ashland.news
July 24, 2024

Celebrating Lanita Witt, and a scholarship in her honor

Dr. Lanita Witt
June 20, 2023

Summer solstice gathering Wednesday to remember and honor Dr. Witt — and build a scholarship fund in her name

By Morgan Rothborne, Rogue Valley Times

Dr. Lanita Witt died beside her wife, Suzanne Willow, Dec. 15, 2022. Her colorful, successful life will be celebrated a second time this week with a ceremony and a renewed drive for a scholarship in her name.

During the summer solstice, Wednesday, June 21, at 5 p.m., at Willow-Witt Ranch outside Ashland, anyone who wants to is welcome to celebrate Witt’s life, said Willow. The ranch is located at 658 Shale City Road, and carpooling will be necessary because of limited parking.

Wednesday’s ceremony will include organic greens grown at the farm, bread and cheese, followed by cookies, Willow said. The celebration will include remembrances, music, blessings and poetry. 

Witt’s life was celebrated in a small ceremony of close friends last October, while she was still alive.

“It was actually an exquisite thing for her, to get to say goodbye. We knew if we opened it up to former patients, it could be a lot of people. But we limited it to about 200, we had about 150, anything more than that would have been overwhelming,” she said.

Witt was an obstetric gynecologist who delivered babies and cared for women’s health for decades. She ran unsuccessfully for Jackson County commissioner in 2018. She made many connections in her life, and it’s time now to invite everyone who wants to come out to Witt’s home to say their goodbyes, Willow said.

“She was really truly was interested in everybody she met. It was reflected in her interactions with people — patients specifically, that’s why we wanted to have this,” she said.

The ceremony also holds meaning for the widow living with the joy and pain of over four decades of happy marriage.

“It really helps me to hear stories about who she is from other people. I have my own picture; it’s helpful to hear people talk about their own stories of her,” she said.

During the last few years of Witt’s life, the pair created the Summer Enrichment Programs, a summer camp for kids at the farm and nature preserve. Witt was passionate about scholarships, because her own success depended on them, Willow said.

“She came from a very, very poor family. Her father was the lead janitor at the county courthouse, and her mother worked periodically in the school cafeteria. Lanita, of course, excelled in both sports and school. She attended Texas Women’s University and Johns Hopkins School of Medicine on full scholarships,” she said.

The summer camp always worked to include kids who needed a leg up, even sending a school bus to The Expo in 2021 to ensure kids whose families lost their homes in the Almeda Fire could escape the confines of a temporary trailer shelter for a week of learning and fun in nature.

“The kids get to help in the garden as much as they want, and every week they get to take home a bag of what they choose from the harvest. We had little 6-year-olds chanting, ‘arugula arugula,’” she said.

In 2021, Witt canvassed her physician friends to help set up a scholarship fund for the summer camp to add to grants they attained. In 2022, the Oregon Legislature approved funds to support summer enrichment programs for kids. Up to 54% of the kids at the camp were using some form of financial aid to be there, Willow said.

But this year, there are no grants available. And, now the scholarship has taken on new importance and a new name.

“I asked her if we could name it after her, once she was gone, and she said that would be OK,” she said.

For more information about the summer camp, the Lanita Witt Memorial Scholarship Fund, or Witt’s celebration of life, visit willowwittranch.com.

Reach reporter Morgan Rothborne at mrothborne@rv-times.com. This story first appeared in the Rogue Valley Times.

Picture of Bert Etling

Bert Etling

Bert Etling is the executive editor of Ashland.news. Email him at betling@ashland.news.

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