It was always hard to say goodbye to Jane Hittler.
She lit up a room when she walked in, charismatic and good-natured, the kind of person who drew others to her, friends and family members say.
On Jan. 17 they gathered to say their last goodbye.
But she’ll always be among them, they said.
Hittler died Jan. 12 at 91.
She was a passionate volunteer whose many projects earned her the honorary titles of “First Lady of Marco Island” and “Grandmother of the YMCA,” among others.
Hittler’s friends and family gathered for her funeral at San Marco Catholic Church, where the Rev. Tim Navin celebrated a Requiem Mass for her, then proceeded to Marco Island Cemetery off Bald Eagle Drive for her burial. Afterward, they gathered at the church again, this time at its new parish center for a reception and light lunch.
“She left us a great heritage,” said Dan Hittler, the oldest of the three children of Hittler and her late husband, Larry. “She told us, ‘You can do something, and you should do it.”
Navin referred to a passage in the second Scripture reading and the Gospel: “We heard how we’re called to live in the Father’s house, the house of the Lord,” he said. “A big part of the Gospel is what we do now, aware of what the Lord is doing in our midst. A person who did that in her own life was Mary Jane Hittler. She lived that Gospel.”
Mary Lou Jankowsi, one of Hittler’s two daughters, later explained that her mother went by “Jane” most of the time.
“She called me ‘Mary Sunshine,’¤” Jankowski said, grinning.
Navin told of Hittler’s dedication to serving Marco Island since she and her husband moved here in 1967.
“She loved Marco Island. She helped to serve this island,” he said. “She had faith and loved the Lord, and she loved his people. She served this parish with phenomenal skill.”
The congregation sang in Hittler’s honor the hymn Be Not Afraid:
You shall see the face of God and live —
Be not afraid. ... I go before you always.
Come follow me,
And I will give you rest.
Tom Owens, a longtime friend of Hittler’s, spoke of her talent to very subtly talk other people into volunteering for projects to help Marco Island.
“That’s the important thing Jane brought to the game: contacts,” Owens said. “She didn’t just do everything herself; she brought other volunteers in to work on various projects.”
He summarized Hittler’s many achievements during her 39 years on the island, including 1984 Citizen of the Year and her 1992 beautification award, which landed her an invitation to the Reagan White House.
“Her low-pressure approach captivated people,” Owens said. “She caught you by surprise. She was a pistol, and a really good one. She was an inspiration, a friend, a helper, a cheerleader. She had a way of getting people involved. Now Jane is in heaven and she will continue her work.”
At the cemetery, Navin read the 23rd Psalm, which he said Hittler had picked out herself. He read invocations from the Order of Christian Funerals, with family members and friends responding, “Lord, hear our prayer.”
Family members went one by one, laying red and yellow roses on top of the casket under a sunny sky with a cool breeze.
At San Marco Catholic Church’s parish center, friends paid their condolences to family members.
Dan Hittler of Cass City, Mich.; Jankowski of Naples; and their sister, Sue Child of Arlington, Texas, remembered things about their mother from a family point of view.
“She never proselytized or pontificated — she and our dad showed us by their own example as volunteers and community workers,” Dan Hittler said. “As a result, we children, and the grandchildren, have always been volunteers in our own communities. We never thought about it. We just understood that we would be volunteers.”
Jankowski recalled some personal and humorous things about her mother.
“My mother was a good-looking woman,” she said. “She always wanted to look her best. One time she was worried that she didn’t have enough lipstick on. I learned lots and lots of things from her. She was the mainstay of our family.”
Child joined her sister in reminiscing about their mother.
“She was a very good cook. She could sew clothes, too, and she taught us how to cook and sew,” Child said. “Everyone loved her pie crusts. Dad, I think, was the one who said dessert was an integral part of a meal, and we always had dessert. Mom was a ‘shoe-holic.’ I’m a shoe nut, too, and so are my daughters.
“We were so happy our parents moved down here. They developed a whole new life, and both of them loved Marco Island so much.”