Obituary: Rita Hunter

Rita Hunter
Rita Hunter
Provided Photo

October 2, 1946 – July 1, 2023

Rita Joanne Marks of Aspen was born in Santa Rita, NM, in 1946. She was the youngest child and only daughter of four siblings born to Paul and Donnis Marks. The young parents had moved from Indiana and lived in several parts of the Southwest as Paul sought meaningful work. Donnis, twenty-one years old, far from her parents, and responsible for a toddler and three rambunctious preschool boys, left the family when Rita was not yet two.

After a year with their grandparents in Indiana, Rita and the boys would spend four years in several foster homes in California and Nevada. Paul moved them from one home to another to keep them close whenever his job changed.

In 1954, Paul brought the children to live with him. Soon, he purchased a house and two acres of farmland in Ontario, CA, where the children, eight-year-old Rita included, learned about planting, irrigating, weeding, harvesting, and door-to-door selling of cucumbers.

In 1956 the family’s life changed dramatically for the better, when Paul married Lora Lee Tompkins. Rita and Lora Lee grew very close as Rita learned sewing skills and valuable life lessons from her beloved stepmother – always “Mom” to Rita. The major life lesson Lora Lee imparted was perseverance against long odds. Injured in a terrible auto accident in 1958, which left her with many broken bones and a doctor’s pronouncement that she would never walk again, Lora Lee recovered, walked, held down a full-time job, and continued to care for the family.

Rita attended junior high and high school in Sunnyvale, CA, where the family had moved to facilitate Lora Lee’s recovery. Rita was cheerful and popular, made life-long friends, and was the school mascot “Jetro” her sophomore year, stirring up school spirit at games.

Rita left home in 1965 to embark on great adventures in Southern California, Hawaii, Lake Tahoe, and in 1967, Europe. She arrived in Europe with a one-way ticket aboard a Yugoslavian freighter carrying just 12 other passengers. In nine months of hitch-hiking across the continent, she visited 17 countries.

Bartending at an American military officer’s club in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany, Rita met future husband Pat Hunter, who was enlisted in the U.S. Army and member of the ski patrol.

In the spring of 1970, Rita and Pat came to Aspen, which quickly captured Rita’s heart. She became an avid hiker, skier, and tennis player. Over time, she took numerous jobs: working at the old Aspen Valley Hospital as a housekeeper and The Red Onion as a waitress, catering, teaching pre-school, and enjoying a 35-year career in retail sales, the last 29 with Pitkin County Dry Goods.

On July 14, 1974, Rita and Pat married in a Buttermilk meadow ceremony, officiated by her brother Ken. In 1976 they built the bottom floor for a hillside home on Brush Creek Road, and then had a house moved from Spring St. in Aspen to place atop their foundation. Rita finally had a permanent home, one she never left.

In Spring of 1980, Rita auditioned for Aspen Community Theatre’s production of the drama Night Watch. She wasn’t cast but took the producer’s suggestion to work behind the scenes. When the producer became ill, she asked Rita to take over. Little could Rita have imagined that saying “Yes” would open the door to a purpose and a passion that would hold her the rest of her life. Rita made key contributions to every ACT production from 1980 on, including costuming, publicity and so much more. She produced or co-produced 52 shows and volunteered on the board for 42 years.

In 1981, Rita gave birth to her only child, Christy. While Pat and Rita would later divorce, they remained close friends and most successful collaborators in raising their beloved daughter.

Rita’s decades with ACT leave a legacy that will inspire generations of performers, production staff, crew, and theatergoers alike. It’s a legacy of kind, confident leadership; of cheerful, hard-working volunteerism; of complete dedication to the community and bringing people together.

On April 11, 2022, Rita was inducted into the Aspen Hall of Fame, which recognizes and honors “individuals who have had a significant and lasting impact on the Aspen/Snowmass communities, have demonstrated inspirational leadership, and have made major contributions to cultural, sports, or civic activities.”

Rita passed away on July 1, 2023, from ALS. She was preceded in death by her parents, Paul and Lora Lee Marks. She is survived by her daughter Christy Garfield, son-in-law Nathan, and cherished granddaughter Clementine; by her greatest fans, the Marks brothers: David and his wife Judy, of Oakhurst, CA; Ken and his wife Patty, of Gardnerville, NV; and Bill, of Quartsite, AZ; also, by many nieces and nephews.

May you find Rita in your heart forever; or, as she said, “You’ll find me at the theatre!” Thus, any contributions to keep Rita’s most cherished Aspen Community Theatre thriving would honor her deeply; as would donations to Pathfinders, which supported Rita and her family so generously over the past four years. ( or

A celebration of Rita’s life will be held at a later date, but of course she’d prefer to celebrate your life – so get out and enjoy it!