A memorial service for Lila Rider will be at 11 a.m. Monday at St. Martin’s in Oak Creek.
Steamboat Springs On Wednesday morning, nurses, staff and residents at the Doak Walker Care Center couldn’t help but glance at the empty orange chair at the intersection of the four main hallways.
On the seat of the chair were a few long-stemmed white roses and daisies, lying in the place where longtime Phippsburg resident and Steamboat Pilot & Today contributing writer Lila Rider once sat for 12 hours a day, anxious to not miss a single visitor or passer-by. Rider died early Wednesday at age 84.
“She was such a presence,” said Certified Nurse’s Assistant Lois Inskeep, whose desk is across from Rider’s traditional spot. “It’s just the way she was a constant. It’s going to be a very empty space right there.”
Even when Rider left for lunch, she’d hurry back to her seat because reporting the community around her was her life’s work for almost 70 years.
“Lila was community,” said her friend of 27 years, Jim Nowak. “She was the queen bee around here.”
Nowak was a longtime friend to Rider’s brother, Mark Williams Jr., who died at the Doak in 2007. Nowak promised Williams he’d take care of his sister, and Nowak visited her at the Doak almost every day for the four years she lived there.
“She could be demanding at times, but she had a good heart, a loving heart,” he said. “She was always concerned about other people, and she never wanted to talk about herself. She was the reporter — she wanted to know about you, what you were doing and what the community was doing.”
Ear for community news
Since her early teen years in Phippsburg, Rider has taken on the responsibility of reporting the South Routt news, from church functions and shopping trips to pinochle and bridge games.
Her Town Talk column that first ran in the Steamboat Pilot in 1944 sent out well wishes to the sick and congratulations for the achievements of South Routt residents. She often relayed jokes and continued accepting jokes for her column up until her last printed edition in Sunday’s Steamboat Pilot & Today.
Nowak said she also was quite the singer, providing the music for weddings and funerals in the area when she was younger.
She married Bud Rider in 1952 and returned to school to receive her general equivalency degree in 1985 along with her brother.
She had no children, but her family was the young children in town who came to hear her read to them, along with the South Routt residents who religiously read her columns.
“She was always a really loving person,” Nowak said. “Even if she wasn’t touchy-feely.”
She expressed her love by praying to herself for a different wing of the Doak each day. And even if she became ornery or harsh, she’d apologize minutes later, using endearing terms such as “sweetie” to almost anyone.
“She was always very thoughtful,” said Rider’s nephew Jim Goggins, who visited her weekly with his wife, Marilyn, an event often relayed in Rider’s weekly column. “And I think she was like that with everyone. She just cared about the community.”
When she moved to the Doak, she retained her sense of curiosity and excitement about the environment around her. It became her new home and the people around her a new family.
Connie Sigler, the Doak’s beautician, has known Rider since she moved in, as the beauty shop entrance is just inches from her chair.
Rider became Sigler’s personal secretary, always keeping track of who was ready for an appointment.
“I’ll miss the way she used to look up and put out her little hand and say, ‘You’re here,’” Sigler said.
Although Rider and her friends and family knew her health had been declining in the past few weeks, Sigler said Rider never would talk about it.
“She wouldn’t say goodbye,” Sigler said. “She said, ‘I want to thank you for keeping me beautiful all these years.’ She said goodbye in her own dignified way.”
On Wednesday, everyone from the nurses to the cafeteria workers recalled Rider’s quirks and jokes.
They laughed about how she never ate vegetables and how she liked her peanut butter spread on her crackers in a specific way.
“I think (the Doak) will miss her humor and her jokes and the relationships she built with everyone,” Inskeep said.
No one at the Doak knows what will happen to that orange chair that was once a hub of activity and visitors. Right now, it acts as a memorial to the one-time staple personality of the Doak hallways, and many staff members believe it will be hard for anyone to sit there anytime soon.
But even if someone does, it will be difficult to replace the keen ear and caring heart of the South Routt town crier of 70 years.
“She was the voice, eyes and ears of the community,” Nowak said. “And that’s her legacy.”
— To reach Nicole Inglis, call 970-871-4204 or email ninglis@SteamboatToday.com