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The Northwoods River News | Rhinelander, Wisconsin

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February 1, 2023

10/28/2022 5:29:00 AM
Michele Riopel

Michele Riopel, 73, died peacefully surrounded by her family on Oct. 19, 2022, in Madison. Michele was born Alice Michele Kirsch on July 30, 1949, to Dr. John R. Kirsch, DDS ("Jack") and Alice McBride Kirsch.

An ardent supporter of education, her family, and the community around her, Michele gained a special perspective on life after her brush with cancer in her early 40s. She felt lucky for every minute she had, and she lived life like she meant it.

Michele's education began in Rhinelander at St. Mary's and Rhinelander High School. Highlights include her 1963 trip to the Wisconsin State Spelling Bee as Rhinelander City Spelling Champion at age 13, and winning an award from the National Council of Teachers of English for her short story, "Step on a Crack." Her drama exploits featured studying with Lee Strasberg in Racine, and numerous stage performances. She recounted narrowly avoiding injury while portraying a fairy in RHS's staging of Ondine, when a student stagehand left for a smoke break while she was still suspended in the air, leaving her to memorably plummet toward the stage, frantically spinning and shouting her lines. She maintained that she would have graduated in the top ten of her class but for an unfortunate incident in Spanish class involving her and her brother John, which led to her "A" grades being replaced by "Fs."

Michele assisted her dad in his dental practice, studied at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and Nicolet College, and later added Montessori certification and real estate licenses.

Michele first met Gerry Riopel, the older brother of her classmate, when they were both recruited to be models for a Rhinelander School of the Arts drawing class. She was attired in a full body black leotard, and he in white swimming trunks, and they ignored one another completely. After crossing paths again later in life, sparks and witty barbs flew, and they soon married. Gerry was warned, when marrying a Kirsch girl: "It will never be dull." It wasn't.

While supporting the family real estate business, Michele devoted herself to raising her four children, and taking on leadership roles in their various activities. In the 1980s, after Montessori training in California, Michele became the directress of Montessori North in Minocqua for several years. She was a past president of the Montessori Parents Organization, and an active Rhinelander Catholic Central School Board Member. She was forever proud to have revived RCC's forensics program and, with her dear friend Marty Neis, to have started the RCC Science Fair.

In the 1990s, Michele joined her husband as an agent at Rhinelander Realty/First Weber. She surprised no one with her success, though Gerry may have been surprised that she intended to physically share his personal office space. She continued her community involvement on the Northern Arts Council, the Scholarship Foundation, and fighting the dreaded milfoil on Crescent Lake. She loved to travel, and treasured international trips with her family and close friends.

Michele was a life-long competitor, reveling in cribbage games, Tuesday morning tennis league, racquetball tournaments (she was a state champion in 1982), and pickleball, a sport she took up later in life. She relished her time on the golf course with her friends and her golf partners, Donna O'Donnell and Becky Priebe. A true perfectionist, she was beyond thrilled when she finally made a hole-in-one. Michele loved to be outdoors with friends and family, fishing, hunting, berry picking and spending time on the water.

Michele loved nothing more than to bring friends and family together with food. The dinners with "Gourmet Group," "Birthday Club," and when entertaining the Kirsch and Riopel families for various holidays were always beautiful and delicious productions.

Michele was unfailingly kind, hilarious, and generous. She was one of the best storytellers many who knew her can recall. She always put her family before herself.

She is survived by daughters Danielle Sievert, Christianne Whiting, Leslie Riopel, son Michael Riopel, sons-in-law Patrick Whiting and Mahmood Modirroosta, daughter-in-law Jennifer Riopel Van Boxtel, and 10 grandchildren: Easton, Mataya, Emmerson, Cary, Tommy, Julian, Tenleigh, Tyler, Thomas and Theo. She was adored by all of them.

Michele is also survived by sisters Victoria Houston, Cecilia Goldhor and Stephanie Olsen, and brother John Kirsch, her Riopel sisters-in-law Lucille Palm and Vivianne (Tom) Stevens, and brothers-in-law Andre, Edmond (Becky), John (Kathy), Yves (Ruth) and Rob Riopel, and her many nieces and nephews. Michele was preceded in death by her beloved husband Gerry, her parents, her siblings Lesley Kirsch, Melanie Kirsch Smith, and Peter Kirsch, and her sisters-in-law Cheryl and Kathy Riopel.

Michele was insistent that her life be celebrated, not mourned, and her family wholeheartedly agrees that hers is a life worth celebrating.

Visitation for Michele will be held on Friday, Nov. 4, 2022 from 9:30 to 11:30 a.m., with a Mass of Christian Burial following at 11:30 a.m. at the Nativity of Our Lord Catholic Church. Father Chris Kemp will be officiating. Interment will be in the Newbold Memorial Cemetery. A celebration of her life will follow the funeral mass. You may leave your private condolences for the Riopel family at The Carlson Funeral Home (715-369-1414) is handling the arrangements for the family.

Reader Comments

Posted: Friday, November 4, 2022
Article comment by: Craig Strid

It’s the spirit of a person that touches us,
staying with us forever,
Be with God Michele
My prayers and condolences go out to the family
Craig Strid

Posted: Tuesday, November 1, 2022
Article comment by: Bob Marks

With deepest condolences to Michele’s family and friends. She was special, and will be greatly missed.

Posted: Friday, October 28, 2022
Article comment by: Tom Bloom

Sad to hear of the passing of one of my good friends from St. Mary’s School and high school and beyond.

Rest In Peace Michele……

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