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Rya Wanchik died April 1.

Since she was a saint, a self-confessed sinner and, most of all, a rebel, it could be argued that it was an appropriate date.

Her sense of humor would have been piqued by the mere thought that she could pull something like that off to frustrate the plans of the devil, whom she fought every day of her 66 years.

Had she been monetarily wealthy, she would have been classed as a philanthropist. By more accurate definition she was at the very least a humanitarian.

Her greatest happiness derived from sharing everything she had with those who had less.

Her love for children and empathy for young mothers was manifested in many ways. She often volunteered to take charge of tots and preteens for a day to give their mothers some refreshing time off and her imaginative efforts to entertain the children left an indelible mark on them.

Most of them wound up calling her ``Grandma Rya'' as did some of those she encountered in the Sunday school class she taught for several years.

Since her physician-ordered retirement in 1992, after 24 years as a transcriber for the Los Angeles County Probation Department, she had volunteered at convalescent homes singing and playing piano for the elderly patients.

There were no strangers in her life. She was a people person who befriended everyone with whom she came in contact. If, as she was driving home, she spied a woman waiting at a bus stop or trudging along carrying groceries or other packages, she would stop and volunteer to drive her wherever she was going.

Not a good idea? Of course not, but she had fearless faith.

``The Lord will take care of me,'' she would say. She was born Raisa Kalinechenko of Russian immigrant parents in Tijuana, Mexico, on Sept. 22, 1930. She came to the United States with her parents and four of her six siblings in 1932 and they settled in the Los Angeles area.

It was a source of pride to her that she enjoyed dual citizenship, Mexican and American. She carried a special picture identification card to prove it and felt a special affinity for any Latin Americans with whom she came in contact.

She spoke Russian fluently and was proud of her rich heritage. She loved reunions of family and friends where she could communicate with other Russian emigres and learn more about the traditions held dear by her deceased parents.

One of her prized possessions was a Russian-alphabet typewriter handed down to her when her father died in 1992. She never took the time to master it but she loved it just the same.

There was never any question of her American loyalty.

``This is the greatest country in the world,'' she said on occasion. ``Conditions in Russia were real bad when Mama and Papa came over to Mexico. It wasn't easy in Mexico, either, before we made it to the United States.''

When she was 10 years old she developed a crush on a brown-eyed classmate, named George. Years later she still remembered it.

``I let George kiss me one day on the way home from school, then prayed all the way home that I wasn't pregnant,'' she laughed. ``I was afraid to tell Mama. She would've whupped me good. It wasn't 'til later that one of my friends told me I couldn't get pregnant from a kiss.''

On Feb. 10, 1956, she married John Wanchik, a civil engineer, and they moved to Lancaster in 1959 when he went to work in the Los Angeles County Engineers Department. They were a team for all of their 41 years together, supporting each other's goals and beliefs.

They raised two daughters, Valerie Beatty, now of Lakewood, Colo., and Vicki Wanchik, of Quartz Hill. She doted on her three Beatty grandchildren, John-Bob, Aubrey and Emily Rya. She talked to them often on the telephone and arranged annual trips to see them.

For 24 years, 40 hours a week, she transcribed Los Angeles County Probation Department court reports, typing 100 words per minute on antiquated counIty equipment.

She began her civil service career in the Probation Department when the Lancaster office was opened in 1963.

Later, she worked for a time in the Department of Social Services, then, in 1972, she returned to the Probation Department.

She reveled in the light-hearted teasing she got from the probation officers.

``But we loved her,'' said Probation Officer Steve Hulcy. ``We knew that when we goofed up and turned in late reports, she would work those fingers to the bone to get the reports to court in time and save our hides.''

Music played a major role in her life. She inherited her singing talent from her choir director father and when she graduated from the Bible Institute of Los Angeles (BIOLA), it was with a degree in music.

If there was a piano available, she would play at any small gathering but she was shy about performing in large groups.

``I'm not a professional,'' she said more than once. ``I just play for fun and to get people to have a good time.''

Most of her songs were from memory and the majority were hymns, but she also had a repertoire of secular selections from the World War II era.

Rya gave new meaning to the word friendship.

Whenever anyone needed her she was available even if it meant she had to sacrifice her own plans. She allayed self-doubts by giving praise, she raised sagging spirits by presenting a single carnation and baby's breath in a bud vase as a token of her love and concern.

``Rya always made me feel good,'' said one of her friends. ``She could always make me laugh even when I was down.''

She believed in miracles and dreamed dreams of a forthcoming fortune which could satisfy all her desires to give. All her friends were to be co-recipients of that new wealth. She was going to pay off the mortgage for one, buy a new car for another, and establish a free medical facility in Tijuana.

The compound would include a home for unwed mothers, an adoption agency for unwanted babies, housing facilities for the Ielderly, a free dental clinic and a free medical clinic where no one would be turned away.

She was a born-again, tongue-talking Pentecostal with a penchant for proselytizing but she was never offensive in her evangelism. If she was unsuccessful in converting a target, she was philosophical about it.

``The Lord knows where he is and sooner or later he'll come around,'' she would say.

Her jokes were pure corn but she never failed to get a laugh with them.

She loved to repeat the one about the woman who constantly went to the doctor with some imagined ailment. One day, after he had done a complete examination, the impatient doctor said, ``Madam, there is nothing wrong with you except that you are a hypochondriac.''

``Oh, yeah!,'' said the offended woman, ``I want a second opinion.'' ``Very well,'' he replied, ``You're ugly, too!'' Her passing, on April Fools' Day, was no joke to those who attended memorial services in the Lancaster Foursquare Church, pastored by Jan Spencer. They came from all walks of life, all creeds and all ethnicities.

They all echoed the sentiment of the friend who commented, ``This was one passage that was smooth.''

LANCASTER - Menus for the week at the senior life nutrition sites in Lancaster, Palmdale and Pearblossom have been announced. All meals include bread, margarine and coffee, tea or milk.

Today: Meatloaf, mashed potatoes, succotash, beet salad, fresh fruit.

Thursday: Roast pork, stuffing, carrots, coleslaw, spiced applesauce.

Friday: Tahitian chicken, au gratin potatoes, stewed tomatoes, tossed salad, Jell-O with pineapple.



Photo: Rya Wanchik wears earphones as a transcriber for the L.A. County Probation Department, where she worked for 24 years.
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Article Type:Obituary
Date:Apr 16, 1997

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