It has been a year since Elmhurst Lexington Squareresident Raita Vilnis officially retired from her life’s work as a librarian. But, far from taking it easy, she is still on the move as an active volunteer, world traveler, concertgoer, and good friend. A resident of Elmhurst since 1968, Raita was her mother’s caregiver in her home until she passed away two and a half years ago. A year later, Raita decided to sell her house and move to Lexington. “I thought about buying a condo, but I wanted to be in good hands if something happened to me,” Raita explains. “I still do all I want and come and go as I please.”
Indeed, Latvian born Raita has been mobile all her life. In 1949, she came to the U.S. with her family from a refugee camp in Germany. Sponsored by a Lutheran church, the Vilnis’ worked on a farm in Wisconsin with other Latvian families. Raita’s education at the time was in a one-room country schoolhouse. “Our teacher had a school of non-English speaking students, but the lowest degree anyone in her class achieved was a master’s,” said Raita, whose advanced degree in Library Science led to work in the Chicago Public Library and, following that, assistant directorship of the Elmhurst Public Library.
When she is not playing Wii bowling or socializing with her friends at Lexington, Raita is out and about in the community, often with people who depend on her. Every Sunday, she faithfully drives two fellow Latvian friends to her church in Chicago, where is a member of the church board, and to various errands during the week. Another friend, whom she “inherited” from her mother, relies on Raita to take her to her doctor appointments in Arlington Heights. “She wants me to go with her so I can help explain what the doctor said,” said Raita, 73. “I enjoy the company of these women who are closer to my mother’s age.” Of her generous spirit, Raita says, “All my life, I have been helping people in one way or another.“
Raita’s jaunts around Chicagoland are not her only outings. A lifelong music lover, she regularly attends the Elmhurst Symphony, where she was on the board of directors and did extensive fundraising, as well as the Chicago Symphony Orchestra with a fellow Lexington resident. In recent years, she has traveled to her Baltic homeland, the Caribbean, Central and South America, and all over Europe. Next on the agenda is an Alaskan cruise. “People say, ‘Oh, Raita’s always out doing something.’ As long as I’m able, I’m doing!” she said.
Raita was recently featured in the Chicago TribLocal.