Rita Menke has spent a generous portion of the last 36 years at the southeast corner of the Belleville East High School campus, where a softball diamond is nestled between the school building and a wooded area down its left field line.
Sometime this spring, her name will become a permanent fixture there.
The BTHS District 201 School Board on Monday passed a resolution to name the East softball facility Rita Menke Field, in honor of the longtime coach.
"I actually thought the field was already named after me because it's been called Lancer Field. I'm a Lancer and will always be a Lancer. I love the Lancers," Menke said Monday after the board meeting. "I'm flattered beyond words because it's something I never, ever, ever, ever dreamed could happen. It's not something that's done thoughtlessly."
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to Belleville News-Democrat
Menke was the head coach at East for 24 seasons from 1982 to 2005. Her teams won 78 percent of their games and state championships in 1989, 1995 and 2003.
Those state titles tie Menke with two others for the most in the IHSA large-school classification. Her 613 victories rank her 15th all-time in Illinois. Just last February her career achievements earned her induction the the St. Louis Sports Hall of Fame.
Menke is retired both as coach and English teacher at East, but is still a presence on the field that will soon bear her name. She is a volunteer assistant to current head coach Natalie Peters and is active in the Junior Lancers feeder softball program.
Distrcit 201 Superintendent Jeff Dosier summoned Menke to the field Monday morning to deliver the news and give her some choices.
"What I like is that he gave the choice of having the resolution read tonight or wait until another meeting when I could invite anybody I wanted to be there," she said. "I wanted to keep it low-key, but the deal was that I had to pick a date where they can make a big deal out of it."
During the meeting, Dosier announced a tentative date of May 1 for the dedication ceremony, but that remains unofficial.
"Anyone who knows how people think about Coach Menke, you'd expect that we would probably have to have this meeting in the parking lot because there would be so many people here," he said. "We're going to have a big ceremony that will involve all the former students, staff and players, as well as their players who want to come in and see her recognized."
Last August, District 201 passed similar resolutions to attach names to other sports facilities. The football field at East was named for Charlie Woodford, first president of the Lancers Booster Club who, at 95 years old, has missed just three Lancers football games in the last 50 years.
The football field at West was rededicated in honor of Bob Goalby, a 1949 graduate who went on to a successful professional golf career that included the 1968 Masters championship. Goalby also lent his name and fund-raising abilities to the effort to have artificial turn installed on the district's two gridirons.