The Joy of Giving Continues in the Riter Family
From One Generation to the Next
For the Riter family, community service is not an occasional effort ... it is a way of life that has been passed down for three generations.
The late A.W. "Dub" Riter Jr. and his wife B.J. believed being a part of a community meant investing in it. They put that belief into action by giving their time, talents and gifts to The University of Texas at Tyler as well as a myriad of other worthwhile organizations.
Even as they helped make this region a better place to live, the Riters passed a passion for giving on to their children and grandchildren.
"When I think back to my early childhood days,'' said their son, A.W. "Whit" Riter III, "I can remember vividly my mother and father always involved somehow in the community. I lost count of the number of things my dad was involved in as I grew up. I gained a real appreciation for what he put back into the community. I saw it in my mom also."
Dr. Rodney Mabry, UT Tyler president, described Dub Riter as "the heart and soul of the university. Nothing was too small for his attention. His handprints in a very loving way were on every project we undertook."
The Riter family "means so much to The University of Texas at Tyler, the Tyler community and the people of Texas,'' Jerre Iversen, UT Tyler vice president of university advancement, said. "Their support of education and charitable organizations has and continues to make a lasting impact on individuals. They are helping to make the future better for us all."
It is a vision Dub Riter saw clearly.
The Legacy Begins
Whether it was volunteering for groups like People Attempting to Help or supporting educational efforts on a state level, Whit Riter said his parents led by example. Attending events associated with their parents' community involvement was just a part of life for him and his sister, Melinda Riter Shoemake.
"Early on, what mom and dad could most share was time and the gifts or skill sets they had, as opposed to financial gifts,'' he said. "Later on, they were blessed financially. It was fun to watch them give of the time and talents and blessings God had bestowed on them."
Whit Riter's wife, Cynthia, recalled, "What I saw even in those earlier days was just their intent to love this community. They absolutely loved Tyler and East Texas and were passionate about giving back to the community and making it better."
Dub Riter served as chairman of the University of Texas Health Science Center at Tyler Development Board, the UT Tyler Development Board, the UT Tyler Educational Foundation and the Texas Chest Foundation among many other volunteer positions. In 1997, he was appointed to serve as a member of the University of Texas System Board of Regents by then-Gov. George W. Bush.
B.J. Riter served as president of the Junior League of Tyler and was a member of the Women's Symphony League of Tyler. She has been very involved in supporting arts education and community beautification. It continues to be important to her.
Dub and B.J. Riter both were deeply rooted in service to the ministry of their church, First Presbyterian. "They were very committed to their Christian faith," Whit Riter said. "I really believe they had been gifted much and were called to give back to the community."
A Solution: Education
Supporting education is an area of service close to the hearts of the Riter family. UT Tyler is privileged to be a part of that ongoing commitment.
Dub Riter and his wife gave generously to UT Tyler to create the Dub and B.J. Riter Millennium Carillon Tower and Plaza and have strongly supported many other aspects of the university, including the UT Tyler Scholarship Program, the George F. Hamm Endowed Chair in the Arts and Humanities, the UT Tyler Patriot Golf Classic, President's Associates, the Distinguished Lecture Series, the R. Don Cowan Fine and Performing Arts Center and Friends of the Arts.
That torch for education was passed on to the next generation of Riters. Whit Riter not only served as chairman of the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board, but has also supported UT Tyler as vice chair for four years and a lifetime member of the UT Tyler Development Board, a board member of the UT Tyler Foundation and in many other ways.
Cynthia Riter is a member of the UT Tyler College of Education and Psychology External Advisers Council and serves wherever needed. "We all have such a passion for education,'' she said. "Education is a key to breaking the cycle of poverty and violence. There are so many ills in our society that it is absolutely necessary to help young people get an education."
Whit Riter noted, "An educated workforce is critical to maintaining the quality of life in the community. UT Tyler and other educational institutions drive that. To have a four-year institution in a city of our size is extremely unique. The future of tomorrow and the quality of our life will be directly correlated to the quality of education that our young people have."
The Legacy Continues
Today, the Riter family continues to support education, the arts, humanitarian efforts, faith initiatives and so much more through the A.W. Riter Jr. Family Foundation. Indeed, their foundation continues to be a major contributor of scholarship funds for future teachers attending UT Tyler.
The mission of the foundation, as stated, is to "minister to the spiritual, physical and educational needs of individuals and organizations" by "sharing the gospel, feeding the hungry, supporting the poor, healing the sick and imparting wisdom to all people."
B.J. Riter, Whit and Cynthia Riter and Melinda and Tom Shoemake all serve on the board of the family foundation. It is also a way to pass the gift of community service on to the third generation of Riters. Whit and Cynthia Riter's son, Paxton, also serves on the board.
Whit Riter remarked, "My dad formed a family foundation because he wanted to leave a legacy for our family to encourage us to continue to give back to the community. Are we modeling the life of Christ, not just by sharing the Gospel, but by reaching out with the healing hands and feet of Christ through things like feeding the hungry and helping to educate young people? In the end, that was what was so important to my dad."
He hopes his dad's legacy of giving will continue throughout the generations.
"We are now seeing it carry over into our son's family,'' he said. "Paxton and his wife, Elise, are involved in their community and are mentoring a child in West Dallas Community School. They spend time with him and talk about the importance of education and faith."
Whether giving time or money, the rewards for investing in the community far outweigh the gifts, the Riters said.
"We don't give for recognition, but for joy," said Whit Riter. "God wires each of our DNA differently and he expects us to use those gifts to bring glory and honor to him. Whether it is ministering to spiritual needs or coaching a Little League baseball team, it is different for everyone. The joy is using your skill set to benefit someone else."
Cynthia Riter agreed, "When you give back to the community, there are no tangible benefits except the knowledge that you are doing God's will and trying to help others. That brings great joy.''
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