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HomeMemorial - Rita Harvard

2012 Rita Harvard 

"If Naperville had a queen, it would be Rita Harvard"

Daily Herald, Christopher Placek, 6/16/12

Naperville native Rita Harvard spent most of her life in her hometown, and those who knew her best say her civic involvement helped the city evolve into what it is today. 

Harvard, 82, died Friday following a long illness. Except for a few years away at college and teaching in Dixon, she focused her energies on family and her community, donating countless hours to civic groups, her church and North Central College. 

But perhaps she’ll be most remembered for her contribution to the city’s downtown landscape: a nearly one-acre oasis that bears her maiden name — Fredenhagen Park. In 1996, she and her brother, Ted, decided to donate the land to the city to further the development of the downtown Riverwalk. The site was once home to their family’s Prince Castle — and later Cock Robin — ice cream shop, where as a little girl, Rita served the parlor’s signature cube scoops and One in a Million milkshakes. 

The first portion of the Riverwalk was built in 1980, but the Cock Robin property was always a “missing link” that local leaders hoped would one day lead to a “continuous, barrier-free pedestrian connection,” said Rick Hitchcock, a member of the city’s Riverwalk Commission whose architectural firm designed Fredenhagen Park. Despite the booming real estate market in the mid-1990s and potential to sell the land to developers, in the end, Rita and her brother believed it would be better to donate the land to the community, Hitchcock said. “Think about how tempting it would be during a time of tremendous land appreciation in downtown — she could’ve sold the land. But she decided to donate it to the city,” Hitchcock said. “Her stature was small, but her influence was that mighty.” 

A statue of her parents, Walter and Grace Fredengahen, now stands in the park in honor of their volunteerism to the community. Walter was a founding member of the city’s Rotary Club in the early 1940s. It’s little wonder, then, that his daughter became the club’s first female president in 1994. “She was proud and respectful of the fact that she came from a family that did a lot in the community. She took it as a responsibility to get engaged, and stay engaged,” said Ray Kinney, a fellow Rotary member, North Central trustee and local businessman. 

He noted her keen ability to bring people together to work toward a common purpose. For instance, they worked on a fundraising effort to build the college’s Wentz Concert Hall that would “not have gotten done as quickly and wonderfully as we did” had Rita not been involved, Kinney said. 

She also was heavily involved at Grace United Methodist Church, having served on a steering committee that planned and built the church in 1970. “If Naperville had a queen, it would be Rita Harvard,” Kinney said. 

 Longtime friend Gene Darfler, who met Rita in first grade at Ellsworth School, said Rita gained that reputation from an early age and was always involved in different school groups. “She was everyone’s favorite,” Darfler said. “She was so popular.”

2002 Naperville Chamber of Commerce Lifetime Achievement Award

Naperville has always had a certain spirit, but certain people through the years have been more “spirited” than others.  One such person is our Lifetime Achievement honoree Rita Harvard.  Take a look at Naperville’s amenities and traditions … things that make Naperville Naperville, and the hand of Rita Harvard is evident.  The downtown Christmas tree lighting.  The beautiful restored buildings of downtown.  The banners advertising our many events and organizations.  The recycling center.  The Riverwalk.  These things, of course, have not always been here, and these and many other Naperville charms, might never have seen the light of day if not for Rita Harvard.

Rita Harvard is one of Naperville’s few natives. Born and raised here her parents Grace and Walter Fredenhagen began the tradition of serving their community.  The Fredenhagens were the founders of Cock Robin ice cream stores and the inventors of the One in a Million Malted milk. They also originated a soda treat called the “Blizzard,” a name now used by that lesser known store, Dairy Queen. Through the years, the Fredenhagens bought the land, built and operated dozens of stores throughout the area.

Firm in his belief that Naperville was going to be big, Walter Fredenhagen purchased 100 acres of land on Hobson Road along Oleson during World War II, paying just $200 an acre. The banker thought he was throwing away his money.

But it wasn’t ice cream and real estate that made the Fredenhagens one of the leading Naperville families, it was commitment. Walter Fredenhagen was chairman of the first plan commission and got involved in a variety of early retail issues and charitable pursuits. Both Grace and Walter were extremely involved in Naperville activities, helping out local Naperville people and helping to create the foundation of the town you see today.

Rita Harvard was involved in the family business from the age of 12, selling milk and serving ice cream at one of the business outlets. Rita attended Naperville High School and, like so many young people, was ready to get out of town. She attended Monmouth College, earned a teaching degree and spent two years in Dixon, Illinois teaching 5th grade.But, again, like so many people, Naperville drew Rita back home where she began to raise her family.

Even while she was bringing up her children, Rita had a hand in the family business and in the development of Naperville. In both her business dealings and her volunteer work, Rita got the hard jobs. When she went back to work full time, it was her job to work on a design for the new Cock Robin stores. It was her job to handle the management of the stores and later on, it was her job to handle the sales of the stores … all except one.

When it came time to take over the downtown Christmas tree lighting from the Jaycees, Rita was asked to head up the fundraising and operations. When it was decided that the downtown needed banners to hang, they asked Rita to get it done. When the downtown businesses were in need of restoration, they asked Rita to go door to door to convince business owners to do that.  When it became evident the Rotary Club needed some female blood, Rita was one of the first women to sign up. When the City was getting some bad press, it was Rita who was hard at work creating the first spirit campaign to accentuate Naperville’s many positive attributes, and help make people proud to live here.

I am merely scratching the surface of Rita’s gifts to the city, but to stand here and list all the contributions, all the awards, all the efforts would be redundant. Most of the people sitting here today are very well aware of what a dynamic person, what a huge contribution she has made to the City.

But of course, I leave the best until last.; I mentioned earlier that one Cock Robin ice cream store remained unsold. The family just couldn’t bear to sell the original — the one right here in downtown Naperville. Eventually, Rita and her family decided that the City needed a memorial to two of it’s most active residents. So Rita and her brother, Ted, decided to donate the land of the last remaining Cock Robin store to the City of Naperville to be made into Grace and Walter Fredenhagen Park, the beginning of the Riverwalk extension and a gateway to North Central College.

This extraordinarily generous gift to the City is so much more than a piece of land.It is downtown vitality. It is yet another jewel in Naperville’s already glistening crown.  It is what makes people visit, shop, stay, live and grow here. It is a testament to everything Rita and her family has done through the years.