Sunday will be the 40th anniversary of my father's death. Richard was fulfilling his Sunday obligation by attending Mass on late Saturday afternoon at St. Olaf Catholic Church. He was there with my sainted Aunt Peggy (in contrast to my other sainted aunt, Helen), and left her to take care of Communion, while he went to get the car so they could beat the crowd.
Aunt Peggy found Richard dead from a heart attack in the driver's seat. He was illegally parked, of course, near the church's entrance.
A few years earlier, Richard had prepared a pot of his famous rabbit stew to share with his best pal, Joe Miller. And then Joe went home to Chaska and suffered a fatal heart attack.
Joe was a beauty, and my brother Michael and I allowed a respectable amount of time to pass before we started needling my father about having killed his best friend with a large serving of rabbit stew.
Lo and behold, when we entered Richard's apartment on the day after his death, we found another pot of rabbit stew growing cold on the stove. We shared a laugh and agreed: "Richard not only killed Joe with his rabbit stew; he killed himself.''
Richard was a character of the first magnitude (as was Joe), and he's the reason that as a sportswriter, I've had incredible fondness for people such as Jerry Burns, Glen Sonmor, Billy Gardner and Calvin Griffith.
On occasion, I've been accused of having an over-the-top appreciation for irreverence, and my excuse for that is, "I grew up with Richard Reusse.''
He also gets credit for steering me into the newspaper business, even if he did so by accident. We had lived in Fulda, the heavenly burg of 1,100 in Murray County, until my mother Cecile's death in 1962 after a hideous battle with breast cancer. Richard sold his mortuary business in Fulda and we moved to Prior Lake, where Richard could be closer to ballgames at Met Stadium, and to relatives who also had moved from the farm fields of southwest Minnesota to the Twin Cities area.
I went to Prior Lake High School for my senior year and then enrolled at the University of Minnesota. Liberal Arts ... which means that I had no idea where I hoped a college education was going to take me.
Richard called Ted Peterson, the majordomo of the Minneapolis Morning Tribune's coverage of outstate preps and also state amateur baseball. Richard was energetically involved with the Fulda Giants of the First Night League in the late '40s and 1950s, and that's how he met Ted.
Richard was trying to get me a job, so he wouldn't have to pay all the bills as I went to the university. Ted hired me as a copy boy in August 1963, with the approval of Sid Hartman, the Tribune's sports editor. If Richard hadn't made that call, my guess is that today I'd be a dead bartender.
Last summer, the O'Rourkes of St. Paul (my Aunt Helen's family) who are part of my generation had a small gathering in Austin -- after a much-larger gathering of the whole O'Rourke clan in Easton, Minn. John and his family were the hosts. Darren and his family had traveled from Australia, Fr. Brian from Los Angeles and Sheila from Tucson.
As is always the case in the gathering of the Irish side of my parents' family tree, we made pleasantries about family for a half-hour, and then the cousins started telling their favorite "Richard stories.'' Even for me, there are always new ones about what he did to agitate, or to get a laugh, and on occasion, an act of kindness.
I've been telling assorted stories about Richard and his buddies for almost three decades on the radio, and invariably my long-time partner, Joe Soucheray, says, "You have to write a book ... Fulda Stories.''
That would make it work, remembering the Richard stories. For now, I can bring one back when stuck in Twin Cities traffic, and give myself a smile.
When it came to life in general, Richard did leave me with several important lessons:
One, don't sweat the small stuff; two, money exists to be spent; and three, never, ever make rabbit stew with his recipe.
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