Life Story / Obituary
Richard Trehus was a man of great character and integrity who, by way of example, was selfless in all he did. He encouraged, inspired and supported the family he held most dear, and with ways all his own. He believed hard work and effort went a long way, yet he knew the value of enjoying life. Richard lived each day as a blessing devoted and ever loving to those entrusted to his care.
The year 1931 saw difficult days as the Great Depression created a jobless rate of nearly four million. Even so, American’s continued to be optimistic, and looked towards the future. Yet in rural Houston County, Minnesota, the birth of Richard Hamilton Trehus on May 14, 1931, was a most welcoming event in the lives of his parents, Dewey A. and Lenora G. (Solum) Trehus.
Raised on their family farm near Caledonia, Minnesota, Richard was the seventh of eventually nine children in his family including his siblings, Delvin, Kenneth, Juliet “Judy”, Betty, Glenn, and Janet. Sadly, two of his siblings, Vernon and Harris died in infancy. With times as they were and with many mouths to feed, Richard’s family struggled to make ends meet on the farm. He and his siblings wore hand-me-downs and sometimes their clothing was barely adequate for the cold walk to the one-room schoolhouse they attended in Freeburg, Minnesota. Like many children who lived on farms, chores and farm work were a part of everyday life. From taking care of the livestock and milking the cows to planting and harvesting crops, Richard left his schooling behind after the eighth grade to help his father. Even though he only had eight years of formal education, Richard was a lifetime learner.
Richard not only helped his father with farm work, but they also did other jobs such as custom threshing, sawing wood, painting and whatever work was available to help supplement their farm income. Despite these lean years, Richard enjoyed many adventures. After a long work week, he loved to go dancing and rarely missed any of the dances held in the area. Following World War II the economy was still recovering and dances were a major form entertainment during this time. Richard’s other passion included motorcycles. Throughout his long life, Richard came to own at least 16 of them.
Just prior to his 21st birthday in 1952, Richard was drafted to serve in the U.S. Army. Following basic training, he was sent overseas to Korea where he drove a supply truck with fuel and ammunition. One night while driving in the mountains with no headlights to not alert the enemy, he and another soldier inadvertently crossed the lines into North Korea. Upon their discovery, they quickly turned around on a narrow, precarious mountain road and raced back to safety. Another time, while driving in heavy rain, one wheel of the truck actually left the road atop a steep mountain slope. After seeing the tracks the next day, he realized how close he'd come to going over the edge, yet God still had plans for him and he did his best going forward to keep the truck on the road!
Richard’s life as he knew it was completely changed soon after his return home from the service. One night his sister, Janet invited a few high school friends over for a sleepover, and Elsie Lampert was one of those friends. His wonderful smile, twinkling blue eyes and red hair captured Elsie’s heart shortly before her 16th birthday. It was love at first sight for both and they soon began dating. However, a short time later, Richard and several of his buddies landed jobs working in Racine, Wisconsin. This meant weekly trips back to Minnesota through their courtship and he only remained in Racine when the winter weather prevented travel. Even though their time together was limited, Elsie even made a couple trips to see Richard in Racine. Just two weeks after her high school graduation, Richard and Elsie shared vows of marriage on June 16, 1956, at Immanuel Lutheran Church in Caledonia, Minnesota. From that day on they were inseparable and began their new lives together in Racine where went on to enjoy nearly 61 wonderful years together.
Eventually blessed with four beautiful blonde, blue-eyed daughters, Cindy Joy, Carrie Sue, Michelle Lenore, and Connie Lee brought much joy to Richard and Elsie’s lives. Completely devoted to his family, Richard worked tirelessly to provide a good life for Elsie and their girls. Weekends were spent swimming and camping with their camper trailer, and quite often, with extra children in tow. On one particular weekend at Lutherdale Campground, other campers watched as six bustling little girls bounced out of their station wagon excited for camping fun. Even though it rained all weekend, a nearby camper taught Richard how to build a survival fire and made the weekend fun. It was later learned from a newspaper photo and story that the camper was actually a Secret Service agent who pushed the gun out of the hand of someone who attempted to assassinate one of our presidents.
Vacations were enjoyed camping out west to visit Richard’s brother, Delvin who resided in Wyoming and later North Dakota. As a family they also enjoyed the sights at Black Hills, Yellowstone and Yosemite parks. From Minnesota to Albuquerque, New Mexico, they also visited many places in between. One of their all-time favorite experiences took place in Albuquerque, New Mexico. The car was acting up, requiring a few days there to repair it which worked out well as it gave the family a chance to visit Sandia Mountain and see a hot air balloon show from their campground. Once the girls grew up, Richard and Elsie’s mode of transportation turned to his motorcycles. They traveled to both coasts and all around Wisconsin which was always fun until the weather turned. Their trip through the Blue Ridge Mountains was rain mixed with snow, and on their trip to Seattle, Washington, the temperature was 113 degrees with the heat from the engine nearly melting Elsie! Inventing their own AC, a stop at K-Mart to buy a plant mister bottle and a pair of leather shoe strings to make a sling saved the trip. As Richard drove, Elsie would spray them both with water, keeping them cool which made the trip more pleasurable. The scenery was magnificent, yet the sight of acres upon acres of sunflowers in full bloom in southern Minnesota was truly a sight to see!
Richard played softball with co-workers for a few years but with almost always two jobs, he found he didn't have time for it. In his free time he liked woodworking and some of his many projects included a yellow rocking horse for his first grandson, a red race car bed for a granddaughter, followed by a few more race car beds. He also built the counters and display tables for the flower shop they came to own, and a working water wheel for their backyard waterfall. He loved working with his hands and was always trying to repair or make things better. Sports never interested Richard much but he watched and supported his Wisconsin teams and proudly wore Green Bay Packer sweatshirts and t-shirts. He enjoyed the sounds of early country music but lost interest in his later years when he became profoundly hard of hearing. Even with the best hearing aides, Richard found it difficult to participate in a conversation which was very frustrating for him.
Skilled in many areas, Richard put his talents to good use first in 1959 when they built their home through a VA loan. The total cost of the home and lot was $14,500 and with a $50 down payment, he worked off another $450 by finishing the woodwork and painting the exterior himself. When his family outgrew that home, he had a tri-level duplex built and less than two years later the family was on the move again when they bought the dairy farm in Minnesota and moved his family back to Caledonia, Minnesota to raise his children among relatives. However, he soon realized that holding a full-time road construction job and running a dairy farm were not a good fit. He sold the farm to a neighbor who in fact continues to raise certified Angus beef on it to this day. With no desire to disrupt the children in their new schools, he bought a home just outside of town. Even so, work was scarce and the following year, the family moved back to Racine.
More homes followed through the years, including an eight-family apartment. When the economy turned and both Richard and Elsie lost their jobs they decided to open a franchised flower shop in Racine's new Regency Mall which they later named, Flowers to Go. He initially retired as a union teamster member employed by Nielsen Iron Works and drove a cement mixer for D.P. Wigley before the flower shop. After nine years of long mall hours 7 days a week and stressful holidays, Richard was more than ready to retire, and Elsie was just plain tired.
When they closed the flower shop, Richard filled his time with part-time jobs. Never one to be idle, he later bought and remodeled a foreclosed ranch home where they lived there for 12 years. A true country boy and farmer, it was quite a sight when one day Richard came down the street on a Ford farm tractor he purchased. After restoring it, he then bought a mower so he could mow large lots, naming that business, "The Tall Uncut!" after a saying his farmer brother-in-law frequently used. At the age of 79, Richard even bought and helped remodel a lovely brick ranch where he would live for his remaining days.
Richard never gave up. When a job needed to be done, he was the first one on it. He battled his illness in the same, undefeatable way. Even in his last days he spoke about getting well enough to finish his "bucket list." As his health steadily declined, Richard did experience some rallying. Just recently on May 3 he woke up and wanted to go out to breakfast. He hadn't been out of the house in weeks, and although worried about attempting it, Elsie honored his request. Richard felt so good that morning he didn't even need his walker. Joined by Carrie, as well, Richard thoroughly enjoyed a big breakfast. That same afternoon family members stopped by and he enjoyed their visits, but by the next day, he was back to sleeping most of the time.
For Richard Trehus, it was the moments between the moments that mattered most and he had a way all his own in making each one special, and each one count. He expressed his love with his gentle and steady, albeit giant hugs, and supported his family in each of their endeavors. He was a constant source of support and encouragement not only towards his children, but his grandchildren, too. He worked hard to provide a good life for his family, yet he embodied the ability to put forth his best effort and enjoy life. Affectionately known as Grandpa Fix-It and to his grandchildren as Papa Smurf, Richard always brought a sense of whimsy and surprise to their lives. His grandchildren all remember him for his welcoming smile and big hug, a cup of coffee and a sweet treat, and for never missing a school program, band concert, graduation, birthday or holiday be it in Racine, Rockford or wherever. He made each one of them feel special. Although he will be deeply missed, Richard leaves a legacy of devotion and dedication, and most importantly, love in the hearts of those he leaves behind.
"What we once enjoyed and deeply loved we can never lose, for all that we love deeply becomes a part of us forever." Helen Keller
Richard Hamilton Trehus passed away at his home in Racine, WI on Friday, May 12, 2017. Richard is survived by his beloved wife, Elsie and four daughters: Cindy Kristopeit (Peter Harwood), Carrie Hargrave, Michelle (James) Hansen, and Connie (Thomas) Meredith Jr.; eight grandchildren: Jason (Amy Parr) Hansen, Aaron Hansen, Aubrey, John and Lauren Hargrave, Julia (Christopher) Hanson, Thomas Meredith III, and Erica Meredith; four great-grandchildren: David Hansen, Nolan, Gabrielle and Sawyer Hanson; and four other wonderful children he claimed as great-grandchildren: Sean, Hailey, Michael, and Madison. Further survivors include sisters-in-law: Emily (Charles) Wiste, Virginia Trehus; brothers-in-law: Rueben Hundt and Leslie Zibrowski; many nieces and nephews. He was preceded in death by his son-in-law, Dennis Hargrave and all of his siblings: Delvin (Donna) Trehus, Kenneth Trehus, Judy Hundt, Betty (John) Pfaff, Glenn Trehus, and Janet Zibrowski; brother-in-law, Lloyd (Carol) Lampert. Special thanks to Dr. Dizadji, Wheaton Heart Failure Clinic and the Aurora at Home Hospice staff. They were his angels during his long illness.
Funeral services will be held at the Maresh-Meredith & Acklam Funeral Home-Racine, 803 Main St., Racine, WI 53403 (262) 634-7888 on Monday, May 22, 2017, 11:30 A.M. Interment with full military honors will follow at Southern Wisconsin Veterans Memorial Cemetery. Relatives and friends may meet the family at the funeral home Sunday, 3-5 P.M. and Monday, 10:30 A.M. until time of service at 11:30 A.M. In lieu of flowers, memorials to the Wounded Warrior Project are appreciated. To share a favorite memory or photo of Richard and to sign his online guest book, please visit www.lifestorynet.com.