LA MESA CA
Ron passed away suddenly of diabetic complications at the age of 71. His wife Nancy and their daughter Erica were by his side.
Ron was born in Vista, CA and graduated from Vista High School. He was self-employed for 40 years as a general contractor doing residential remodels. His greatest passions in life were his family and their German Shepherds. He loved their annual family trips to Yosemite and Solvang, CA. He enjoyed bowling, softball and running in his youth.
Ron was very involved with his daughters’ schools, serving as the PTA President, Treasurer, and Parliamentarian for 17 years. Upon retirement, Ron became more involved with the Obedience Club of San Diego County and served as the Treasurer for several years. Ron was the son of Marion and Lyndel Asbury and grew up in Vista with an older brother and half-sister.
Ron and Nancy met in 1978 as next-door neighbors and were married for 38 years. He is survived by his wife, Nancy Asbury, daughters Erica and Jenna and five grandchildren: Jacob, Olivia, Nikolai, Ivan, and Dmitri.
When Debbie Vachal met Rita Wolkiewicz in the 1990s, dog sports such as Flyball and Rally were just starting to take off.
“Rita was always supporting others at trials, and her mentorship and personality pushed everyone to achieve,” Vachal said. “Trainers and competitors owe her so much. She was a humble and private person but look at the winning photos of everyone she’s touched. Rally, Scent, Agility, Obedience, she did it all, and she was tough.”
The petite powerhouse, simply known as Rita, trained for the Obedience Club of San Diego County, Inc. (OCSDC) for decades and worked with other clubs too. She earned several High in Trials and many First Places. She worked for years to earn the Master Agility Champion title and a Tracking Dog title. She earned the Versatile Companion Dog title, which rewards owners who compete in Obedience, Agility, and Tracking events. She also garnered an invitation to the AKC National Invitational in Obedience.
Rita died October 3, of pneumonia, after fighting cancer. She was 77, survived by her mother, Helen Yturralde, 98; two children, Michelle and Joe; and three siblings, brothers Alan and Steven Yturralde, and sister Diane Yanke.
“We grew up in the North Park area, and she always loved dogs,” Yanke recalled. “She was a nurturing and helpful person. I was 16 years younger, so she was like a mother to me, as well as her own children. She knew the back roads and drove to competitions and over to the zoo parking lot to teach classes and support club members. On top of that, she’d check on our mother and keep her entertained.
“She was an early riser. Always up early with her coffee and reading the newspaper. And many people don’t realize she also worked a high-tech engineering job, at Gamma Scientific. Her nurses said she was a ‘spitfire,’ and she was. She did everything at 100 percent.”
Poodles were Rita’s preferred breed of dog, because her daughter, Michele Virgilio, was allergic to other breeds.
“My mom started her training with two poodles, Tinker (Tinkers’ Golden Fire) and Jackson,” Virgilio said. “My parents bought Jackson at a swap meet. He kind of looked like a poodle under all the fur. Mom groomed him, and behold, there was a poodle!
“She made fast friends with a woman named Ginger who lived on Lake Murray with a dog grooming business in the back. Mom honed her skills on grooming poodles there. She was always learning and branched out to all types of training: Obedience, Agility, Rally, Tracking. There might be more.
“She may have had seven poodles in total. A couple of them were my dad’s, and they were spoiled! Mom’s favorite of all time was Thomas. The connection between the two was incredible. One of the best days of her life was when they accomplished the MACH!”
MACH is the abbreviation for the Master Agility Champion Title. To acquire the title, a dog must achieve a minimum of 750 championship points and 20 double qualifying scores obtained from the Master Standard Agility class and the Master Jumpers with Weaves class, according to AKC.org.
Virgilio says her mom’s philosophy about training is like the saying from the baseball film Field of Dreams, “If you build it, they will come.” She believed in the connection a person can achieve with their best friend, a dog.
“She loved the club, the trainers, her students and all of the dogs, Virgilio said. “We have her last poodle, Travis. He is one of the best tracking dogs she ever trained. Thanks to helping and watching my mom groom, he will continue to look like a poodle. He misses her.”
OCSDC was founded in 1948, when Rita was raising her children and discovering new training ideas and sports. Over time, the philosophy of dog training shifted toward using food rewards. Class structures changed, and Rita’s expertise in dog sports inspired even more excitement with classes in Rally. Rita is often credited with saving the club, which now has 248 members.
“I knew Rita for many years as a long-time club member,” said Nancy Asbury, training director, “and became more familiar with her several years ago. We worked together to bring the club up to the current training methods that we use today, along with rebuilding the club and membership. Trainers took a class with Rita to learn how to train with treats and learn many other awesome trouble-shooting tips.
“Rita immediately started building the strong rally program we have today. She taught our trainers how to best teach these skills and turned it over to John Schwartz, club vice president. Rita built the foundation, and John is building on that foundation and taking rally to new heights with many club members earning rally titles.
“We will all miss Rita’s guidance and friendship. We cherish our memories of her.”
OCSDC gave Rita a Lifetime Achievement Award earlier this year. The club has also named its competition on November 13th the “Rita Rally.” A table with photos and a memory book will be on display.
By Kris Eitland
Rita Wolkiewicz poses with her winning poodle, Travis, at a Rally Trial at HVOC.
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