Colleagues remember Woods for smile and more...
When people remember Rhonda Woods four longtime colleagues say they remember an infectious smile and distinctive laugh.
Not a senseless act that claimed her life one week from her 44th birthday. According to the Monroe County Sheriff's Department investigation, Woods died after being shot by her husband, Patrick Woods on Dec. 12 at their Foothill Avenue home. Patrick Woods then shot himself, according to investigators.
Rhonda Woods had filed for divorce from her husband. Donna Ducklow, Pam Kalland, Sandy Jensen and Nina Gerke know others will speculate on details leading to Rhonda's death.
But Woods' colleagues at Festival Foods ask people to focus on that smile and laugh. One day after her Dec. 18 funeral in Sparta, the group sat down to share memories from 19 years working with Woods, 16 years as Burnstad's, two years as Gordy's Market and now Festival Foods.
So many tales to include in one story, but enough to provide a vivid snapshot of how Woods enjoyed life. And what that sudden loss means to co-workers, customers, vendors and others who knew her.
When word of her death began to spread, a vase was placed on the customer service desk at Festival. Anyone who wished could place a rose in the vase in her memory.
There was no shortage of roses, Ducklow said. The day of the funeral Darren Price (BP's Smokehouse) brought food to Festival for employees in Rhonda's memory. Chasing Daylight animal shelter sent a large bouquet of flowers to the funeral home.
All three represented key parts of Wood's life, helping customers, vendors (Price) and her love of animals, according to Gerke. Woods volunteered at Chasing Daylight.
Woods started at what was then Burnstad's stocking groceries. Over the years her duties grew to include assisting with book keeping, pricing/receiving and customer service. She was a bright familiar face at the front store service desk.
"You gave her a job and she would do it," Gerke said.
Stories of Woods' affinity for animals are countless. She had three cats, Zoey, Sam and Jasmine (often referred to as satan by Woods, Kalland quips).
"Rhonda said if she could live in a world with animals it would be great," Kalland said.
Woods' career passion would have fit ideally. Woods always wanted to be a veterinarian, Gerke said.
Another animal species at the top of her list would have needed a bigger litter box.
Woods liked elephants. She adopted a pachyderm (Flora) from the Elephant Sanctuary in Hohenwald, TN. She never had the chance to visit Flora in person, but had videos. One of the memorials in Woods' obituary is to the Elephant Sanctuary.
Gerke fondly recalls when Woods brought a plant to her house when their family dog Gretchen died in July. The plant sits on the Gerke's dining room table, now serving a dual role as a memorial to the Gretchen and Woods.
Gerke shared the time Woods offered to dog sit when their family went on a cruise. They found another option, but Woods was up for the task to watch two dogs.
At one time Kalland and Woods were neighbors. Kalland had a little dog. Whenever it escaped from her home she did not have to look too far. Kalland just walked to Woods' home. The dog knew where to go for some additional attention, Kalland adds.
Woods enjoyed golf outings through work. Many held at Hiawatha Golf Club and then Northern Bay in Adams County. University of Wisconsin Badger or Green Bay Packer football players attended. A favorite picture has Ducklow, Woods and Jensen posing with former Packer Bill Schroeder (remember him?).
"We always had so much fun at those golf outings, so much uncontrollable laughter," Ducklow said.
Even more memorable was a visit by former Packer Charles Woodson to Burnstad's for a wine tasting event in 2011, time stamped on the photo with Woodson and Woods. Story is Woodson has his own winery and Woods was able to secure a rather pricey bottle of wine signed by Woodson.
Woods had an admiration for another Woods connected to golf. She was a Tiger Woods fan. Kalland said she, Woods and Dave (from the Burnstad's meat department) made the trip to Whistling Straights in 2004 to see Tiger in action.
Two other favorite past times included water. Ducklow said Woods loved to fish and adventures to see lighthouses.
For many Woods was one of the first people they may encountered at the store. She generally worked 6 a.m. to 2 p.m., often there at 5 a.m.
"The customers will miss her," Ducklow said. "She had a laugh from the heart and a beautiful smile."
Her absence is a large void, Kalland added.
"It's been hard for the people working out front," Kalland said.
"It's been different at work," Ducklow said. "We are like family."
Jensen shared the story where her and her grandson would see Woods out and about in Tomah and he runs up to share a big hug. Always time for children.
Although hard to tell from the Charles Woodson picture, Gerke jokes Woods did not like her picture taken.
"She always tried to hide behind tall people (for group photos)," Gerke said.
They all nod in agreement that only time will heal the loss of the colleague Gerke called 'Rhonder.'
"I'm not even sure where that came from," Gerke says.
Woods touched many lives. Evidence of that was the steady line of mourners at her visitation and crowd at Big Creek Cemetery outside Sparta, Kalland adds. The group noted former Burnstad's store manager Alex Zamarripa attended the funeral. Woods was the first person Zamarripa hired when he started at Burnstad's.
Following is a poem written by Kalland for Woods.
It happened in '99
When Alex just happened to find
A sweet little Rhonda
Whom we all grew fond of
And forever will be in our mind.
We thought we would see her each day
When the Lord quickly took her away
A meaningless end
For such a good friend
In our hearts though she truly will stay.
So remember our friend with a smile
And although she is gone for a while
One day we will be
As you will see
Together in great style.