Getting to know..."Miss Rita" Rillman
Ever since the Milliken Science Building opened in 2000, Rita Ann Rillman, known affectionately as Miss Rita, has been serving up coffee and other drinks with a smile to Wofford students at Java City in the Acorn Cafe. That smile tends to pick up the students as much as the caffeine does.
The way Rillman sees it, it’s only fair if she can help pep up their day.
“They sure pep mine up,” she says. “I mean, I’m feeling kind of down now because my son’s just been deployed to Afghanistan. Then I get some of these crazy boys coming in here telling me what they did over the weekend. Then they ask me out for dates. I know they’re playing, but when they do things like that, (Rillman snaps her fingers), there it goes. I forget about my worries. I feel privileged. I really do.”
Rillman wasn’t always a java genius. She laughs when recalling her first week on the job.
“I didn’t know anything about coffee but how to drink it when I came here,” she says. “They gave me half a day of training to learn it.”
Learning to listen to her customers came naturally, though, and it’s why the students come to her for more than just coffee.
“We laugh a lot here but we’re serious, too,” she says. “A lot of people don’t take these children seriously. They chalk it up to their age. But some of them have deep problems a lot of times.
“I know a lot about what’s going on in their lives. They need somebody to share it with, and they know I won’t condemn them. They know I’m going to love them anyway. We just have that thing where we click. I don’t judge them, and they don’t judge me in return.”
More often than not, Rillman can tell you what someone is going to order before it escapes their mouth. She says there is no trick to it.
“I don’t remember everyone’s order right away,” she says. “But if you come in here every day I’m going to remember it, eventually. It just kind of comes automatically. The majority of the time they get the same thing, day after day.”
Day after day. Week after week. Semester after semester.
“The thing that really makes me feel good about everything is that I see them when they come in and I see them when they graduate, and the changes are really a remarkable thing to see,” says Rillman. “I’ve never been disappointed in any of them.”
Rillman isn’t hard to find on graduation day. She’s the one crying tears of joy and sadness at the same time.
“It’s awful,” she says. “Every year I tell myself I’m not going to allow myself to get so involved. You ought to see me every year. I’m crying for everybody.”
She’s seen enough students come through Wofford that she feels she has graduated, in a way.
“I’m a well educated lady now,” Rillman says. “I got a college degree for nothing. All it cost was a little bit of love.”