A Memorial Tribute to Our Friend Rita J. Bicknell

Portrait of Rita J. Bicknell

The staff and Board of Trustees of the Community Foundation of Southeast Kansas were saddened to learn last week of the passing of Rita J. Bicknell, a long-time friend to the Foundation. Today we choose to celebrate her by acknowledging her contributions across our community, to women’s health in southeast Kansas, and to the Community Foundation of Southeast Kansas.

Rita J. Bicknell was a philanthropist throughout her lifetime. Rita was one of the founders of the Community Foundation of Southeast Kansas in 2001 and served as Board President for several years of her nine-year tenure.

It was during Rita’s own cancer treatments in 2006 that she observed the imbalances in women’s healthcare. Being of curious mindset and with a giving soul, she began to explore and learn about these inequities. She was disheartened and saddened by the lack of financial resources to afford such things as transportation to cancer treatments, eyeglasses to perform a job effectively, or dental work needed to allow a woman to feel comfortable even applying for a job.

As she started having conversations with like-minded ladies, the scope of a life-changing project unfolded. In 2007, the RJB Women’s Health Fund Giving Circle was formed with the mission “To improve the health and well-being of women by supporting education, increasing awareness and sharing quality of life opportunities to benefit all women in the region.” In 2013 that mission was expanded with the addition of another giving circle, the Circle of Friends. To date, over $255,000 has been granted through the two Women’s Health Fund giving circles to organizations that meet the needs and challenges of women in our community.

Rita was grateful to the women who participated in the Giving Circle, and to the organizations who champion ways to help women one by one in our region. Rita’s vision will continue to be carried out by a group of compassionate women who are dedicated to the mission of the Women’s Health Fund.

The family has suggested that memorial contributions be given to the Rita J. Bicknell Women’s Health Fund. If you desire to make a memorial contribution, you can write a check to CFSEK with “RJB Women’s Health Fund” in the memo line and mail it to CFSEK at 100 S. Broadway, Suite 100, Pittsburg, KS 66762. Or you can donate online by clicking the Donate Now button above. Then, select the Rita J. Bicknell Women’s Health Non-Endowed Fund at the top of the dropdown menu, and pay by credit card or PayPal.

Today and always … Rita will be remembered for her philanthropy and as a generous and gracious lady!

Remembrances from Rita's Friends

To celebrate and honor Rita, we’ve collected comments from a few of the many friends who loved, respected and admired her.

Rita had a personal calling to help others and identify imbalances for women in our community. She wanted to learn why they existed, so she gathered “the girls” and we turned why into “Why not!” Alone we couldn’t change lives but together we are improving the lives of women one by one. I will miss Rita every day but our Giving Circle has much work to do. We will continue to learn about the ever changing needs and challenges of women in our region and leverage our charitable dollars to help lift them up.
— Lynda Wilkinson
Rita was a force of nature, especially when advocating for the needs of women, one of her many passions. Her legacy will continue to impact our lives well into the future.
— Kathleen M. Flannery
I’ve always told others – including Rita herself – she was the one woman who inspired me to work harder, do more and try to make a difference every day. She could be forceful, intimidating and determined but never for personal gain....she always wanted the best for those she loved and for thousands of other women she would never meet. I had the opportunity to contribute to her vision for the Giving Circle and she shared her personal battle with breast cancer and how fortunate she was to have access to the best resources. She wanted others to be so blessed and we talked about the gaps we both saw in southeast Kansas. Mothers who couldn’t read to their children because they couldn’t afford glasses, women with damaged teeth who couldn’t get employment and, just this year, how many couldn’t afford a potentially life-saving mammogram. Hundreds of women have had access to the best ultrasound equipment so important during a pregnancy, and have gotten their diabetes under control with monitoring equipment and have been screened for hepatitis transmitted during blood transfusions when they were young —all thanks to Rita and her vision of women helping women.. Rita is no longer with us physically, but her legacy of taking care of one other will continue on....one only need to close their eyes and you can hear her telling us to “get this done.” I, for one, could never tell her no.
— Krista Postai
Rita was a woman of deep faith who did everything in her power to make the world a better place for everyone, in particular the underserved. She enjoyed the fellowship of friends, and once led Christmas carols at a PEO meeting while wearing an elf suit. The world was a better place because of Rita.
— Kathy Stuckey
Rita was a genuine and caring person. She was always interested in listening or helping others, especially women in need. The RJB giving circle has an impact on lots of health issues for women. Over the years it has ministered to many women. Rita was also very excited to help one women at a time. I am thinking of a single mother in Florida that had no resources or help. She got a job in a beauty salon and Rita helped her get into a community free rent apartment. Rita mentored this young women and taught her how to save and stretch her few dollars. That is the kind of generous lady that I can call my friend. I loved her dearly and will miss her beautiful smile and spirit. Her essence lives on as the RJB giving circle continues the distribution of funds she started. Rest In Peace my friend.
— Gail Deatherage
I am grateful, thankful and blessed to have known Rita Bicknell and called her a friend for over thirty years. She was a force to be reckoned with when she set her mind to something. I share Rita’s passion for helping women and have seen the great impact grants from RJB Women’s Giving Circle have had on many organizations. We will continue her amazing work of supporting worthy causes to improve women's health and her lasting legacy of women helping women will continue.
— Frances Mitchelson
All of us in the Irene Ransom Bradley School of Nursing, Pittsburg State University, send our thoughts and prayers to Rita's family and friends. Her generosity and concern for those less fortunate will always be remembered. The essence of her giving spirit aligns closely with the core values that each of us in the School of Nursing hold dear to our hearts. Through her generosity, the education and simulation training our students receive will enable them to provide lifesaving techniques to immeasurable numbers of patients. We admire her and the work she has accomplished and we will always remember her with fondness.
— With deepest sympathy, Cheryl Giefer, Director, Irene Ransom Bradley School of Nursing
From her early days in Pittsburg as manager of Kansas Gas, involved in the Pittsburg Area Chamber of Commerce through her work in starting the Community Foundation and the Rita Bicknell Women's Fund, Rita was involved in the community and showed her interest and compassion for others. She not only gathered others together with her vision, she took her time and researched how to help specific individuals. And always with a big smile and a word of appreciation to others. She really did make a difference.
— Vicki Dennett
Rita will be missed by so many. She was larger than life, so fierce with her kindness, love and convictions. Sending so much love to Gene and their family. Rest in peace beautiful lady.
— Tiffany Sexton