BOURBONNAIS — On a cold January morning, Bradley Police Sgt. Marlene Rittmanic’s spirit showed brightly through the words spoken in remembrance of her.
Her 49 years of life and the connections she made were celebrated Friday as the community gathered in her honor in Hawkins Centennial Chapel on the campus of Olivet Nazarene University.
A photo montage before the service showed the many facets of Rittmanic’s life — a wife to Lyn Stua, an aunt, a friend, a police officer and a proud member of the Bradley Police Department’s color guard.
Many of the pictures featured Rittmanic wearing a smile and surrounded by friends and family.
“Marlene’s infectious smile lit up our house each morning,” Stua said in the eulogy of her wife of 12 years.
“When you find your soulmate, you finally realize why you were put on this earth,” she said. “To work very hard at what you know so you can provide the best life for that soulmate. Wife, best friend, confidante, lover, and the most beautiful person I’ve ever had the privilege to gaze at in awe every single day."
Stua described their love as "fierce."
“We would just be sitting together talking about anything and everything, and in the middle of our thoughts, I would stop and say, ‘What did I do to deserve you?’ I must have done something miraculous that the good Lord gifted me the most beautiful woman on earth.
“She would reply, ‘Put your glasses on,” Stua shared, giving a glimpse into the playful relationship that they shared.
The 90-minute service paying tribute to Rittmanic began just after 10 a.m. and offered an intimate look at a life lost on Dec. 29 during a routine police call at Comfort Inn in Bradley.
The services began with a marching procession of funeral bagpipes played by officers making their way to the stage illuminated in blue light.
Attendees were then encouraged to truly listen to the lyrics as Chicago Police Officer Kenyatta Gaines sang Andra Day's "Rise Up" as the Rev. Ted Perry said they accurately describe Rittmanic's spirit.
That spirit was captured in sometimes emotional eulogies given by those who declared themselves honored to have known her.
Bradley Police Chief Donald Barber recalled training Rittmanic when she became a detective, being a mentor to her, pinning her when she became a sergeant and as a friend. They learned a lot about each other during their conversations through the years, he said.
“But I also learned a secret about Marlene and that she was Wonder Woman. She didn’t have a gold lasso, but she had the ability to compel people to tell the truth,” Barber said.
The bitter cold weather was no hindrance for community members lining the streets of Bourbonnais Friday to pay their respects to Bradley Police Sgt. Marlene Rittmanic as her funeral procession exited the Hawkins Centennial Chapel.
“It was also when I found out Marlene’s weakness and that was her middle name, Roberta,” Barber continued.
“She despised that name. It would stop her in her tracks. So I used it as much as I could,” he said, bringing another moment of levity to the mourning audience.
And, there were many members of that audience that he wanted to ensure Stua was aware of. Barber asked all the police officers in attendance — with representatives from local police departments and far beyond — to stand. He then introduced Stua to "the brothers and sisters she didn't know she had."
Perry asked all those police officers in attendance to do something in remembrance of Rittmanic.
“When you are at roll call, take 10 seconds of silence and ask yourself, “What would Marlene do?’ When you get in your cruiser and start that checklist, ask yourself, ‘What would Marlene do?’ When you look in your CAD and see the list of assignments and feel overwhelmed and exhausted, ask yourself, ‘What Marlene would do?’"
Even in her final words, Perry said, Rittmanic tried to help someone.
"'Just walk away,'" he slowly and emphatically quoted her words to the gunman. "That was Marlene. She was always trying to help someone make a better decision."
Perry added, "The past week marks a time in our lives that we will soon not forget. For the rest of our lives, it will be a tragic reminder of how delicate life is and how harsh evil can be."
BOURBONNAIS — The bitter cold weather was no hindrance for community members lining the streets of Bourbonnais Friday to pay their respects to Bradley Police Sgt. Marlene Rittmanic as her funeral procession exited the Hawkins Centennial Chapel.
After memorial services concluded, the procession pulled out from Olivet Nazarene University at about 12:30 p.m. and headed onto South Main Street, rounded the corner onto Main Street NW and continued on the route to Abraham Lincoln National Cemetery in Elwood.
A long convoy of law enforcement vehicles from local and statewide police departments lead the way, with the full procession gone from ONU by about 1 p.m.
Residents stood somberly and watched as the procession went by, many holding American flags or “Thin Blue Line” flags in support of police.
As temperatures were in the single digits with a high of about 11 degrees, some also had blankets and huddled together to keep warm.
Emily Vana, of Bradley, an employee of AMITA Health St. Mary’s Hospital, said she came out for the procession to stand in solidarity with first responders.
“I just felt like I needed to pay respect. They do a lot,” she said. “We are all kind of a community — first responders, hospital employees. We all stick together, and when something like this happens, it just hits you really hard.”
Vana added that the news of Rittmanic’s death was “devastating.”
“There are no words,” she said. “It’s gut-wrenching. It’s just — it’s really difficult.”
Alana Crawford, of Bourbonnais, watched the procession with her son Levi, 10, whom she homeschools.
“We just wanted to express our sorrow for what has occurred and our support and our gratitude for police, their protection and their service and their sacrifice every day for us,” she said.
Levi added that he came to show his gratitude as well.
“I feel sorry for the police officer, but I feel grateful that she did her job and tried to protect the people, so I’m thankful for that,” Levi said.
Kristi Garcia, of Bourbonnais, a retired Momence teacher, watched the procession with a group of family and friends who all tied blue streamers to their vehicles to show support for law enforcement.
“It hurts,” she said. “This is a small community, and it hurts when something like this happens.”
Garcia said she hopes the community’s attempts to come together after Rittmanic’s death was able to provide some small comfort for her family.
“I really don’t have a lot of words; it’s a sad day,” she said. “You can’t make anything better for the family, but just show that you support them, that you do care.”
George Laun and Jan Hockensmith-Laun, a husband and wife from Bourbonnais, noted their gratitude for the service of police officers as they watched Rittmanic’s funeral procession.
“I spent three years in the Army,” George Laun noted. “I put my life on the line, but these people do it all the time, every day.”
Hockensmith-Laun, a former ONU sociology professor, added that people often take the service of law enforcement and first responders for granted.
“In our era today, we don’t stand together until something like this happens,” she said. “Hopefully, this will have an impact on Kankakee, Bradley and Bourbonnais. We are a community. We do need to stand together and listen to each other.”
Erich and Jen Blair, a husband and wife from Bradley, said they attended the procession to show respect for Rittmanic’s service to the community.
“I just think you have to stop and remember what [police] do every day,” Erich Blair said. “Taking a little bit of time out of my day for this is a small piece of tribute to what she did every day for our community.”
“You don’t think it’s going to happen here, and it did,” Jen Blair added. “When we first heard, we were shocked and saddened that she was [killed], and that Officer [Tyler] Bailey is still fighting. It’s always sad when you hear about it in other towns and cities, but when it happens so close to home, it does something different to you. It just — it hits different.”
There is no amount of words that can sum up the life of a person who has dedicated theirs to others. As such, the many kind words of Bradley Police Sgt. Marlene Rittmanic spoken by those who knew her stand to reason.
The words special, passionate, amazing and compassionate were used repeatedly by those who worked with her in law enforcement and in the community.
Just weeks before her death, Rittmanic participated in Shop with a Cop, where police officers volunteer their time to help provide Christmas gifts to children in need.
“If you look at some of the photos from this year, she’s right there in it,” said Jeff Hackley, former lieutenant with the Bradley Police Department.
“Those are things that you’re not getting paid for,” he said. “The reward you’re getting is that you’re helping your community. She wasn’t just doing it because she was a police officer … she’s always the person that was there.”
Also during Christmastime, she was there for local animals in need. Jordan Chapman, director of the Kankakee County Humane Foundation, said she returned to work after the holidays to find an envelope with the return address for Rittmanic and her wife, Lyn Stua, with a postmark date just before Christmas.
Enclosed was a Christmas card and “a substantial donation for the care of our residents.”
“I can’t help but think Sgt. Rittmanic’s love for life, and dogs, of course, will forever find a way into the hearts of those of us in this community,” shared Chapman. “We’re beyond thankful for her and her wife’s donation, and I could never thank either of them enough for believing in the work that we do.”
During Friday’s funeral service, Bradley Police Chief Donald Barber spoke at length about the positive characteristics of his colleague. He touched on the fact that she was incredibly community-oriented.
“[Today’s turnout is] an acknowledgment of the amazing individual she was,” he said. “It stands as a testament to the impact that she had on all of the people she came in contact with every day. In essence, Marlene defined all that is good in our community, and she will never be forgotten.”
Bradley Police Sgt. Adrian Provost described Rittmanic as both “very passionate and compassionate.”
“Anything community-related that our department did, she was always involved in it — usually at the forefront of it,” he shared. “She loved taking pictures, so anything community-related that we did, she was always snapping pictures and engaged in that manner as well.”
Hackley summed up her love of the community, simply stating, “She was, first and all, she was the community.”
The police officer
Professionally, Rittmanic was just as zealous, if not more so. The Bradley-Bourbonnais Community High School graduate served as a private in the Army during the first Persian Gulf War.
Rittmanic was a 21-year law enforcement veteran, having served as both an Iroquois County deputy and then Bradley police officer as of February 2007, before being promoted to sergeant on Sept. 2, 2014.
“As an officer, she was fantastic,” Hackley said. “She was someone that you knew if you needed something done, it would get done. If you had any kind of project, she was always the one willing to volunteer to do something.”
Provost, who worked with Rittmanic for 14 years, shared that his fellow officer was “strong in her beliefs.” The two worked in investigations where they shared many cases together, and they both supervised third shift.
“We would have strong debates, me and her,” he recalled. “She’s bull-headed and so am I so we would have great conversations and great debates. If she believed in something, she was going to argue with you or stand by it until the end, which was a great trait.”
Colleagues say Rittmanic would go out of her way to understand every side of a situation. Provost said that she would “always think about the long-term effects of every party involved.”
This motivation to see all sides was mentioned during Barber’s statements at the funeral, as he reflected on Rittmanic’s participation in local protests that took place during the summer of 2020.
“Marlene was one of the few officers that actually marched with the protesters in uniform,” he said. “I asked Marlene why she did this, and she told me that she felt we as police should be open to their cause. By walking with them, she would hopefully get more insight into bringing their voices into the conversation.”
Provost described that type of compassion as “a unique trait.”
“From day one when I worked with her, she was always like that,” he said.
“Usually that’s a skill that takes a long time to learn from a law enforcement perspective. When you first get hired and somebody speeds, you write them a ticket. She was never like that. She always saw the big picture and long-term effects of her actions.”
The wife, friend and family member
The resounding consensus of those who knew her was that she was most passionate about those she loved.
“To Marlene, family was everything — and she would always talk about them,” Barber recounted. “Her mother, [her wife] Lyn, her siblings, and, of course, her countless dogs.”
“If you were related to Marlene, you knew she had your back. And if you were lucky to become her friend, she would extend to you the same unconditional love that she gave her family,” he continued.
Provost knows that last statement to be true, as he shared that when his wife was diagnosed with cancer — and when he also was diagnosed two years later — Rittmanic was there for them in an instant.
“She had gone through it with her family and knew the toll that it takes on siblings and children. … She knew the effects it had on your family,” he said.
“She and Lyn sent my wife a gift days after being diagnosed,” he said. “She was always supportive and communicated with me at work about that and wanted to know how my wife was doing. She wanted to make sure she was there for me and my family, and she was.”
Rittmanic and Stua were married in 2011 after having been together since 1999. The couple shared a passion for dogs and rescued a number of fur-children.
This would often come up during Rittmanic’s time spent with Provost on investigations paperwork. Because of all the hours they spent together, they shared much about their respective personal lives.
“At the time that we worked together in investigations, my kids were infants and toddlers, and she had toddler dogs at the time and we would talk about that. And she would talk about Lyn as a parent to those dogs,” Provost recalled.
“They didn’t have children, but their dogs were their children,” he continued. “And she would talk about things they would do with their dogs — they were both very passionate about animals.”
“She was just a really good human being,” Provost said.