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Obituary: Laree D. Riley / Spunky Beaver County teacher, women's center and museum advocate

Thursday, April 17, 2003

By Steve Levin, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

Laree D. Riley, an educator who challenged conventional civic wisdom in helping to found a women's center and a historical museum in Beaver County, died Sunday from lung cancer at her Vanport home. She was 80.

Mrs. Riley ascribed to the theory that anything worth something was worth fighting for. From the Women's Center of Beaver County to the Beaver Area Historical Museum to a 32-year career in the Big Beaver Falls Area School District, she wielded all the power that a 5-foot-4-inch white-haired woman in colorful clothes could muster.

"If it wasn't a challenge and something worthwhile, it wasn't her cup of tea," said her daughter, Lollie Kasulones, of Cincinnati. "She had to have something that made it better for people."

Typical was her work in starting the women's center. In the late 1970s in Beaver County, women in abusive relationships had to survive on their own. But after a friend confided in her about the lack of counseling and help available for women, Mrs. Riley went into action.

"She really believed in human rights, and that if we see something we don't believe is right or just, we should speak up and work toward accomplishing a solution," said Jill Marsilio-Colonna, the women's center executive director for the past 15 years.

Mrs. Riley served twice on the center's board of trustees and continued her relationship with it on a volunteer basis until recently.

The center now helps 2,500 women, children and men each year.

A native of Girard, Ohio, Mrs. Riley moved with her family to Beaver County when she was a child. A graduate of Beaver High School, she attended Grove City College in the early 1940s before enlisting in the Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service. She spent the duration of World War II serving as an airport control tower operator in Florida.

After the war, she earned a bachelor's degree in education in 1952 at Geneva College, and her master's later at the University of Pittsburgh.

She often told people that her master's degree was the best training she could have had for being a school administrator. In addition to teaching junior high school, she was a guidance counselor, assistant principal and principal in the district.

Following her retirement in 1986, she established an annual scholarship at Beaver Falls High School that's awarded to a female athlete to pursue higher education.

One of her favorite pastimes was following Pitt athletics teams. Last month, even though Mrs. Riley was quite ill, she could be found watching the Pitt Panthers basketball team's journey through the NCAA Tournament.

"She rallied," her daughter said. "She was well enough to yell at that TV."

In addition to her daughter, she is survived by a son, Larry, of Muncie, Ind., and five grandchildren.

Services will be at 11 a.m. today at Beaver United Methodist Church, 245 College Ave., Beaver.

Steve Levin can be reached at slevin@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1919.

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