Tireless effort seems a Breese for educator, mental health advocate
Rita (Schomaker) Winkeler protects her family.
For the 1973 Mater Dei High graduate with seemingly boundless energy, that means everyone in the Breese community.
Winkeler's efforts -- such as her unrelenting battle to keep open the Warren G. Murray Developmental Center that has served as home to her mentally and physically disabled son for the last two-plus decades -- recently landed her in the high school’s hall of honor.
“Here in Breese, it’s like everyone is family, and these are the steps you would take to protect family,” Winkeler told the West Central Reporter. “We all kept it open;:Rep. Charlie Meier, everyone. My mom always told me I was very stubborn when it comes to what I want, and I’ve never felt anything was more important.”
Winkeler’s spent 21 years as a grade school teacher at Carlyle Elementary, where she also mentored new teachers and created a volunteer program that connected students with residents of the Carlyle Healthcare Center.
Though she retired from teaching in 2015, Winkeler still serves as president of the Murray Parents Association and sits on the advisory board of the Illinois League of Advocates for the Developmentally Disabled.
Still recognized as a nationally certified guardian, Winkeler also is a court-appointed guardian for three disabled individuals, including her brother.
“Every day, I ask God, 'What do you want me to do?’ " Winkeler said.
Winkeler spends approximately 25 hours a week volunteering and plays a key role in the Murray Center’s fundraising efforts.
“My motivation has always been just trying to help those in need,” Winkeler said.
She has also been honored with the Public Citizen of the Year Award from the National Association of Social Workers (Southern District) and the Front Line Award from the Illinois Advocates for the Developmentally Disabled.