Waukesha's Lorayne Ritt ends her people-oriented column after long run
She was dedicated to showcasing the county's nonprofits
Lorayne Ritt was there each and every week.
Her goal was clear: She wanted to showcase and highlight the nonprofits in Waukesha County and the people who were helping to make them a success.
"The not-for-profit organizations in Waukesha have done a lot for the community," said Ritt, who regularly attended fundraisers associated with these groups. "And I tried to recognize them in my column in a way that they became personal."
For 35 years, she wrote, and later on in her career, provided photos for her column titled "Close to Home," working first for the Waukesha Freeman and then later for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and its suburban partners, NOW Newspapers and Lake Country Publications.
But while her appreciation for nonprofits hasn't changed, her coverage of those events has.
Ritt has announced her retirement. She attended her final event in late April — that's when the Elm Grove Junior Guild held The Tree of Giving Gala at the Bluemound Country Club and Ritt was there snapping pictures for her final column, which ran May 15 in the Waukesha NOW.
Her work wasn't a new idea, but one that proved to be still important to community papers.
"It's an idea as old as journalism, and thank goodness for Lorayne reviving it in our local papers," said Scott Peterson, NOW Newspapers and Lake Country Publications editor-in-chief.
"When she envisioned it, this type of news was deemed out of fashion, but she proved that we never tire of seeing photos of people we know," Peterson said. "Now she had many imitators, but it was Lorayne's vision that carved out a niche for this kind of journalism. To do it as long as she did is nothing short of amazing. She is one of a kind."
Ritt can remember her first event some three-plus decades ago. Her first column was on the Waukesha Service Club, one of the oldest service organizations in Waukesha.
The gig was a perfect fit for Ritt, who grew up in Waukesha and graduated from Waukesha High School. (She later graduated from UW-Madison's School of Education with a degree in English and later got her master's degree as a reading specialist.)
While not as active as she would like, she's also a member of The Waukesha 1834 Club, which is dedicated to the city's storied history.
She taught English for several years at Whitewater High School and reading in Elkhorn, but writing about nonprofits in her hometown became appealing to the Town of Waukesha resident.
After a number of years with the Freeman, she took a job with the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. She built strong connections throughout the county, and her calendar was soon getting filled with event after event.
"Along the way, I've met lots of new people and also found a lot of organizations that I didn't know about doing good work for people in this county," Ritt said.
As the years went on, she saw more nonprofits forming.
"(Not a lot of time) goes by before at least one new organization has been organized that helps a group of people," Ritt said.
In the beginning of her career, a photographer accompanied her to take pictures at these mostly formal events, and she would write the related feature.
More recently, her work became less about column writing and more about the photos, which she eventually took herself.
"I didn't have many people refuse. And people welcome it," Ritt said.
The most important aspect of her job was featuring the people dedicated to these nonprofits.
"In many ways I think some people weren't aware that those organizations and charities existed and then would see that there is such an organization that they could join to help out in that cause," Ritt said. "I've had calls about an organization (after people) read about them in the column."
She noted the tough economy in recent years was a challenge for many nonprofits in the county. But she stressed "most of these organizations have a nucleus that supports them."
"I just think this is a really remarkable county in that so many people (help)," Ritt said. "People across the board. There is no financial line drawn as to who is going to volunteer to back what organization. People come together over their causes."
She's written and photographed so many people — including local and state politicians — for so long that she's still getting calls notifying her about an event in the county.
Luckily, for those people and the nonprofits, Ritt's column lives on. Former NOW Newspapers photographer and freelance photographer Mary Catanese is taking over the column.
Ritt said she'll miss attending these events but is settling into retirement nicely.
"I think after this many years," Ritt said, "it just seems like it's time."
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