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Published: Sunday, 11/21/2004

Jeep worker played steel guitar in several bands

James F. Ritzenthaler, a Jeep retiree who once taught guitar at a Toledo music store and played steel guitar professionally with several bands, died Thursday in the Whitehouse Country Manor at age 70.

Mr. Ritzenthaler died of Alzheimer's disease, said his wife of 44 years, Janet Ritzenthaler.

Using the stage name Jim Ritz, Mr. Ritzenthaler toured with Randy Shaffer and the Honky Tonk Heroes, a country band that played extensively in northwest Ohio but also toured nationally, Mrs. Ritzenthaler said.

"I loved to hear him play," she said. "It's not easy when your husband's gone [on the road] all the time. But he was the best steel guitar player around."

A 1952 graduate of Libbey High School, Mr. Ritzenthaler studied music at the University of Toledo before leaving school to teach guitar, steel and otherwise, for Durdel's Stars of Tomorrow, a school affiliated with a West Toledo music store. Drafted into the U.S. Army in 1956, Mr. Ritzenthaler sent for his guitar after being posted in Germany and played with bands in Europe, his widow said.

He returned to the United States in 1958, and was discharged from the Army five years later. He sold insurance for Prudential, then went to work for what was then Kaiser Jeep, while moonlighting as a musician.

In 1968, Mr. Ritzenthaler was one of several hundred workers furloughed by Kaiser Jeep. He then went to work for the Ohio Turnpike as a truck driver, but snow-plowing season conflicted with his music schedule, so he quit to become a full-time musician, Mrs. Ritzenthaler said.

Fred Shuman, who bought Durdel's Music 11 years ago, said he and Mr. Ritzenthaler often sat in with each other's bands. They played at local Legion and Knights of Columbus halls and at special events, he said.

"He was a sweet, kind, relaxed musician," Mr. Shuman said. "He was very easy to play with, and very talented."

A call-back of furloughed workers in 1983 brought Mr. Ritzenthaler back to the Jeep assembly line, and there he remained until retiring in 1999.

In younger days, Mr. Ritzenthaler enjoyed horseback riding, and it was through this pastime that he met his wife. She also rode horses, and lived near the stable where Mr. Ritzenthaler boarded his horse, and they met one day while riding in opposite directions along Holloway Road, she recalled.

During those days, Mr. Ritzenthaler showed and judged horses at the Tri-State Rodeo Association, He also was a member of the Toledo Federation of Musicians and St. Joseph's Church, Maumee.

Survivors include his wife, who was born Janet Hott; sons, Raymond and Randy Ritzenthaler; daughter, Linda Coluccio; sisters, Jean Shelley and Janet Murawa; five grandchildren, and two great-grandchildren.

The body will be in the Maison-Dardenne-Walker Funeral Home, Maumee, where the family will receive visitors from 2 to 5 p.m. and 6 to 8 p.m. Monday, with a Scripture service starting at 7 p.m. Funeral services will begin at 10 a.m. in the mortuary, followed by a Mass of Christian Burial in St. Joseph's Church, Maumee at 10:30.

The family suggests tributes to the Northwest Ohio Alzheimer's Association.



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