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Harrison rewards woman's dedication to U.S. soldiers



Harrison rewards woman's dedication to U.S. soldiers

By Susan Retsky
Staff Writer

Genevieve Riis more than kept the home fire burning - she kept the oven warm.

Toiling out of a Harrison kitchen barely big enough to flip a flapjack, Riis baked scores of cookies and cakes for American boys fighting in the Pacific and European theaters during World War II.

The woman the veterans affectionately call "Ma" could have inspired a Norman Rockwell cover for the Saturday Evening Post. In her hometown, she has inspired the name for a park.

Today, on the eve of Veterans Day, Harrison is saluting her by renaming Station Park on Halstead Avenue the Genevieve "Ma" Riis Park.

Riis always kept alive her spirit of her giving to the men who fought for their country, refusing to stop when the fire ceased and treaties were signed.

Until March, when an arthritic condition virtually confined her to her little Calvert Street apartment, she brought gifts and organized parties for mentally and physically ill patients every Wednesday at the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Veterans Administration Hospital Center in Montrose. It was a ritual of faith for nearly four decades.

"This is a lady who not only gave of herself over so many years but she influenced so many other people to give and be concerned," said Peter A. Starmer, the chief of voluntary services at the hospital.

"After 39 years I gave my last party on St. Patrick's Day," said Riis, 84.

Sitting in the living room of the apartment where she has lived since 1932, Riis, a former baby nurse, said she would continue to help the veterans at the hospital by raising money through the sale of small gifts she buys.

A widow since 1927, when her husband, Richard, was killed in a traffic accident, Riis said that it was during World War II that she made a promise that has lasted a lifetime.

"I vowed myself that if my son came home safely I would work in hospitals for the veterans that were wounded," she said.

Although he was injured twice, her son Richard survived the war. He is now a retired assistant superintendent of public schools and lives in Redding, Calif.

Riis, a past president of the American War Mothers, estimates she sent packages to 250 men in Europe during World War II.

One of those was sent to Dan Angarano of Harrison, who was a prisoner in Germany for 22 months after his plane was shot down.

"She sent me a fruitcake," Angarano said this week. Laughing, he added, "Because of all the inspections, by the time I got it there was only a morsel left. [sic]

Although she has difficulty walking, Riis proudly gave a reporter a tour of her apartment, which is filled with letters, old photographs, plaques and proclamations. Among them is the Presidential Recognition Award she received from in 1986.

Looking at her immaculate tiny kitchen, where she spent days baking during World War II, Riis said, "Some people have beautiful kitchens. And they don't even cook."


Daily Item article reporting on the renaming of Station Park to Genevieve "Ma" Riis Park.


Retsky, Susan




Riis, Genevieve


Daily Item






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Retsky, Susan, “Harrison rewards woman's dedication to U.S. soldiers,” Harrison Remembers, accessed May 29, 2023,

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