Richard Enslen

May 28, 1931 - February 17, 2015
Richland, MI



Friday, February 27, 2015
4:00 PM to 7:00 PM EST
Life Story Funeral Homes - Betzler
Kalamazoo Location
6080 Stadium Drive
Kalamazoo, MI 49009
(269) 375-2900

A Prayer Service will be held at 6pm followed by a time of sharing.

Driving Directions


Saturday, February 28, 2015
10:00 AM EST
St. Thomas More Parish
421 Monroe Street
Kalamazoo, MI 49006
Web Site


At the family's request memorial contributions are to be made to those listed below. Please forward payment directly to the memorial of your choice.

Douglas Community Center
1000 West Patterson
Kalamazoo, MI 49007
Web Site

Legal Aid of Western Michigan
201 West Michigan Ave
Kalamazoo, MI 49001

Trauma Recovery Associates
1333 West Lovell Street
Kalamazoo, MI 49006
(269) 873-8829
Web Site


Below is the contact information for a florist recommended by the funeral home.

1830 S. Westnedge
Kalamazoo, MI 49008
(269) 349-4961
Driving Directions
Web Site

Life Story / Obituary


Richard Enslen was brilliant: a sharp mind and a shining light. Seemingly born for public service, he steeled himself for a career that captured his heart and mind. He advocated for those without access to power and fiercely defended against injustice. Though his posture was at times reserved and proper, his personality was warm and engaging. He was once described by a United States Supreme Court Justice as someone who could sell snake oil to a snake oil salesman. He saw the funny side of life and was happy when others did well. Highly regarded as a professional, Richard was above all else a loving father and husband—a title he most cherished.

Richard was the only child of Erhman and Pauline (Dragoo) Enslen, born May 28, 1931 in Kalamazoo, Michigan at the height of the Great Depression. His father was employed as a photo engraver and his mother provided stability at home that made life good despite a global crisis and money being tight at home. Surviving economic turmoil and an ensuing world war, Richard’s generation knew what it meant to sacrifice for family and liberty.

Growing up in the Milwood area of town, Richard’s best friend was next door neighbor Richie Lesso. In addition to sharing the same first name, the boys had common birthdays and dressed in a standard way. Their mothers made an agreement to always choose blue for Richie and brown for Richard.

Having attended Milwood Elementary School, Richard entered Kalamazoo Central High School with an eagerness to be involved in extra-curricular activities. He played football and baseball and ran for class president. Despite his catchy slogan—“Better Time in 49”—Richard lost the election. Still, the experience was characteristic of his interest in community service that would figure prominently in his future.

After high school, Richard continued his education at Kalamazoo College but then enlisted in the Air Force and served as a clerk during the Korean War. Upon his discharge, he took classes at Western Michigan University before enrolling at Wayne State University in Detroit. He earned his LLB degree in 1958, and his first job out of law school was with First National Bank in Kalamazoo. In time, he accepted a position with a small law firm and later joined the Peace Corp. Serving as the Corp’s director in Costa Rica from 1965-68, Richard was further shaped by issues of justice and civic life. When he was elected Municipal/District Court Judge from 1968-69, he ultimately resigned from the position because he wanted to speak out against the Vietnam War and did not like sending war protestors to jail.

Richard’s career moves eventually put him in his own practice. After a few years with Howard and Howard, he established his own firm and took on a young attorney, Bill Schma, in 1978. Richard was a very talented trial lawyer who championed justice for all. Racial equality was the defining issue in his life, having been greatly influenced by such books as Kingsblood Royal by Sinclair Lewis and Simple Justice by Richard Kluger. In 1964, the year known as Freedom Summer, Richard joined hundreds of volunteers in Mississippi, helping African-Americans register to vote and defending them in court when they were arrested for doing so. Later, he became the lead lawyer for the NAACP in a desegregation lawsuit against the board of Kalamazoo Public Schools.

Richard was passionate about law and dedicated to his profession. He thrilled to be in a trial courtroom, he respected his fellow lawyers and enjoyed the camaraderie. In return, Richard was regarded as an exceptional attorney and was highly esteemed by his peers. Not surprisingly, he received a distinguished alumni award and an honorary doctorate from WMU.

In 1979, President Jimmy Carter appointed Richard to the Federal Bench (the last Carter appointment), where he served as Chief Judge from 1995-2001 and took Senior Status in 2005. In 1987, Richard co-authored a book on constitutional law with Ralph Chandler and Peter Renstom and in 1998 the book, Alternative Dispute Resolution, with Pamela Chapman Enslen, who had become his wife in 1985. Among all of Richard’s accomplishments and awards, having Pamela as his best friend and the love of life was what mattered most to him.

When not on the job, Richard found plenty to keep his interest. Travel took him to Costa Rica, Australia, Fiji, New Zeeland and Europe, and on more than one occasion to Slovakia and Moldova with fellow judges to train court officers. Richard was a voracious reader on many topics and could easily grasp facts and disseminate information—a skill that assisted him professionally but also made him an adept storyteller. He was very entertaining and humorous.

Richard was also a loyal sports fan since childhood. He followed Detroit Tigers baseball, and later in life, made yearly trips down South for spring training. With basketball, he held four bleacher seats in Reed Fieldhouse at WMU and was an all-around supporter of Western Michigan Athletics.

Truth be told, Richard reveled in all things Kalamazoo and felt privileged to call it home. Likewise, his hometown had reason to be proud of a great humanitarian, an advocate of justice and a devoted family man.

Richard Enslen, age 83 and long time resident of Kalamazoo, Michigan, died at home on Tuesday, February 17, 2015. Learn more about Richard and visit with his family and friends on Friday from 4-7 PM at the Life Story Funeral Home, Betzler - Kalamazoo, 6080 Stadium Drive (269-375-2900). A prayer service will be held at 6 PM, followed by a time of sharing. A Memorial Mass will be celebrated at 10 AM on Saturday at St. Thomas More Parish, 421 Monroe St. Members of his family include his wife Pamela; 4 sons: David, Thomas (Lisa), Joseph (Kathy) and Gennady; 3 daughters: Susan, Sandy and Janet; and 10 grandchildren. Please visit Richard’s personal memory page at www.lifestorynet.com where you can share a favorite memory or photo and sign his online guestbook. Memorial contributions may be made to the Legal Aid of Western Michigan, Trauma Recovery Associates or the Douglas Community Center.