If South Dining Hall was ever serving Carl’s chicken as the special, John Ritschard made sure the students knew.Photo courtesy of I Am Notre Dame He’d swipe their ID cards, give them a smile and tell a joke. Then he’d suggest a meal for them to try.“He was a walking, talking menu,” his wife, Lila Ritschard, said.John died Sunday afternoon at age 86. He had been diagnosed with Merkel cell carcinoma, a rare and aggressive skin cancer, in March 2015. But that didn’t stop him from coming to work in the dining hall for months after his diagnosis.“He loved it. My husband loves young people,” Lila said. “He loves to tell jokes and riddles and tease. He enjoyed students coming in and out, getting to know them. We just loved being here.”Lila started working as a day monitor in 2007. When John was hired in 2008, the two took the night shift — 5:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. — on Mondays through Thursdays.Over the years, they became an integral part of the Notre Dame community.“Notre Dame was the greatest support over all these years,” Lila said. “It just blows me away — the love that has been shown to us both here.”Jack of all tradesJohn was born and raised in South Bend, Lila said, but didn’t have much to do with the University until he started working in the dining hall.“He found his niche here,” she said.After high school, John worked in the Studebaker plant for a couple years. He worked at Sears in Elkhart for more than 20 years as one of the top salespeople. After stints in the real estate industry and other odd jobs, he made his way to Notre Dame.The pair — John and Lila — quickly became a staple at South Dining Hall. They almost never missed a day of work.“We just were always together. We just enjoyed each other,” Lila said. “I don’t think we were ever off up until the last three years.”John and Lila met in January 1999. She was working in a beauty shop at the time and a big blizzard had just struck the town. As she was cancelling the day’s appointment, in came John, traipsing over snow banks, to use his coupon for a free haircut.“Everybody used to call me the coupon bride,” she said. “I said, ‘Yes, he came in for a free haircut. See how much it cost him? The most expensive haircut of his life.’”John was the type of person that would do anything for anyone, Lila said.“I had to be careful what I said,” she added. “He was a jack of all trades. There was nothing he couldn’t fix, nothing he couldn’t make.”He made all the wood furniture in the couple’s house. He made all of Lila’s lamps. He made the table that stands in the middle of the dining hall entrance, with carved Notre Dame logos.And once, he even made his own plane, Lila said.“He was a pilot,” she said. “And he taught his whole family how to fly. They used to fly about everywhere they went.”All in all, John was a man who loved to help others, Lila said.“He would reach out to anything in need,” she said. “He loved to teach and he loved to learn.”A contagious smileSenior Marta Poplawski said she met John during her first weekend at Notre Dame. He stopped her as she was walking into the dining hall and asked for her name.“The next day, he remembered me,” she said. “It was the first moment someone was really welcoming here outside of hall staff.”A week later, Poplawski was going to eat dinner alone around 4:30 p.m. — then she saw John and Lila at a nearby table.“So I sat down and just ate with them,” she said. “And that started three years of friendship.”Over the years, John and Lila kept up with students and graduates. John won the Irish Clover Award last year, given to two individuals each year for outstanding service to the student body.“I felt like John and Lila were my grandparents away from home, in a sense,” Poplawski said.John’s smile was simply contagious, said senior Adam Degand. And it was always the same.“He had such a goofy smile,” he said. “He would make you stop for a second, show you that smile and ask you about whatever’s going on.”“Especially if you’re a freshman or new to the school — it makes you feel like you’re part of the community,” he added. “That’s special.”Dining hall monitor Dee Michael said John always had a joke of the day.“He loved the kids, and they loved him,” she said.Some days, the dining hall would run out of certain dishes — because John talked about them too much.“The cooks used to get so mad at him because he’d be telling them what the specials were, and people would listen to him. So we’d be running out of it,” South Dining Hall manager Ruth Pajor said.Dennis Smith, a manager at South Dining Hall, said John’s warm and welcoming presence will be missed by all.“The night is not the same when he’s not around,” he said. “He just had a glow about him.”The simplest things Sami Zuba, a 2014 Notre Dame graduate, said in her freshman year, her birthday fell during the first two weeks of school. And she wasn’t having a great day.“It was my first birthday away from home and everything,” she said. “But then I got up to the front of the line, John swiped my card and told me happy birthday. It just absolutely made my day to know that someone on campus cared.”It was small acts like this that showed John’s big heart, Zuba said.“It was just such a simple thing,” she said. “And I think a lot of people walk out of Notre Dame hoping they can do big things to make a difference in people’s lives. One of the best ways you can do that is just doing little things.”Editor’s note: Sami Zuba was an assistant managing editor for The Observer.Every Tuesday and Thursday, sophomore Amy Mansfield and her service dog Juniper would eat dinner in South Dining Hall before folk choir practice. And every time, John stopped them to ask how they were doing.“You don’t expect someone to have such a big impact on your life when it’s a 30-second interaction each time you see him,” she said.When people complained that the chairs the monitors sat on were too tall, John took one home each night and cut it down, until they were all shorter.“That’s just the kind of guy he was,” Smith said.John had the ability to immediately light up a room, Poplawski said.“You could not enter with a bad mood into South Dining Hall,” she added. “I would wear headphones, and he would make me take them off to talk to him.”John did much more than greet people, Mansfield said.“I don’t know if it was his goal to touch every student, but I feel like everyone who walked through their line during dinner was somehow impacted,” she said. “Their day was probably made a little bit better.A visitation for John will be held Sept. 24 at Osceola Methodist Church from 9:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. and will be immediately followed by a service. Both are open to the public.Notre Dame Food Services is going to provide the meat and cake for the luncheon.“We’re just so blessed and humbled to be a part of this community,” Lila said. “I couldn’t imagine it any other way.”Tags: John and Lila, John Ritschard, Notre Dame Food Services, SDH, South Dining Hall, South Dining Hall monitor
SANTO DOMINGO, Dominican Republic – U.S. and Dutch authorities teamed to arrest three suspected Dominican Republican narco-traffickers in connection with the seizure of 688 kilograms of cocaine and a speed boat in the Caribbean Sea last month. The interdiction, which was not announced until the cocaine was brought to land in late June, involved a host of law enforcement agencies, including the Royal Netherlands Navy, which is playing an increased role in the fight against narco-trafficking in the Caribbean. The seizure and arrests were the result of personnel from three missions – Operation Unified Resolve, Operation Caribbean Guard and the Caribbean Corridor Strike Force – working together. “This recent interdiction shows again that cooperation at sea is extremely important for counter-drug operations,” Cmdr. Chris van den Berg, the commanding officer of the Royal Netherlands Navy’s Holland vessel, said in a prepared a statement. “Not only did we have interagency cooperation between the U.S. Coast Guard and the Royal Netherlands Navy, but we also had multinational cooperation between the United States and the Kingdom of the Netherlands.” Operation Unified Resolve has brought together U.S. and regional law enforcement authorities, as well as European countries with a stake in the Caribbean. In little more than a year, the operation has carried out 18 interdictions, seizing 14,282.8 kilograms of cocaine and 3,866.6 kilograms of marijuana. The drug shipments were worth more than US$387 million, the U.S. Coast Guard said. The United States’ Joint Interagency Task Force South (JIATF) is involved in the operations, and while partner nations may take the lead role on some missions based on politics or jurisdiction, the U.S. always provides its full support. “These arrests and multi-kilogram seizures are a clear indication of the success of the Caribbean Corridor Strike Force Initiative,” Rosa Emilia Rodríguez-Vélez, the U.S. Attorney for the District of Puerto Rico, said in a prepared statement. “We will continue maximizing all of our combined resources to investigate and prosecute those who in flagrant disregard of our laws and way of life try to smuggle illegal contraband into our area of jurisdiction.” The June 11 interdiction, where the narcotics seized had a street value of about US$24 million, occurred after a U.S. Coast Guard aircraft detected three men in a go-fast boat waiting in the open sea about 105 nautical miles southeast of Puerto Rico. As surveillance planes kept watch, a Coast Guard cutter and the Dutch naval vessel were sent to intercept the boat. The Dutch Navy sent its own high-speed pursuit boats, which chased the alleged drug smugglers, who threw narcotics overboard. U.S. Coast Guard personnel detained the three men, who have been identified as René Peña-Almonte, José Antonio Toribio-Sánchez and Raúl Rodríguez-Pascua. Authorities discovered seven bales of drugs floating in the water that had been thrown overboard. A surveillance plane later located additional bales, bringing the total to 20 bales that at-sea tests revealed to be cocaine. The suspects were sent to Puerto Rico, where they will be prosecuted. Authorities highlighted the interdiction as another example of how the U.S. territories in the Caribbean are being protected. “Our local, federal and international partnerships are making a difference to stem the flow of drugs into Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands as far as possible and bring those responsible to justice,” said Coast Guard Capt. Drew Pearson, the Sector San Juan commander. “Our commitment and resolve to protect our coasts and the citizens of Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands from the threats that come from the sea is unwavering.” The seizure comes amid an apparent shift in drug-trafficking patterns. Authorities believe criminal organizations have started to move more operations from the established Central America-Mexico route back to the Caribbean, which was a principal trafficking route in the 1980s. By Dialogo July 10, 2013
Late Models at the 2015 IMCA Speedway Motors Super Nationals fueled by Casey’s. Jeff AikeyBOONE, Iowa (Sept. 10) – After winning a second straight and fourth career IMCA Speedway Motors Super Nationals fueled by Casey’s title last September, Jeff Aikey promised to return to Boone Speedway and add to his Late Model championship collection.He made good on that promise Thursday night in an epic Deery Brothers Summer Series battle with Justin Kay and Richie Gustin, two other drivers who came into the night looking to race their way into the record book.Aikey becomes the third driver to win five career Super Nationals crowns and the first to win three in a row.“After we came here on Memorial Day, I told my crew we had to make the car faster. We had a fast car tonight, let me tell you,” said Aikey, who’d qualified through his ‘B’ feature and started 15th. “I’ll be back next year to make it four in a row.”The victory, Aikey’s series career 65th, paid $3,510. That amount includes a $510 Speedway Motors Weekly Racing bonus.Kay was second by not much more than half a car length. The defending series champion and current point leader was seeking a record-tying fourth straight win and started on the pole, but surrendered the front spot to Gustin following an early restart.Gustin, the 2011 Super Nationals Modified champion, led Kay, Todd Cooney and Tyler Droste into lapped traffic. Aikey was up to sixth when the caution waved again on lap 16.Tenth starting Todd Cooney charged past Gustin when the race went green again. The two-time Super Nationals king pulled away from the field before getting slowed by lapped traffic and Aikey was first across the stripe when lap 34 was scored.Cooney exited after a lap 39 yellow. Gustin regained with 10 circuits to go and Kay shuffled Aikey back to third, the front three virtually side-by-side-by-side at the end of lap 44.Aikey got the lead back coming out of the final turn on lap 47. Kay edged past Gustin with two to go.“I’ve been racing for a long time. To beat these young guys feels pretty good,” said Aikey, gesturing toward the numbers on the leader board. “I just went where they weren’t. My car could go anywhere on the track. I diced where there weren’t any other cars.”Gustin, Droste and 14th starting Joel Callahan completed the top five. Jason Hahne also advanced 14 spots from his original start and finished sixth; Josh Most, already qualified for Saturday’s Modified main event, ended in seventh.Aikey also won Super Nationals features in 1995 and 2004.The Late Model program at Boone was postponed from Labor Day because of inclement weather conditions and rain forced a delay to the start of the two ‘B’ features on Thursday.The 29th annual series concludes with the Friday and Saturday, Sept. 18 and 19 Yankee Dirt Track Classic at Farley Speedway.Feature results – 1. Jeff Aikey, Cedar Falls; 2. Justin Kay, Wheatland; 3. Richie Gustin, Gilman; 4. Tyler Droste, Waterloo; 5. Joel Callahan, Dubuque; 6. Jason Hahne, Webster City; 7. Josh Most, Red Oak; 8. Scott Fitzpatrick, Wheatland; 9. Joe Zrostlik, Long Grove; 10. Robert See, Webster City; 11. Ryan Dolan, Lisbon; 12. Darrel DeFrance, Marshalltown; 13. Al Johnson, Story City; 14. Charlie McKenna, Clear Lake; 15. Andy Nezworski, Buffalo; 16. Jon Passick, Waterloo; 17. Todd Malmstrom, Silvis, Ill.; 18. Curt Schroeder, Newton; 19. Todd Cooney, Des Moines; 20. Allan Hopp, Harlan; 21. Sean Johnson, Independence; 22. Greg Kastli, Waterloo; 23. LeRoy Brenner, Aledo, Ill.; 24. Corey Zeitner, Omaha, Neb.