North Manitou Island

About Rita Hadra Rusco

"My connection with North Manitou Island began in 1942 when my husband, Jack Hadra, was offered the position of Business Manager of the Manitou Island Association, located on North Manitou Island. Life on an isolated island would be a dramatic change in life style. We enjoyed life in the city, Jack was from Dallas and I from Ft. Worth. To the present day, 2004, I don't know why we suddenly mutually agreed to accept the offer, sight unseen. 'Perhaps it was the Spirit of the Manitou.' For whatever reason, I am grateful. My life has been enriched by years of living on the island and memories of fellow islanders."

Rita Hadra Rusco, age 90, passed away on May 27, 2011 very peacefully. She was a remarkable lady who made a difference.

She had only two children, my brother Nick and I (Rita Pesano), but she gave sound motherly advice to everyone she met. Mom read people well encouraging others in education, careers, creative ideas and love. She was a matchmaker and believed everyone should live 2 by 2. Mom had two wonderful loving husbands. My dad, Jack, a romantic, gave her the North Manitou Island property and my second dad, Ken, a glad kindness, made it possible to build her island home. She changed people’s lives, sharing her island cottage with literally thousands of people who happened by. She made the difference in their island memories, sharing island history, stories, friendships, her cornbread sticks and of course “Island Smash”.

Mom brought candy bars by the hundreds each summer to treat tired hikers, especially scout troops. She often chose the smallest or struggling scout to give out the treats to the others, making him the hero of the group.

She made the difference in her professional life. Mom worked her way from volunteer to budget director and then Associate Director of the United Way in Muskegon. She helped by creating programs, raising funds and connecting people. She made a difference in personal ways when the United Way could not support a request. She understood need and could always find a way to help.

Mom was generous but also an entrepreneur. She could talk any one into buying her antique treasures such as a rusty island farm tool. You felt lucky to have had the buying opportunity. She could turn any conversation into a book sale. Mom could order a pound of ground beef at a grocery meat counter and turn the conversation to how she often needed 10 pounds to make chili to take to North Manitou Island. Before we left the counter she would have sold the butcher and all the customers waiting, her book “North Manitou Island—Between Sunrise and Sunset,” and the idea for their next vacation to be on the island. That used to embarrass me but now I’m proud.

Mom was a risk taker. She took chances successfully in her professional career when most women weren’t making those strides. With no previous experience, she traveled the country and into Mexico in a fifth-wheel she bought in retirement. As a widow with very modest means, she built a cottage on the island. At age 70, just weeks after hearing a diagnosis of terminal cancer, she finished and published her book Years later, taking a financial risk again, she created a professional video of the island, with her friend Christine Osterman, and marketed island maps and note cards.

Mom had many losses in her life, parents, two brothers, two husbands, her son Nick and her island home but she was never bitter. She was always looking for the next joy in her life. Her grandchildren Nick Olejarczyk and Gena Kaiser (Andy) and her great granddaughter Ally, filled that spot completely.

Rita Hadra Rusco

Rita, along with her friends Neil Hodges and Joe Kruch, enjoyed a return trip to North Manitou Island September, 2001.

Thanks go to Neil Hodges and Christine Osterman for the donations of photos used on this site.


We receive letters from people who were claimed by the Manitou Spirit and who enjoy reading Rita’s Book.  They are very comforting to read.