Babette Lasker Rice, 90, passed away on July 21, 2021 at Mayo Health System in Sparta, Wisconsin. Babette was born on August 19, 1930, in Eau Claire, to Herman and Babette (Weinfeld) Lasker.
Babette grew up in Eau Claire, the younger sister to her brothers, Robert M. Lasker and Richard H. (Ree) Lasker. She graduated from Eau Claire Memorial High School in 1948 and enrolled in the first class of the Integrated Liberal Studies program at the University of Wisconsin in Madison.
Babette spent her first years after college in Eau Claire, working at the Fashion Clothing Store, a women’s boutique on Barstow Street, where she dressed women and young girls from around the Chippewa Valley and beyond. She modeled for the Fashion Store’s live television commercials on the nightly 10:00 news report on WEAU TV-13. After a short time living in Minneapolis, working at the Minneapolis Chamber of Commerce, Babette returned to Eau Claire and was introduced to Zel S. Rice II, of Sparta, at the birthday party of a mutual friend in Milwaukee.
Just at the time when the people who knew Babette best thought she may never settle down, the beautiful and stylish young woman, who had spent much of her young adulthood dancing across the ballrooms of Miami Beach hotels during winters there with her parents, found her true calling as a wife and mother. Babette and Zel were married on September 18, 1971 in Eau Claire, and they had 41 happy and wonderful years together until Zel’s death on May 1, 2013. Their son, David Zelotes Rice, was born November 14, 1972. Her family was her joy, and Babette devoted herself to Zel and David and to the extended Rice family, opening her home and her grand dining table to family and friends for holidays and birthdays, weddings and showers, and countless parties.
In the early years of their marriage, Babette, Zel, and David spent weekends at their home in Sparta and the weekdays in Madison, where Zel served in the cabinet of Governor Patrick J. Lucey as Secretary of Transportation and for Governor Martin J. Schreiber as the State of Wisconsin’s first Secretary of Industry, Labor and Human Relations. In 1980, Zel left public service, and they moved from Madison back to Sparta. Babette was appointed to the Western Wisconsin Planning Commission by Governor Tony Earl and served on the board of directors of Monroe County Crime Stoppers. Her greatest passion in the community was for the Sparta hospital and the importance of maintaining local healthcare access in a small rural town. She served on the Sparta hospital foundation board for nearly thirty years, and developed the idea for their annual fundraising dinner, which continued on for more than 20 years. Babette and Zel co-chaired the capital campaign for Mayo Health System's expansion of its Emergency Room and Clinic in Sparta and together played critical roles in shaping the hospital’s future serving the community for the next generation.
Babette's broad smile was beautiful and always present. She was warm and caring but had a quick sense of humor, and her natural charisma allowed her to connect easily with others. She loved music and dancing, playing bridge with her friends, but most importantly spending every moment she could with her beloved Zel and David.
Babette was preceded in death by her husband, Zel, her parents, Herman and Babette, and her brothers, Robert and Richard. She is survived by her son, David Z. Rice, of Sparta, and many nieces and nephews. A visitation will be held at Lanham-Schanhofer Funeral Home in Sparta on Wednesday, July 28th, from 4:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m. Interment will be private.
Babette’s family wishes to express its thanks to the members of the staff of the Morrow Home and Mayo Clinic Health System in La Crosse, and deep gratitude to the members of the staff of Mayo Clinic Health System in Sparta for their loving care in her final days. Memorials can be made to the Sparta Area Cancer Support, Inc. and Friends of the Sparta Free Library for the Library expansion.
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