Rita obtained her Secondary Teaching Degree from the University of Alaska. After a year there, they decided to return to Southeast, moving to Gustavus in 1971. Gustavus has been their home since then.
Ritabell and Eldon owned and operated the Glacier Bay Transportation Company in Gustavus for many years. Ritabell also taught high school her first winter in Gustavus. Later she worked as a substitute teacher at the Gustavus School and also as an employee of Alaska Airlines at their Gustavus/Glacier Bay station. She and Eldon owned and operated the Salmon River Cabins for over 25 years. In recent years she volunteered at the Library and Community Chest. She liked to garden and raise ducks.
Ritabell attended the Gustavus Chapel for many years and was a member of the Orthodox Christian Church. She attended St. Nicholas’ Orthodox Church when she visited Juneau.
She was preceded in death by her son, Steve Ray Wilson, who died in a plane crash in the Brooks Range in 2007.
She is survived by her husband, Eldon Ray Wilson of Gustavus; her daughter Lori Wilson Ortega and son-in-law Mark of Gustavus; her eight grandchildren; her brother Leonard Earl Zink of San Diego, Calif.; and her brother-in-law Hubert (Bud) Wilson of Gustavus.
She will be the first person buried in the new Gustavus cemetery she worked hard to create. A Memorial Service is planned for 1 p.m. Sunday at the Gustavus Chapel. In lieu of flowers, donations can be made to the Gustavus Cemetery Fund. Make checks to Gustavus Historical Archives and Antiquities (a tax deductible 501C corporation) P.O. Box 14, Gustavus, AK 99826, with a memo for the Gustavus Cemetery.
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