Green Co. educator Rita Farris honored with 2023 Crystal Apple award

Our second Crystal Apple award goes to a fixture in her community, from teaching piano to college business classes over the last 60 years.
Published: May. 9, 2023 at 6:07 PM CDT|Updated: May. 9, 2023 at 9:14 PM CDT
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MADISON, Wis. (WMTV) - Our second Crystal Apple award goes to a fixture in her community, from teaching piano to college business classes over the last 60 years. While she only taught a handful of years in the Juda School District, it was her leadership after an unthinkable tragedy that defined her legacy.

After 50 years of teaching piano lessons, Rita Farris is still connected to students she has had over the last half-century. Farris started her education career in Fennimore, teaching there for two years before moving to Iowa. She then moved to Juda, where in her first year of teaching would shape who she would become.

Rita Farris teaching piano
Rita Farris teaching piano(NBC15)

In 1967, Farris was the senior class advisor and chaperone on a class trip to New Orleans when a Delta Airlines training flight went terribly wrong.

“They decided they were going to do a simulation with two engines out,” Farris recalled.

The plane crashed into their motel. Nine classmates died that night, a quarter of their graduating class.

“The plane spilled fuel on the shrubbery that was right outside the doors to those rooms,” Farris said. “And so it was immediate flames and the girls in the room had no choice. There was no other exit.”

Fifty-six years later, the memories of the tragedy are still fresh in the minds of the Class of 1967. That tragic experience has brought the class together. Juda Class of 1967 member Jeff Wideman explained how at the 25th class reunion, the class opened up.

“We went through a very tragic event, and Rita has just been a part of us ever since,” Wideman said.

Rita Farris with the Class of 1967
Rita Farris with the Class of 1967(NBC15)

The Class of ‘67 got together once again to celebrate the woman who carried them through, the woman who every year honors the memory of the “9 Angels” through an annual scholarship given to graduating seniors.

“Amazing, wonderful, dedicated, chime in!” Wideman exclaimed. “Caring, oh my golly, caring with a capital C.”

Nine Angels Memorial
Nine Angels Memorial(NBC15)

Be it a laugh, a hug, or the music, Farris looks at life and teaching with a clear perspective.

“Life is very fragile,” Farris said. “And I’ve always looked at it as such.”

“This is so fitting for Rita to receive this award,” Wideman said. “She means so much to all of us.”

Rita Farris accepts the 2023 Crystal Apple award.
Rita Farris accepts the 2023 Crystal Apple award.(NBC15)

“When you enjoy doing something, you are so happy to share it with someone else because it produces so much joy in your heart, and that’s why it’s hard to quit teaching,” Farris said.

Farris has no plans to stop teaching piano lessons. She said she loves teaching so much, she would have done it all those years for free. She has also taught night classes at Blackhawk Technical College.

The 9 Angels Scholarship will be presented on May 17.

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