ELLIOTT, Von and Rita
Often, you hear of people growing up with their childhood friends and continuing those friendships for the rest of their lives. Family friends become more like family instead of neighbors or acquaintances. For Von and Rita Elliott, this was exceptionally true as their childhood friendship blossomed into something much more later in life.
Both Von and Rita were born and raised in Salem, Indiana. Von was born on February 28, 1939 to Fred S. Elliott and Anna (Tatlock) Elliott. He was one of six children, having three brothers and two sisters. From an early age, he was raised for hard work. He often helped his father on the farm, which lead to him being heavily involved in 4-H. For most of his youth, you could always expect to see Von at the fair in the summer, showing livestock, particularly swine.
Rita was born just a few years after Von on July 1, 1942. Her parents were Harold Windell Naugle and Geneva Ruth (Morgan) Naugle. Rita also had five siblings – three brothers and two sisters, just as Von had. She said that her siblings were rather spread out in age, but that growing up, they all enjoyed school and learning.
Rita also spent most of her childhood on a family farm near West Point Church. She remembered times gone by when, as a child, she helped her mother pick tomatoes for Morgan Packing Company. Other fond memories include spending time with her friends from church on the weekends. She also smiled as she recounted the many slumber parties that took place at her grandparent’s home. “I enjoyed going there. It was fun to get away, despite them only living a mile or so away.”
By the time they were in high school, Von and Rita’s relationship had become more than just good family friends. So, when Von graduated in 1957 from Salem High School, he stuck around for a bit while Rita finished up her high school career. She graduated in May of 1960 and quickly began pursuing her college degree. Rita started at Ball State University in Muncie, Indiana the following autumn. In January of 1961, Von also took his next big step and enlisted in the Army for a two-year term.
While Von was serving, Rita stayed very busy. Being away from home was quite different for her, she remembered. “I was active in 4-H growing up, but other than that, I hadn’t really been away from home.” She said that there were some friends from high school that also went to Ball State, and she made some new ones as well; however, it was never quite the same. But, since Von was gone, Rita was able to use his car for transportation, and often came home to visit on the weekends.
Meanwhile, when Rita was studying and working towards her degree, Von was travelling with the service. Although he was across the globe from home, he found ways to keep in touch. While he spent a period of time in France, he had some time off every so often. Rita said, “He would stop and help the local farmers” in whatever ways he could. The love for farming that he had been raised with kept its roots in his heart, and he carried it with him wherever he went.
A few years later, Von returned from duty and Rita graduated from Ball state in 1963 with her Bachelor’s of Science in Education. The two were married in April of that same year. They lived for 10 years at Fred and Anna’s house, Von’s parents, before building their own home on land that the Elliott family had owned for many years.
At the start of their new life together, they both began working. Rita received her first teaching position at Scottsburg High School, where she taught for two years. After that, she brought her career to her home when she took a position at Salem Middle School. She said, “My first year at Salem, my job was to get the library started. From then on, I taught at Salem, in the library, for 40 years.” As she recalled many memories over her years of teaching, she said what she loved about it most was that “no two days were the same.”
Unsurprisingly, Von began working on the family farm with his father, doing what he loved to do. Rita said that it wasn’t always easy. Sometimes problems would arise that Von would have to go and take care of, but “those things just had to be dealt with,” she said. He focused mainly on beef cattle and crops.
After they were well established in their careers, their small family became a little bit larger. Their only son, Paul Windell Elliott, was born in 1970. Because they both worked, Rita and Von often had to find someone to take care of Paul when he was a child. But Rita said that she was thankful they were able to have the same woman come to their home and watch him every year until he began Kindergarten at Salem Elementary School.
They did not take many long trips as a family; however, when they did get away for a few days, they always tried to add an educational aspect to their trip. “We put an emphasis on education” in our family, Rita commented. She remembers taking specific trips to learn about the Wright Brothers or the space program. Because of their commitment to learning, Paul grew up to be a highly successful individual. Rita proudly said, “He got three degrees from Purdue for engineering – all the way up to his doctorate – and now owns his own business.”
Outside of their careers and family, Rita and Von were also active in the church. They were long-time members of Canton Methodist Church, where they were both Sunday School teachers. Rita also played piano for many years and was active in the women’s group.
In the community, Von was also a volunteer fireman and on the advisory board for the township. He began firefighting in 1974. Additionally, he was the county Farm Bureau President and the REMC Rural Electric director for several years. Rita said, “He could tell a lot of big stories about those things…So, I guess he took them seriously!”
Rita, too, was always active in community and with professional groups. She attended many state conventions where all of the area librarians would meet. After she retired from S.M.S., someone called and asked if she would be President Elect for the Washington County Retired Teachers. She was passionate about the field and what it could do for the community, so she gladly accepted the position.
When thinking back on what made their lives together so fulfilling, Rita said, “We always worked together. And it helps when people are willing to compromise and work together. So, we were content.”
A common thread that Von and Rita always shared was their strong Christian background. “We cared about other people and wanted to help people,” she said. And because of this genuine love, their efforts never went unnoticed.
Von passed away in a tragic accident on April 16, 2010. But, as Rita reflected, she said, “I think everybody really liked Von.” He cared for people and he wanted to make a difference.
In order for that difference to be made, Rita established a Touch Tomorrow fund with the Washington County Community Foundation. The Von and Rita Elliott Touch Tomorrow Fund will now give back to the place they both called home since their childhood days. Rita said, “We just didn’t have anywhere else we would rather be.” However, it is safe to say that Washington County would not want Von and Rita Elliott to be anywhere else, either! Because of their generosity and kindness, they will have an eternal impact for good, forever, in Washington County.