Cosima D. Vitus was born on March 10, 1903 in the Mohawk Valley, what is now part of Springfield. Her mother, Dorothea Blume Vitus, wanted her daughter to become a musician, so she was named for Frau Cosima Wagner. Cosima’s father, Bruno C. Vitus, owned a cherry orchard. Cosima graduated from high school in Eugene, then attended the University of Oregon for two years, studying home economics. After her mother’s death from cancer, her father fell ill and Cosima had to leave school to help care for the family. She worked for the First National Bank of Oregon, which later became First Interstate, and in 1938 she married Angus MacInnis and moved to Corvallis. They bought acreage on the hillside from the Whiteside family and started a housing division, called Country Club Heights, prior to World War II. When they had to stop construction during the war because they couldn’t get the needed materials, they started a lumber business, Wren Planing Mill. Angus died in January 1954, and Cosima continued to operate the mill until 1957.
In September of 1954, Robert H. Rankin visited Corvallis to check out CH2M Hill. He was working in system engineering for the Bonneville Power Administration in Portland, but was open to other opportunities. He met with Fred Merryfield, who wanted Bob to come to work for the young engineering firm. Bob made his acceptance contingent on finding a living situation. Housing was tight in Corvallis at the time, and there was nothing readily available. Fred’s wife, Mildred, was a good friend of the recently widowed Cosima, and Mildred approached Cosima about her willingness to rent a room to someone who would be working for CH2M. Bob and Cosima met and decided to try the arrangement for a month. He moved into the home on the hillside above the Country Club in September of 1954. Cosima’s niece lived in the house at the time, as well.
Bob’s work with CH2M Hill sent him on many trips, but he had always wanted to go to Alaska. In November 1957, he transferred to Alaska, which was still a territory, and worked on hydroelectric lines and substations. He worked in Alaska off and on for the next three years on a variety of projects, then returned to Corvallis around 1960.
Bob and Cosima were married in January of 1962. Bob introduced Cosima to fishing, and she took to it like a trout to a fly. When his work took him to Alaska, Cosima would visit to go fishing. “She smiled all the way down to her toes each time she caught a fish—didn’t matter what kind,” Bob recalled. For the next sixteen to eighteen years, Bob made periodic trips to Alaska, working on long-range planning four to five times a year. At one time, while Bob was working in Alaska, Cosima took a round-the-world tour, stopping in Anchorage to visit. When she stepped off the plane, she literally kissed the ground, Bob remembered, because she was so glad to get back into this country.
Cosima and Bob became interested in growing orchids when her nephew, who raised the temperamental blooms, gave Cosima several varieties. After several years, they still had not bloomed, so Cosima and Bob started to read about them and built a greenhouse in an effort to help the plants to thrive. Their interest grew into an avocation that took them to orchid shows and led to their membership in the Orchid Society. Both Cosima and Bob served the Society as president. They corresponded with people in Europe and England and had an article published in the Orchid Review. Their tour of Europe in 1967 was timed to culminate with the Chelsea Orchid Show in England.
Cosima belonged to Zonta International and enjoyed playing in bridge clubs. She was a life member of the Good Samaritan Hospital Auxiliary, and a member of the OSU Beaver Club and the United Methodist Church. Cosima developed Alzheimer’s in 1975, and Bob was thankful that its progression was very slow. She suffered with the disease for seventeen years. Bob had made a promise that she would never be put into a nursing home, and he made the decision to remain at home to take care of her. For a while, he said, it was touch and go who would die first because in the process of caring for Cosima, Bob’s health also suffered.
In 1990, Bob discovered the Grace Center Adult Day Services program, which was established to enable caregivers to have some much-needed time to themselves. Bob brought Cosima to Grace Center a couple of days a week until they both felt comfortable, then she began attending activities five days a week. Grace Center offers opportunities to socialize, be creative, get exercise, and share friendship. At the time, the Center was operated by Cheri Babb, a registered nurse. “I don’t know what I would have done without Cheri Babb,” Bob said. Although her skills and experience would enable Cheri to climb to the top of hospital administration, Cheri once told Bob that she prefers to work closer to people, which she does with energy and charm. Cheri got to know both Cosima and Bob well once Cosima began to participate in Grace Center activities. “Cosima was a beautiful woman and a joy to have around,” Cheri recalled. “She never failed to say ‘Thank you’ for any small thing someone did for her.”
Cosima kept going to the Center during the day until shortly before her death. On November 27, 1992, Cosima died at home in Bob’s arms. The program for her memorial service contained the following words:
She was different, she was special, unique in a thousand ways.
She was giving, she was loving, and we’ll miss her all our days….
“Cosima was the most patient, loving, and caring person you’d want to meet,” Bob explained. “You never heard her speak ill of anyone. Her smile was a joy to see. We lived happily ever after.”
As a memorial to Cosima and in grateful appreciation for the support of the Grace Center, Bob established the Cosima D. Vitus Rankin Fund. Additional contributions were made by friends in Cosima’s memory. Bob died on January 20, 2004 and his estate made another generous contribution to his wife’s memorial fund. The fund benefits the Grace Center for Adult Day Services.