Dec.6, 1932 – Oct. 28, 2020
Mary Emily Rife was born on Dec. 6, 1932, in Jefferson County’s Fayette community as one of two children to Pinkie and George McDaniel.
She and her older brother, Johnnie Turner McDaniel (born March 31, 1931), were raised in a loving family, but times were hard in the South and daily living required hard work from all members of the family.
As a result, she learned a strong work ethic at a very young age.
In school, Mary was considered an excellent student from an early age, particularly in science and math, and enjoyed assisting others in her classes with their school lessons.
She loved school and was proud to graduate from Mount Olive High School as valedictorian and as a member of the girls’ basketball team that won a state championship.
Unfortunately, Mary was not able to go on to higher education at that time, which was something she felt badly about for years.
It had been her dream to one day become a pharmacist or a nurse.
As an adult, Mary moved away from Mississippi and met Leonard W. Rife.
On July 12, 1956, the two were married and relocated to Des Moines, Iowa.
He was the eldest of a family with 13 children, and they welcomed Mary and she was happy to be a part of this large, loving family.
Together, they began their own family, but she never gave up her hopes of returning to school and pursuing a career.
Slowly, her dream became a reality when she was able to return to school, and, in 1962, she graduated from the Des Moines School of Practical Nursing as a Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN).
She enjoyed the nursing profession so much that, at the age of 38 and as a mother of six children, she became one of the first LPNs to complete the Advanced Placement Program offered by Broadlawns School of Nursing.
This allowed her to become a Registered Nurse in two years, where it would typically have taken three.
Becoming a nurse was not where Mary’s drive stopped. She became a member of Corinthian Baptist Church, under the initial leadership of the Rev. Frederick Strickland.
Over 63 years as a member of the church, she supported six different pastors.
As an active member of the church (and before retiring after 33 years as a visiting nurse), Mary saw the many needs of the community on a daily basis.
She relentlessly enlisted the support of other nurses at the church along with Dr. Julius Connors, Dr. George Caudill and Dr. Robert Anderson to bring about the church’s Free Clinic, which offers flu shots and other services.
The clinic continues today, providing services not only for parishioners, but also for those in the community.
As a dedicated member of the church, Mary used her personal funds to finance the reactivation of the weekly Corinthian Radio Ministry, which brought forth many new members.
In addition to the roles already described, she served as chairperson for General Missionary Society Ministry, Board of Trustee member, a member of Corinthian’s Women Auxiliary (CWA), a member on the Mother’s Board and chairperson on the Regional Women’s Missionary Guild.
After “retiring” from 33 years of service as a visiting nurse, Mary continued to work part-time over the years at Des Moines General Hospital, Iowa Jewish Nursing Home, Broadlawns Hospital and at the clinic at Corinthian.
Because of her love for nursing, she was inspired to start the Mary E. Rife Scholarship program.
She noticed during her many years as a nurse in the Des Moines area, she had seen very few African Americans in the field.
As a result, it was her hope that through the scholarship program, other African Americans will have the financial support needed be able to become a nurse.
She wanted to provide financial assistance so African Americans would not be prevented from achieving their dreams, simply due to lack of funds.
She was also very active in the community, volunteering as a Girl Scout and Blue Birds leader, a member of the LPN Association, a member of the Iowa Nurses Association (District 7), a Bell Ringers leader and a member of the Sickle Cell Association of Iowa.
Hers was the house many of the children in the neighborhood would gather. Whether it was to play with the pets, get in on a trip to a drive-in movie, join in on a fishing outing or just to join her daughters for Friday night movies with pizza and popcorn, children gathered.
When the neighborhood park was being overrun by gang and drug activity, Mary started a neighborhood partnership with local law enforcement to drive out the crime and make the park a place safe again for children and adults.
Movies began being shown there and outdoor concerts returned.
When the park showed signs of neglect by the city, she rallied neighbors to sign petitions to rebuild the shelter house, add a Good Park sign, build a splash pads for hot summer days and provide a restroom.
Mary will be sorely missed by her family, church community, neighbors and a multitude of friends.
She leaves to cherish her memory: Her children, Brenda G. Welch-Rice (Sam), Debra L. Knox, Janice M. Lintz (Vincent) and Pinkie Odessa Peake (Michael); her grandchildren, Jona Knox; Adrien Rice, Aaron Knox, Brandon Dodd, Shayla Knox, Angela Lintz, Niema Peake-Irvin (Dennis), Devon Welch, Tamera Peake and Isaac Lintz (McKayla); 15 great-grandchildren and three great-great-grandchildren.
Preceding her in death were her husband of 61 years, Leonard Walter Rife; her parents, George and Pinkie McDaniel; her brother, Johnnie Turner McDaniel; her son, Arthur George Derby; and her daughter, Della Yvonne Dickson.
Services were held in Des Moines, Iowa.
Donations can be made to the: Mary E. Rife Scholarship Program, DMACC Foundation, 2006 S. Ankeny Blvd., Building No. 22, Ankeny, IA 50023 or call 515-964-6229.