Obituary: Lewis M. Ritchie, 94, machinist and gardener

  • Article by: STEVE BRANDT , Star Tribune
  • Updated: November 2, 2011 - 8:43 PM

He loved growing and sharing buckets full of tomatoes and machined parts for the space program.

Lewis M. Ritchie grew up in western Wisconsin, the son of Italian immigrants who farmed, so when he moved to the Twin Cities and found work as a machinist, he looked for a big lot in Anoka.

He grew tomatoes. Lots of tomatoes. So many that his wife of 69 years, Genevieve, remembers the year she put up 50 quarts of tomatoes. "I got big pails just full of tomatoes," she said.

And he gave his vegetables away.

"Every time we'd visit him, you'd have to leave with bags of produce from his garden," recalled his son Dennis, of Eden Prairie. He loved having grandchildren in the garden, where they helped him pull radishes.

Ritchie kept gardening until the couple moved to Minnetonka not quite three years ago. He died there Sunday at age 94.

He was born near the crossroads of Comstock, Wis., as Aloysius Ricci. But when he arrived at his one-room country school, his wife said, he was asked to spell his name. As a first-grader, he had no clue, and teachers gave him an Anglicized spelling. He was the last boy of 12 children and remained on the farm until age 23, shortly after marrying his wife, whom he met at a country dance.

Ritchie enlisted in World War II to beat the draft, selecting the Army Air Corps, for which he was stationed as an airplane mechanic in the Azores.

After the war, he was hired by Honeywell as a machinist in a Minneapolis plant. His son remembers him taking correspondence courses in algebra and calculus to improve his skills.

Honeywell had contracts for the space program, and its engineers would design parts such as flight controls and guidance equipment. "He would make them out of metal so the engineers could see if it functioned," his son said.

After retirement, he got antsy. He had taught night school at what is now Anoka Technical College in machine trades and soon landed on the staff as an instructor. He took particular interest in teaching Hmong students. "He said they really wanted to learn," his wife said.

Besides his son and wife, Ritchie was survived by another son, David, of Phoenix, four grandchildren and four great-grandchildren. A visitation is schedule for 10 a.m. and a funeral service for 11 a.m. Friday at Washburn-McReavy, 7625 Mitchell Road, Eden Prairie.

Steve Brandt • 612-673-4438

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