Observer Staff Mourns Former News Editor, Sales Manager
By Penny Wiegert, Editor
January 9, 2020
Rita Pesavento Prunuske
 
Former news editor of The Observer Rita Pesavento Prunuske, 89, of Rockford died Friday, Dec. 27, 2019, at OSF St. Anthony Medical Center in Rockford after a sudden illness.
 
Pesavento Prunuske joined The Observer staff in 1982 and worked until her retirement in 1993. She continued to freelance for The Observer throughout her retirement, covering many diocesan and parish events with a special interest in the Diocesan Council of Catholic Women, the Poor Clares and anything having to do with  joint activities between the Catholic and Lutheran women in the Rockford area.
 
“Rita was at The Observer when I arrived, so she helped show me the ropes regarding the diocese and a great many of its clergy,” said Dr. Owen Phelps, former editor and associate publisher of The Observer.
 
“She was a real gift to the people of the Rockford Diocese,” he continued, “an intrepid, relentless news editor and reporter who covered a countless number of every type of gathering, be it liturgical, social or educational, and did it all with good cheer, buoyed by her deep faith and love for her Church. It was a privilege and a pleasure to serve on The Observer team with her.” 
 
After her retirement Pesavento Prunuske, on behalf of the Diocesan Council of Catholic Women, began a partnership with The Junior Observer to supply school supplies to poor children in the Diocese of Chulucanas, Peru, in South America through the Heart to Heart Program. The program began in 2001 and was recently concluded at the request of retiring Bishop Daniel A. Turley, OSA, of Chulucanas. 
 
She also headed a program through DCCW to sell items made in a woman’s mission workshop called Centro Betania in Chulucanas, Peru. Since 2001 these two programs have raised over $150,000. 
 
In 2009, she was selected by the Catholic Diocese for an Honor Your Own award given through the Rockford chapter of the Association of Fundraising Professionals for this work.
 
“I am very grateful to have been blessed to know Rita,”  wrote Bishop Turley in a Facebook message to The Observer.
 
“Her enthusiasm for the mission was so wonderful,” he added. “She helped so many through the Heart to Heart program. She helped the women CETPRO Betania (Mercy Sisters) sell so many hand goods. What a blessing!” 
 
“Rita was the paradigm of a woman whose faith meant action,” said David Hougan, former director of Stewardship Development for the Diocese of Rockford.
 
 “Early in the 2000s when Father Richard Palmer, OSA,  told her about poor Peruvian school children who could not attend school unless they had basic supplies like pencils, notebooks, etc., she along with Penny Wiegert  hatched the idea of the Heart to Heart project.
 
“In 2003 Rita and I were  part of a diocesan delegation to visit the Diocese of Chulucanas and personally deliver the hearts from our school children to the poor children in that Diocese. Rita’s heart melted when she passed out the hearts and school supplies to many children in many schools and villages,” Hougan continued. “Those hugs and kisses propelled Rita to a profound commitment to the project and the kids of Peru. 
 
“While on that trip we visited a women’s cooperative run by the Mercy Sisters. The nuns taught poor women how to sew and create crafts for sale around the world. That was all Rita needed. She adopted that project too and became their top saleswoman in the U.S. What a legacy,” Hougan said.
 
Pesavento Prunuske was born Sept. 24, 1930, in Milwaukee, Wis., the daughter of Miles A. and Margaret A. (Weinman) Baer. She graduated from Neenah High School, Neenah,Wis., and the University of Wisconsin, Madison, with a bachelor’s degree in journalism (1952). 
 
She later earned a master’s degree in pastoral studies from Loyola University, New Orleans, through the Loyola Institute for Ministry Extension program.
 
Early life in Milwaukee was followed by a move to the original Baer family farm in Neenah, where she loved swimming and fishing in Lake Winnebago. 
 
Childhood piano lessons sparked a lifelong interest in music which she shared with her children. She was still taking piano lessons at age 88. 
 
She was fascinated by flying and earned her private pilot’s license when she was 17. 
 
During her college years, she was a member of Alpha Gamma Delta social sorority, Theta Sigma Phi, an honorary journalism sorority and Mortar Board, a national honor society.
 
Upon graduation she began her career at Rockford College in the public relations department where she met her future husband Richard Pesavento. They were married on Dec. 26, 1953, at St. Margaret Mary Church in Neenah. They had eight children and were married 35 years. 
 
She later married her grade school sweetheart, John Prunuske, on Jan. 24, 2004, at St. Philip the Apostle in Occidental, Calif.
 
Pesavento Prunuske considered rearing her eight children the major accomplishment of her life. Her intelligence, practical nature, and productive energy got the job done, and she provided her children with the love and warmth they needed to thrive. Her list-making and organizational skills are legendary and served as the roadmap for her busy family.
 
She had a special interest in childhood education and pursued many projects related to that interest. She began the Junior Great Books program in the Rockford area schools which she coordinated for seven years. 
 
Her journalism background and love of language served her well in several advertising and communication jobs while her children were in school and later when she joined The Observer staff.
 
She was a member of the Cathedral of St. Peter Parish beginning in 1957 and had a deep and lifelong faith. She served as president of the St. Anne’s Society, president of the Rockford Deanery Council of Catholic Women, and president of the Rockford Diocesan Council of Catholic Women. 
 
She was honored by the Cathedral of St. Peter as their woman of the year in 2003. She was an active member of the Catholic Women’s League, Caritas, Alpha Gamma Delta Alumnae group, and YMCA Senior Women. 
 
She enjoyed a long, interesting and fulfilling life enriched by many dear friendships and a close and loving family. She will be truly missed.
 
Survivors include her husband, John, her sons, Gregory Pesavento, Elmhurst; Anthony (Dianna) Pesavento, Sarasota, Fla., and Arthur (Beth) Pesavento, Lemont; her daughters, Lisa Wiley, Raleigh, N.C.; Louise (Don) Hinshaw, Richmond, Calif.; Dr. Julia Pesavento Schaer, Rockford; Dr. Margaret (Jon) Blanchard, Raleigh, N.C.; and Maria (Michael) Walton, Pleasant Hill, Calif; her grandchildren, Sarah Pesavento, Sophie Hinshaw, Brent, Margaret, Elizabeth and Mark Schaer, Nicholas, Madeline and Olivia Pesavento, Benjamin and Emerson Blanchard, Claire Walton, and Kathryn and Annmarie Pesavento; her stepchildren, Dan (Donna Schauer) Prunuske, Beaver Dam, Wis., Peter Prunuske, Occidental, Calif., Ann Prunuske, Helena, Mont., Polly (Cory Pols) Prunuske, Belchertown, Mass., and Liza (Steven Chatham) Prunuske, Occidental, Calif.; five step grandchildren and seven step great-grandchildren. 
 
She was predeceased by her parents, a brother Leonard, a sister Barbara, her first husband Richard, two sons-in-law, Will Wiley and Dennis Schaer and a stepdaughter Kathy Prunuske.
 
The funeral Mass was celebrated Jan. 4, 2020, in the Cathedral of St. Peter.
 
Ken Staaf
 
Former sales and marketing manager for The Observer, Ken Staaf died peacefully on Dec. 19, 2019, in Rockford where he made his home. He was 80 years old.
 
Staaf came to The Observer after a notable career as a weatherman on local Rockford television. 
 
“When Ken came on board as sales manager of The Observer, he may have been the most recognizable man in town,” said Dr. Phelps, continuing with a description of Staaf. He was “tall, with long, flowing blond locks, a big smile and always wearing a suit and tie. I joked that I wanted him on the team because I would rather hire a suit than wear one!
 
“Seriously,” Dr. Phelps added, “Ken’s contributions helped raise the paper’s visibility because everybody in Rockford’s TV market knew him, and he opened a lot of doors for us in the time he was part of our team. 
 
“By the time he came on board we had built a good friendship, and I’m grateful to say it continued to grow even after he found his calling in local politics,” Dr. Phelps said.
 
Staaf left The Observer to run for mayor of the City of Rockford and later became the Winnebago County Recorder of Deeds.
 
He was born Nov. 26, 1939, to Sture and Ruth (Seaberg) Staaf. 
 
He was predeceased by his brother, Gordon and his first wife, Connie. He is survived by his wife, Pat; two daughters, Lori and Dana; and a large circle of friends. 
 
A visitation was held on  Dec. 23, 2019, at Olson’s North Main Chapel in Rockford.