RTA honors 98-year-old advisor for 39 years of service: “It’s been my lifeline″

July 30, 2018

RTA honors 98-year-old advisor for 39 years of service: “It’s been my lifeline″

CLEVELAND, Ohio--Marie Fratus has served as a Regional Transit Authority advisor for 39 years, or not quite 40 percent of her life.

RTA recently revamped its Community Advisory Committee and gave emeritus status without voting rights to long-time advisory board members, including the 98-year-old Fratus.

But she plans to keep attending the meetings and speaking her mind about public transit. Few have better first-hand knowledge of RTA than Fratus. She has relied on public transit since immigrating to Cleveland from Italy at age 8, and her father spent decades working for the Cleveland Railway, a forebear of RTA.

“It’s been my lifeline,” Fratus (pronounced FREIGHT-us) says of transit. “It’s so important for people who don’t have cars.”

RTA leaders will dedicate a plaque at 1:30 p.m. Wednesday honoring her at the Little Italy-University Circle station. She has spent much of the past 90 years worshipping in Little Italy and serving the community there.

An RTA resolution in February praised Fratus for “her vast knowledge of the Authority and her unique historical perspective.” The resolution said she has attended nearly every RTA groundbreaking and opening.

RTA board member Leo Serrano, the board’s liaison to the advisory committee, says of Fratus, “She has never wavered in her passion and commitment for public transit.”

The former Marie DiVito emigrated from the Molise region of Italy. Her father started with the railway as a water boy and rose to head foreman of the Harvard yard.

In her teens, Marie used a weekly pass to ride buses from her Wade Park home to John Hay High School. “We cheated like hell,” she recalls. “I’d pass it to somebody else, who’d pass it to somebody else.”

After graduation, she worked at her brother’s Nela Florist shop, which survives in other hands in East Cleveland. She demonstrated flower arrangements at clubs and on television shows.

She got a driver’s license but never used it, afraid to aggravate her high blood pressure. She lived in Wade Park, Cleveland Heights and Mayfield Heights over the years and was active in Little Italy all the while, partly by helping to form and teach a Sunday school at Little Italy’s Holy Rosary Church. She married Robert Fratus, who died 32 years later.

RTA was born in 1975. Four years later, it formed what was called a Citizen Participation Advisory Committee. Fratus was chosen as one of its original 20 volunteers.

In the early years, the advisors served as ambassadors and guides. When routes underwent big changes, they spent hours at the stations and stops, helping riders understand routes, schedules and fares.

“I must have spent 10 weeks in Maple Heights,” she says.

She has also given RTA advice and says leaders have listened, such as when she suggested finding sponsors for bus shelters.

Just in the last year, her health has begun to falter. She has had five heart stents and vision problems. She still lives independently, but her three sons visit daily. She takes RTA paratransit as needed.

Fratus is upset about recent scandal at RTA, where longtime President George Dixon III resigned amid accusations of getting authority healthcare insurance while underpaying the premiums. But the news hasn’t cooled her passion to serve the system. “People still need public transportation regardless,” she says.

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