A north Minneapolis funeral director who helped hundreds of struggling families lay loved ones to rest will be buried Saturday at Zion Baptist Church.
Richard Estes, 84, a philanthropic lion in the north Minneapolis community, died May 29 after being hospitalized for breathing problems. His wake is Friday at Estes Funeral Chapel, which he founded 51 years ago.
“Everybody just loved him because he was a jolly person and he had sympathy and empathy for everyone,” said April Estes, Richard’s teenage sweetheart and wife of 42 years. “I am just lost without him.”
Estes, who lived eight blocks from the funeral home, is considered by many to be a neighborhood hero who gave generously and worked to stem youth violence. He spent decades concealing bullet wounds on the bodies of teens killed on the streets of his adopted home of Minneapolis.
He believed that every human deserved to be buried with dignity, said City Council Member Don Samuels.
Estes “not only dealt with the physical wounds, but the emotional fallout,” Samuels said, adding that the funeral director watched countless teens fall apart during services for friends. “Richard would comfort them.”
During the 1990s, Estes and his nephew Tracy Wesley invited 15 to 20 teens and gang members into the funeral home every quarter for about six years.
“He wanted to bring these young men in to show what happens after you pulled that trigger,’’ Wesley said. “But it left him sad because when he was growing up it was not the predominant thing for a young person to end up like this. It was senseless and just really hard for him to fathom.”
Estes donated caskets and services for the poorest families, and arranged for others to pay over time. He overlooked not being paid.
“When you are very generous, people will hurt you,” said Brian Herron, pastor of Zion Baptist Church, which Estes attended faithfully for 50 years. “He’s been hurt by many people. But he is very forgiving. It didn’t stop him from being generous, and always trying to find a way to help somebody.”
Herron, 58, who has known Estes since he was just 16, said giving Saturday’s eulogy is going to be particularly hard.
“It is just the weirdest thing to know that he will be in that hearse, but now he will be in the back,” said Camille Boone-Harrison, Estes’ business manager.
“He was [sweet]. People would come and say,‘We have no money. But can you bury my mother?’ And he would. It’s got to be hundreds or thousands of people he helped. He was there for the North Side community.”
Estes grew up in Baxter Springs, Kan., and served four years in the Marines before earning his degree at the California College of Mortuary Science in 1956. He apprenticed at his uncle’s funeral home in Des Moines before moving to Minneapolis, where his sister and brother lived.
He went to work for a black-owned funeral home but soon sought his own shop. Dressed in his customary business suit and cowboy boots, he ran his funeral home on Plymouth Avenue N. starting in 1962. In the early years, he also worked as an airline skycap to ensure that he had money for his business.
Although saddled with bad knees, a cane and dialysis, Estes went to the funeral home weekly and was there as recently as May 20 to give hugs and check on things.
In addition to his wife, Estes is survived by his children Kenneth, April LeAnn, Brittani and Myles; siblings Fred Estes and Margie Wright, and granddaughters Ashley and Kenisha.