Bookstore mourns loss of 21-year employee

Lucy Hough

In every photograph of Rita Leppanen, she has a big smile.

“This is typical Rita,” said Michael Kuzak, bookstore manager as he flipped through an old photo album, “always smiling, laughing and having fun.”

Leppanen died at age 53 on Friday, Oct. 30 after having a stroke less than a week before. She is survived by husband, Daniel, who works in NMU printing services, and two children, Ashley and Aaron.

Leppanen had worked in the NMU bookstore for 21 years as an account clerk, handling incoming revenue, existing funds, and most other monetary aspects of the bookstore. Kuzak said that she was one of the most dedicated employees he’s had in his 35 years managing the store.

“If any customer came to her and I knew she was on it, I didn’t have to worry,” Kuzak said. “She would always take that to a very thorough conclusion. I knew that the outcome wouldn’t be hanging, wouldn’t be left undone; she would take care of it.”

Kuzak and the employees of the bookstore felt that the store is much different without her presence, this week.

“We’re still waiting for her to come back . it’s like she’s still on vacation and we expect her to walk in the door,” Kuzak said.

As a part of her job as account clerk, Leppanen also helped supervise the students who worked at the front registers. One of the students who worked with Leppanen for four years and since graduated, Jessica Compton, has come back as a temporary account clerk, to fill Lepannen’s position. She said she will miss the way that she would bring desserts back from the Wildcat Den to share with the students.

“She was very genuine, wasn’t fake at all,” Compton said. “She cared about us not only as workers but also as people.”

Compton said that Leppanen was also very positive and clear on what she expected from the people who worked under her. She was a reliable coworker.

“I told her many times during her evaluations that the thing I appreciated about her most was that she brought security and dependability to the front office,” Kuzak said.

Services for Leppanen were held Tuesday, Nov. 3 at St. Christopher Catholic Church. Kuzak said Leppanen’s usual personality was easily seen.

“That’s the one theme that I saw yesterday when I went to the viewing . in all of the pictures, she was always smiling and always laughing.”