Lincoln, Nebraska, firefighter Rita Makovicka died unexpectedly on Tuesday, February 22, 2001. The death of the active, healthy 39-year-old, who had been in excellent physical condition, has stunned and baffled her co-workers and friends. "None of it makes any sense," co-worker Deb Lefferts told a local newspaper. "It just doesn't seem real."
Makovicka had been on the Lincoln Fire Department since 1993. She was named its Firefighter of the Year in 1999, had received two unit citations, and chaired the department's minority recruitment committee. She had been planning to attend the WFS conference in Georgia the following month.
Raised in a small Nebraska town, one of thirteen children, Makovicka began playing basketball in high school and was on the Girls State Basketball Team in 1977 and 1979. Her local newspaper named her its "Female Athlete of the Century." Six feet tall by her senior year in high school, and excelling in volleyball, basketball, track (hurdles, shot put, and long jump), and softball, she was offered Division I athletic scholarships in all four sports. She ultimately chose to attend the University of Wyoming on a basketball scholarship. She later became an assistant volleyball coach at Western Illinois University, and then a coach at Harvard High School, before becoming a firefighter.
Following her death, it was announced that Mackovicka had been chosen last October to be inducted into the Nebraska High School Sports Hall of Fame this spring. The public announcement was made a few weeks early due to her death.
An autopsy was performed a few days after her death, with inconclusive results. Foul play is not suspected. Mackovicka apparently never got out of bed that morning, and was found unresponsive about 6 p.m. Her co-workers from the Lincoln Fire Department were unable to revive her, and she was pronounced dead at a local hospital.
Rita Mackovicka is survived by her life partner, Marsha Rupert, by her mother, Frances Mackovicka, and by numerous brothers, sisters, nieces and nephews. A memorial service was held at the Firefighters Union Hall on February 26; Lincoln firefighters attended in full dress uniform. Her funeral was held the following day at St. Joseph's Catholic Church in Mackovicka's home town of York.
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