In Loving Memory of Merle Riggers
Merle Ann Riggers passed away on Sunday, May 24, 2020 at 8:52pm at West Hills Hospital and Medical Center in West Hills, California at the age of 76 years old. She was born on Thursday, July 22, 1943 to Merle Lester Baker, a fisherman and Ella Marie LeVasseur, a housewife in Los Angeles, California. She was the second born of five children and was preceded in death by her parents and her siblings Jean Baker, Richard Baker, Kathleen Baker Katevas and George Baker.
Growing up, she loved her Catholic Faith and always dreamed she would enter the convent and become a nun once she grew up. She was always a Tomboy and loved fishing, bowling, roller skating, the Dodgers baseball team, adored horses and all things Western. She loved Roy Rogers and Dale Evans and was a member of their fan clubs. A funny story she told us of her childhood was a time that she and her little sister Kathy were playing Cowboys and she wacked her sister over the head with an empty soda bottle thinking it would shatter like in the Westerns on TV. Her sister was knocked out and she got in a lot of trouble for that, but all was OK in the end – she learned her lesson and Kathy recovered. She also loved Disneyland and the Mickey Mouse Club and was a member of that fan club as well. In later years, she was a loyal Laker’s Basketball fan and her favorite team member was Kobe Bryant.
She adored playing with her LeVasseur cousins, her next-door neighbors throughout childhood -the Hamner’s, and visits to her Aunt Julie’s home in San Diego. Family was always the center of her life and she was happiest surrounded by them.
She loved roses and her favorite was the dark red rose, while she always told us that her mother’s favorite was the yellow rose. Her favorite color was baby blue and her favorite foods were Fried Chicken and Popcorn. She loved crossword puzzles and reading the Funnies in the Sunday paper while stretched out on her tummy on the floor.
As she grew up, she completed her Catholic education, discovered a passion for medicine and helping others that would define a large part of the rest of her life and completed nursing college. She wished to be an operating room nurse, but because she was hard of hearing, that path was not open to her. Instead, she devoted her career to caring for the elderly and became a Licensed Practical Nurse providing care in both the private residences of the housebound patients as well at Shea Convalescent Hospital.
She married Rolan Edward Riggers on June 3, 1967. She was only 4’11” and Rolan always affectionately referred to her as his ‘Little Bit’. She is survived by her husband and they were married nearly 53 years. She endured a painful separation from him in 1976, but always proclaimed her undying devotion to him and her belief that they would be reunited. Her prayers were eventually answered, they were indeed reunited in 1984 and their love story continued for another 36 years. During their separation, Merle and her four children spent 5 years living in the Paradise Valley area outside of Winnemucca, Nevada caring for the land and animals on her dear friends Archie and Dorothy Cox’s ranch. She realized a lifelong dream of caring for horses during her years there and forged many friendships. She learned to crochet and bake bread - hobbies which gave her many happy hours throughout most of her adult life. While she loved it on that ranch, she always felt incomplete as she was unable to pursue her career in nursing and eventually returned to live in Southern California in 1981. She was delighted to begin working again as a CNA at Sun Air Convalescent Hospital in Panorama City, California and was content in her work there until she received the great honor of joining the staff at The Motion Picture and Television Hospital in Calabasas as an RNA in 1985. This hospital was to become her home away from home and she was so immensely proud to be a member of that medical family! She selflessly devoted her life to assisting those in need and loved to tell us stories of the bonds she developed with her patients. I remember her loving tears whenever death would come to take one of them away. She had many friends among the staff and other RNA’s at the facility and was known for flashing her bright smile to whomever she met throughout the day there. She worked providing physical and restorative therapy to their senior patients until she retired in 2010.
She was an avid reader and loved a good Nursing Romance novel, as well as Comic books and novels by Stephen King. She loved movies and music. Some of her music favorites were Elvis Presley, The Big Bopper, The Beach Boys, Lawrence Welk and all Gospel music. She loved Science Fiction and Fantasy movies and films – All things Star Trek as well as Indiana Jones, Back to the Future, E.T. and every Disney animation every made. She also enjoyed a good scary film- Jaws. Alien and Poltergeist among her favorites. Some of her favorite TV shows over the years were Little House on the Prairie, Emergency, The Incredible Hulk, The Golden Girls, Family Ties, Full House, Walker Texas Ranger and Murder She Wrote.
After Merle’s retirement in 2010, she dreamed of traveling the US and Mexico with her husband and spending more time visiting with her children and grandchildren. Fate had other plans for her in the form of many ongoing health issues. She survived breast cancer and successfully defeated it with radiation therapy in 2002. She also struggled with Type 2 Diabetes for years. Then she suffered a series of mini strokes in 2012 following a slip and fall head injury. It turned out that the head injury provoked the start of Parkinson’s Disease. She was in and out of nursing homes as she gradually lost her ability to walk and was eventually admitted to a long-term care facility as a resident in May of 2014. She spent the remaining years of her life bedridden and in a wheelchair at West Hills Health and Rehabilitation Center in Woodland Hills, California. Regardless of her circumstances, Merle always had a beautiful smile for everyone and was well known in the facility for her sweet and gentle disposition. She liked to participate in the group activities at the home although hearing was a challenge for her and looked forward to receiving the Sacrament of Holy Communion from a kind Priest who would make rounds there every Sunday afternoon. Unlike many of her roommates at the facility, Merle had a visitor nearly every day that she remained there, as her Grandson Dustin would bring her husband Rolan almost without fail to see her Monday through Saturday and her daughter Mary would visit every Sunday. She also received many loving visits from her daughter Tomi and son Mark as well as her other grand-children and great-grandchildren over the years. She particularly looked forward to her ‘outings’ with daughter Mary to visit the Neurologist for treatment of her Parkinson’s Disease because they would stop at the facility deli to enjoy a chicken salad sandwich and a hardboiled egg after the appointment. These were delicacies compared to the pureed food she was served on a regular basis in the nursing home and she especially loved to sneak in a few cashew nuts if they were available.
In March of 2020, when the Covid 19 Coronavirus Pandemic swept the land, our visits were forced to cease. We were informed on April 11, 2020 that she had developed symptoms of the dreaded virus and on April 15, she tested positive for Covid 19. She was transferred by ambulance to West Hills Hospital on Saturday, April 25 where she remained until her passing one month later on Sunday, May 24. It was an unthinkable horror to us that we were not allowed entrance to the hospital nor permitted to be with her in her last days. We are, however, forever grateful to the nursing staff for taking time -while treating so many sick and dying on the Covid ward at the hospital - to set up Facetime phone visits for us with her over those last few weeks. The happiness in her eyes when she gazed at her husband during their last Facetime visit will warm our hearts forever.
She is survived by her four biological children and their spouses: Thomasina Jeannette (Herb) Hutchinson, Mary Catherine (John) Phillips, Mark Edward Riggers and Roslyn Ann (William) McGeary, and stepdaughter Rolena (Mark) Stinson. Grandchildren: Dustin Riggers, Toni Somers, Logan Somers, Garrett Phillips, Cory Smith, Nicole Smith, Joshua Hutchinson, Kristy Rose (Jorge) Carr, Jake (Jaide) Sundelius, Robyn Sundelius and Jasper Hopper. Great-Grandchildren: Jaylah Bella, Bailey Athena, Andrew Jay and Silas William. She is also survived by sisters-in-law: Lani (Richard) Baker, Alexis (George) Heavey and nieces and nephew Shelley and Lisa Baker, Sean and Sharon Baker and Silvia Hopper. Along with many brothers and sisters in laws, nieces and nephews on her husband’s side of the family in the mid-West and East Coast of the US.
The world has lost a special jewel in the passing of Merle Ann and her memory will be held dear in the hearts and minds of her husband, family, and lifelong friend Lanea (Hamner) Cliffton and her family.
Final Arrangements: There is a Go Fund Me Page set up for Merle’s final expenses by her granddaughter, Nicole. We are grateful for the generous donations that she has received.
There was a private family viewing at Reardon Funeral Home in Simi Valley from 5pm-8pm on Friday, May 29 to allow us to say good-bye.
Because of the Coronavirus Pandemic, the family has chosen cremation and will keep her ashes safe until eventually, restrictions on social distancing orders lift and we can have a proper Catholic Funeral Mass for her, as she dearly desired.
She will be inurned in the beautiful Mausoleum at Assumption Catholic Cemetery in Simi Valley, California. Graveside service will include a dove release in Merle’s memory. We have reserved a niche beside her so that when the time comes for her husband to join her in Paradise, his final resting place will be right at her side.
We love you forever and always, Merle. Rest in Peace with Jesus and the Angels of Heaven.