|A Sermon- Bob Richards’ Eulogy
Sometime in the morning on June 11, 1909, Robert Charles Richards opened his eyes for the first time to the world. He was born in a small frame house at 1115 Railroad Ave. in Kewanee. Bob was the second child of Charles and Anna Pollock Richards. He was named after a Pollock family friend, Robert Ford. His older sister, Genevieve, who was two at the time, apparently did not think too much of Bob. She and a cousin named Ellen immediately ran away from home. A farmer found the two girls near the viaduct along what is now Route 34 and brought them back. After talking with her parents, Genevieve decided to stay and that Bob was probably worth keeping. Thus began Bob’s 94-year journey through life.
The life of Bob Richards was one of great wealth. Not in terms of earning a lot of money, or living in a fancy house, or driving a brand new car every other year. Bob’s life was enriched with something far more valuable than such things. Bob’s wealth was measured by the love of his wife and family, the respect he earned from those who knew him, the wide range of experiences he had in his various jobs, and of course the passion he displayed with his love for history.
Bob grew up in the Kewanee-Neponset area with his parents, Genevieve, and two other siblings, Florence and Melvin. He was lucky enough to know his grandparents. He was close to both of his grandfathers.
He became a Cubs fan in 1921, when at the age of 12; some family friends took him to his first game. Every life has frustration and disappointment. Being a fan of the Chicago Cubs would certainly provide that.
Bob’s interest in history apparently did not expand to the other subjects of academia. Six weeks into his sophomore year in high school, Bob quit school and started working in a bowling alley. Now, there was nothing shameful about this. In 1924, most people quit school following the 8th grade and went to work. The only problem was that Bob neglected to tell his parents. They did not find out until Report Cards came out and Bob did not have one. On September 25, 1925, Bob went to work at the Kewanee Boiler Shop, beginning a working career that would last almost 50 years.
In 1927, he joined the Fraternal Order of Eagles #982 in Kewanee. His Grandfather Pollock was a charter member of the Kewanee Lodge. At the time Bob joined, he was just 17 years old and was the youngest member of the Eagles in the United States. He went on to be President of the local lodge three times and remained a member his entire life.
By 19, Bob started to spread his wings a bit. He and his friends would go dancing six nights a week, traveling all over the countryside. A common practice back then was to attend barn dances. When someone constructed a new barn, a dance would be held in it while the building was still clean and fresh. In 1931, Louis Stotler built a new barn on his farm near Camp Grove. As soon as it was done, Stotler and his friends planned a dance. When it was held, Bob was there. So was a young high school girl named Marcella Routh, who attended with her brothers and sisters and several friends. Bob was real smooth. He danced every dance, but not with her. He danced with all of Marcella’s friends, but just kept passing her by. She couldn’t figure out what the problem was.
Well, they had what was called a tag dance, partners were switched mid-dance, and Bob ended up dancing with Marcella. And as they say, the rest is history. After that dance, Bob and Marcella wrote to each other once a week. After she graduated from high school, they began to date. Finally, on February 18, 1933, Bob and Marcella were married in the Visitation Rectory here in Kewanee.
They were blessed with three children; Robert Jr., Joan, and Dan.
Over the years, Bob provided for his family by various means. He worked at the Boiler shop until 1943. He worked at Demmler’s Machine Shop, drove the school bus for Neponset, farmed, and then was a business manager for the City of Kewanee. In 1957 he and the family moved to Albuquerque, NM where he worked for a beauty supply company and Formica Company. In 1960, Bob and the family moved to Galesburg to run donut shop and restaurant, and then a beauty supply company there. In 1965, Bob came home to Kewanee and began to work at Hyster. He retired in 1974.
Bob Richards was many things.
Bob was a workingman, a union man, always proud of the fact that he could get up each morning and leave his mark on the world with the talent from his own two hands.
Bob was a Democrat, and was not afraid to speak his mind on political issues. He even ran for the state legislature in 1954 for the party. Whether you agreed or disagreed with his politics, you could not help but respect Bob for his willingness to stand up and be counted for something he believed in. In an age of political correctness and policy positions determined by the latest opinion poll, there was something refreshing about a man like Bob who looked you straight in the eye, spoke his mind with honesty, and then told you to get in line or get out of the way.
Bob was a community leader, serving as a volunteer fireman, even serving as President of the Fire Board, and a regional Fire Board. He was also President of the Wethersfield Agricultural Council. He was active in AARP and the Henry County Senior Citizens.
Bob was a man of faith who loved his Lord and served his church as an Elder.
Finally, Bob was Kewanee’s Historian, a role he began in earnest following his retirement
After the death of his father, Bob’s mother lived with him and Marcella, as well as his other siblings. She kept scrapbooks, which she shared with Bob. By sharing those scrapbooks with him, his interest in history kindled and grew. In time, he carried on that tradition, accumulating volumes and volumes of scrapbooks that contained an incredible wealth of historical information.
As the nation celebrated its’ Bicentennial in 1976, Kewanee planned several activities of its’ own which promoted history. At the same time, Bob, with the support of many others, called for the formation of a local historical society for Kewanee. Realizing the need to preserve local history, Bob called for the formation of a new society. At that first meeting on November 16, 1976, Bob was elected President. It was a position he would hold until 2001. Marcella was elected Secretary. Their daughter Joan was elected to the Board of Directors. It has been a family affair ever since then. Eventually, Marcella became Treasurer and Joan was Secretary. Joan’s husband, Bob Herrick joined the Board. Bob’s sister Genevieve became a major supporter and benefactor. And through it all, it was Bob’s leadership that made the Kewanee Historical Society what it is today. To be sure, he had plenty of help. There were many others who contributed their time and talent. But no one came close to what Bob and Marcella did for Kewanee’s museum. If it weren’t for them, there would not have been a Kewanee Historical Society.
But that wasn’t the only way that Bob served Kewanee as its’ Historian. He was a walking encyclopedia. Whenever Dave Clarke of the Star-Courier needed some information, all he would have to do is call up Bob. If he could not come up with the answer off of the top of his head, he could find it with a quick trip to his scrapbook collection.
When people moved to town and purchased one of old fine homes here, they
would seek out Bob who would gladly advise them on who build the house, how much
it cost, and how many times it changed hands.
People would call from some distant state inquiring about some long lost relative. Bob would provide them with all of the information they needed. If they sent any money as payment, it went into the Society treasury. Bob never took a dime.
Bob taught local history at Black Hawk East College.
Bob wrote several articles that were later published. You can find the books containing these articles in the libraries of the Western Illinois University and the University of Illinois. When Dan Rux was in high school, he was given an assignment to write about the Depression in Kewanee. He was referred to Bob. That contact sparked an idea in Bob, which led him to write and publish his book, The Depression Years. It told of life in Kewanee from 1929-1941. Even today, you will find it in libraries all across the state as a
source of anecdotal and statistical information on Kewanee. Bob came a long way for a man who quit high school to work in a bowling alley.
When Bob wasn’t at the museum, he was on the front porch of his home on the corner of East Street and Pleasant View Ave. There he held court, watching traffic, talking to visitors, and working on his scrapbooks.
And while Bob got a lot of attention for leading the Historical Society, someone still had to clean the museum, dust, pick things up, file things away, balance the Society checkbook, and so on. Those tasks and more fell to Marcella. It may not have been the most glamorous work, but it was essential and necessary. Without Marcella, Bob could not have accomplished as much, or served our town so well as its’ Historian. And she loved doing it. I suspect she did not have some great passion for Kewanee history. Simply put, she loved doing it, because Bob loved doing it.
I am happy to say that most people appreciated all the things Bob and Marcella did for Kewanee. In 1983 they were the Honorary Marshals of the Hog Days Parade. Bob received the “Friend Of History Award” from the Illinois State Historical Society. The League of Women Voters honored him in 1996. The DAR and Burns Grange also honored Bob. In 2002, the Kewanee Chamber of Commerce named Bob and Marcella “Citizens of the Year.” But of all the awards Bob and Marcella got, I can’t help but think the most meaningful to them came in 2001 when at the end of the 25th Anniversary Dinner for the Society, it was announced that the Kewanee Historical Society museum at 211 North Chestnut Street would be named “The Robert & Marcella Richards Museum.”
As the years passed, Bob had to start spending more and more time on that front porch, and less and less time in the museum that he loved. Shortly after the anniversary dinner, Bob stepped down as President, accepting the title of President Emeritus. And while his mind was always sharp as a tack, the reality was that his body simply wore out from a full and active life. In the end, Bob accepted that final certainty of life with a quiet, yet profound dignity.
How does one measure the mark a man like Bob leaves on the world? Perhaps one way is to add up the size of the bank accounts at the time of one’s death. But that would become meaningless once the estate was settled. Perhaps another way would be to gaze upon the museum, with the bright red sign bearing Bob and Marcella’s name. But the building could burn down tomorrow and its’ artifacts lost forever, with 211 N. Chestnut destined to become yet another parking lot in downtown Kewanee.
I think Bob would say the greatest mark he left was his family. If you visited with him for any length of time, he would inevitably talk about the latest achievement of his children or grandchildren, at the same time pulling out the latest picture of one of his great-grandchildren. The swelling pride that shone in his eyes was proof enough of what he felt was really important in life. That love that Bob gave and received is his real legacy. It lives on in his children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren.
At the end of the day, it is not bank accounts, plaques and awards on the wall, or museums that matter. It is how much you are respected by your friends and loved by your family. In the spring of his life, Bob loved and was loved by his parents, grandparents, and siblings. In the summer, he loved and was loved by his children Joan, Bob, Jr., and Dan. In his autumn, he expanded that love to his expanded family of 10 grandchildren and 14 great-grandchildren. And through all the seasons, both good and bad, he loved his wife Marcella. The last time I saw him, he told me that he counted up the time they had been
together. On November 1, he had to stop counting at 70 years, 8 months, and 11 days.
Shortly after 7 A.M. on November 18, 2003, Robert Charles Richards, Sr. opened his eyes for the first time to the world that is beyond our understanding. I have little doubt that the first thing he saw was Marcella standing at his side. Once again, Bob started to count their time together and this time, he will never have to stop. They are together forever in a better place. Let us not mourn their passing, but celebrate it as the climax and
reward of two rich and full lives founded on love.
May God bless Bob and Marcella. And may God bless all those who loved them.
Eulogy For Robert C. Richards, Sr.
By Mark R. Hepner
November 20, 2003
First Presbyterian Church
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