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Because of her resemblance to Ellen White, Rita Hoshino portrayed the Adventist Church co-founder at numerous events. Hoshino died earlier this month at age 58. [photo: Pat Wick]
February 21, 2014 | Silver Spring, Maryland, United States | Ansel Oliver/ANN
Seventh-day Adventists from around the world had their picture taken with Rita Hoshino portraying the denomination’s co-founder Ellen G. White, who died in 1915.
In her later years, the former college and high school staff member was a presenter—as it’s known in the industry—of White, who wrote prolifically and whom the Adventist Church considers a 19th century prophet.
Hoshino, who died February 10 at the age of 58 from complications of kidney disease and pneumonia, saw her fledgling ministry take off following her 2010 appearance at the General Conference Session exhibit hall in Atlanta. Adventist Heritage Ministries (AHM) sponsored her presentation there and at other events nationwide, including campmeetings, youth events and anniversaries of denominational institutions.
Like many presenters, she researched her character and told stories in the first person. “Her stories were so well done,” said AHM President Thomas Neslund. “I couldn’t have afforded it, but I would have wanted to hire her full time. I appreciated her dedication to the cause.”
She could travel with little advance notice to tell stories of White writing her touchstone book “The Great Controversy” on the back of leftover hat ads to save money on paper, or the time White bought an old horse named Charlie. Hoshino eventually purchased a back-up outfit after her costume didn’t come back in time from the cleaners.
According to her website, Hoshino’s goal was to point people “not to Ellen White, but to the Jesus she so adored.”
“She took her portrayal of Ellen White very seriously,” said longtime friend Michelle Mesnard, who served as director of Public Relations at Pacific Union College (PUC). “She did not portray an idealized or cartoon version of Ellen White. She wanted people to see her human side.”
Rita Sue Hoshino was born in 1955 and adopted by a family in Tennessee. Her birth mother was Caucasian and her birth father was Chinese-Hawaiian, which gave her facial features similar to the Adventist icon she would later portray.
The family moved to the western U.S. state of California, where she graduated from Mountain View Academy and PUC. As a teenager she once portrayed a young White at an event for the Pacific Press Publishing Association, where her father worked.
At PUC she majored in art and was known for her humor. As senior class president, she led the graduation processional out of the gym on roller skates, a controversial move in 1979.
She worked for PUC becoming the assistant dean of students, a job she held for 23 years before accepting a position at Mountain View Academy. She was also a promoter and booking agent for Christian musicians.
Friends said she had a near photographic memory, earning her the moniker “Rita Rolodex” for her ability to remember people and intricate details about their families. As a presenter she could quote White while improvising, sometimes while taking a curveball from a fellow presenter.
“Young adults especially, they loved to see her humor and wit come through, because if you read James and Ellen, they had a sense of humor,” said Dennis Farley, a pastor who presents the character of White’s husband James.
In 2010 the duo performed in New York at the Hiram Edson Farm dedication after presenting at an Adventist church in Rochester earlier that day. They each took separate cars to the farm, with Hoshino staying in costume for the drive.
“I wish I’d had a camera,” Farley recalled of the 35-mile trip. “I kept looking in the rearview mirror and there was Ellen White driving the car behind me.”