Lyle's Blog

Big Richard

November 21, 2014

I remember when I first met him.  It was shortly after I moved over to our present location.  He would come in and meet with another friend of mine, Richard Coon.  Richard was the retired Vice Principal of Bend High and a friend of many years.  They soon became Big Richard and Little Richard to me.  Sadly, we lost little Richard a few years back to cancer.
I discovered that Big Richard was the construction supervisor for Habitat for Humanity.  A very heavy man, I found it interesting that he was living in a 5th wheel trailer....actually sharing it with his brother who I believe we lost to lung cancer.
Carrie was on the list to get a Habitat House so I asked him if it were possible to find out just how high up she was .  He came back the next day, informing me that she was at the top of the list.  Actually, the person to be the first to get a house in the next location.  Shortly afterwards, he came in and told me that if she wanted, a person in front of her had just dropped out and she was in line, if she desired, to gain the last house in the present location.
I sat down one morning with him over coffee.  It was right after a gala event up at COCC where they were raising money for the local chapter of Habitat.  I shared with him that I knew the fellow who had actually started the first chapter here in Bend, some years back.  We had placed a donation box for him at the counter.  I told Richard that I wanted to get involved and help, especially since Carrie was getting a house.  But a fund raiser meal in my place would not raise the money that was needed and besides, I wanted to do something that the local joe could afford to help out with.....and who could afford a $100 a plate meal.
I had been playing a few hands of free Texas Holdem with my buddy, Frank, down at a bar in Sunriver and I thought out loud that maybe we could set up a tourney right in our back room.  I even coined a phrase, Holdem for Habitat.  Richard thought it might be a fun project, so I found some table tops and chips on closeout at Walmart and thus began our new project.
The first night only brought in 2 players.  I thought it was going to be a bust.  But the next brought in 4 more and before we knew it, we had 3 full tables of players.  At first, all three of us played but Richard soon backed out of that.  He said, "You guys play, let me handle the chips" and so he became our 'Chip Boss'.  It had to be one boring job but he handled it well.  Announcing when the blinds were raised, restacking chips, and controlling the flow of the game.  I remember when the local TV station showed up and interviewed the three of us at a table with chips in front of us.
That program, less than 10 years old, has now raised over $40,000 to help build houses for the less fortunate.  As a matter of fact, one of our cooks is to receive the next house do out by the winter.  It is officially called 'The Big Richard Build' and all of our weekly funds are going towards it.  Crystal had Richard as her sponsor as he encouraged her through her process.
Somewhere after Carrie's house was built, Richard announced a special thing in his life....a grandchild.  He was going down to California to see her.  He was gone so long, I thought that he would not return.  So did Habitat, who relieved him of his construction supervisor job.  Richard returned to Bend, jobless but not homeless....he still had his 5th wheeler.  I don't ever recall him complaining, however, life was just what it was.....life.
We soon found out something else that we both had in common, we were both veterans. Another friend had recently walked down the middle of the street in downtown Bend thus starting the Veteran day parade here.  We both started joining the parade the same year.  He, as a part of the American Legion and me with just a few vets in my convertible.  The first year it was just my dad and I.  The next, three other friends joined including Ken Hauge, who became another close friend of Richards through it all.
One day, Richard informed me that he had joined a group of vets that called themselves the Band of Brothers.  I was not one for joining veteran groups.....the pain of the Vietnam war was still present in my mind.  I was a closet vet.  It was just a part of my history.  Even though I had been working with a couple of local organizations, it was not a close part of my life.  That was soon to change.  Richard asked if they could meet at the diner for their Monday morning meal.
I joined the first week, only because I was a vet, they were meeting at my diner, and with the encouragement of my friend, Richard.  So, it became Richard who brought them to the diner where they began to grow in numbers, spawning groups all over the state.  The Bend group that meets at Jake's is now over 1000 strong.  When we grew out of the back room and began a buffet in the front, Richard volunteered to stamp hands being the first person that people would see when they came into the room.
At one of our many breakfasts, Richard informed me that he liked what I did in the community and he wanted to be a part.  "Don't ask me if I want to be in something, just tell me where you want me.", he said.  From then on, that is exactly what happened.  Every BBQ or Spaghetti feed, he was the cashier or ticket taker.  Every Thanksgiving, he cut the pies and served them.   Every Chili cook off, Richard sat right next to Jimmy.  In fact, when we had our Christmas parties, Richard was a part of the crew.
Richard seemed to always be there in the morning before I arrived.  As I walked into the diner, I would hear, "Good Morning Sir Lyle!" .  And I would counter with, "Good Morning Sir Richard!".  His smiling face and generally good attitude just seemed to start the day off right.  Judy also enjoyed his presence and looked forward to his hugs and kisses.  Richard had become a part of our family.
He struggled with his weight and decided that he needed to do something about it.  An operation was set up to take out part of his stomach.  It was felt that with the smaller stomach would reduce his intake and thus assist in weight loss.  I picked him up at the hospital afterwards and we needed a special wheelchair and he was taken down in one of the freight elevators.  He struggled eating things after that surgery.  Most foods seemed to make him sick.  It did assist in his weight loss but also left him somewhat anemic.  He struggled with his blood pressure, blood sugar, and his health in general.
I worried about his living environment.  He lived in a small fifth wheel trailer.  To me it was a bit claustrophobic.   But, it was all that he could afford and he was happy with it. I was tickled with Cindy, one of our waitresses, helped him get into a house down south of Sunriver.  The move gave him room to move around which was good....but it also took him away from us as he could not afford to drive into town every day.  But, he was proud of his new digs and we were happy for him.
He continued to come in to the meetings and to the poker tourneys along with any other event that we staged or assisted but our daily encounters began to fade.  Actually, that made our breakfasts even more meaningful as it would give us a chance to get caught up.
He still struggled with what he could and could not eat and that lead to more tests and to a diagnosis of possible liver problems.  When I first heard that, I worried.  I knew of a few people who had contracted liver cancer and none of them had survived.  My worries seemed to confirm themselves as he told me that the doctor felt he had some cancer.  But, he was not worried.  He had fought other battles and he felt that this was just one more obstacle to overcome.
Appointments were made to have surgery to extract the cancer.  Neither the doctor nor Richard seemed to concern over it but the VA did have problems with their scheduling.  More than once, Richard would go to Portland only to be sent back home because of scheduling problems.  I remember asking him once if that bothered him.  He said that yes it did but only because of the nuisance of it all.  Sooner or later, it would be scheduled and it seemed like a somewhat small procedure.
Then came the phone call from his recovery room in Portland.  The cancer was bigger than they expected and it was attached to an artery and inoperable.  "They give me a year to live", he stated in a confused state.  I knew from experience that the year was probably stretching it.  I did not know what to say to my friend....I struggled to find words of encouragement.

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