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Life Story / Obituary
From an early age, it was clear Earlene “Lee” Richey was going to live her life to the fullest. She had a feisty and steadfast way about her. Always protective of and close to her family, her strong-willed nature was always implemented with her best and thoughtful intentions. Lee was a caring wife, a loving mother, and a cherished grandmother. We are sad to say goodbye to such a spirited and great woman.
Earlene began her life in 1934. This particular year was a long one with many events making their mark in future history books. The world braced itself as many powerful leaders were creating conflicts pointing to another world war. Closer to home, Americans found themselves stuck deep in The Great Depression hoping that the future could only look brighter, as it could not get any darker. President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s leadership was greatly needed, for many of the country’s citizens faced farming emergencies due to the high temps and drought conditions. All the while, the infamous bank robbers, Bonnie and Clyde, found the end of their career after many pursuits, and Alcatraz opened its doors as a federal penitentiary.
The middle of the summer provided a bit of relief, as a new life was introduced to the world. Earlene was joyfully welcomed on July 1, 1934, in Montgomery, Alabama. Her parents, Ben Tillman and Gladys Cates were just beginning their journey of creating a large family; Earlene was the second child of nine. Her oldest sibling, Gene, watched as Earlene, Annie Jo, Fletcher, Ben, Anesse, Mike, Norma, and Lucky made their place known in the family tree.
Earlene was affectionately called Lee throughout her life. She and her family continued to grow up in Montgomery while her parents worked hard to provide a good life. Her mother picked cotton in the fields, and her father was a soybean farmer. In her teens, the family moved to Birmingham. Sadly, Lee was forced to endure the loss of her mother in an accident, and this forced the family to support one another to find the goodness in life again. This tragic loss also created quite a hardship on the family, forcing Lee and her siblings to find entertainment without a great deal of money. They made due, however, finding fun in playing baseball with cornstalks, raising pigs, and providing funeral services for all of their beloved animals in their pet cemetery. Wonderful compassion was ingrained in Lee at an early age.
Lee's family needed her help, so she stopped school to tend to her siblings and chores. The chores largely consisted of farming the tobacco and cotton resources. Lee absolutely hated working in the cotton fields. Fortunately, she was very close to her sisters, and these tight relationships helped motivate Lee to continue to work hard, for the whole family depended on her.
Eventually, life led Lee to the great state of Michigan. Here she found more work on a potato farm (which was much better than the cotton fields!). By chance, and while stopping in at the local dime store, her path crossed that of Duane Haring's. Their hearts were open to tender emotions known only to youth. He also worked on a farm, and outside of their work, the two found time to fall in love. In short course, the two married and welcomed their children Bonnie and Duane. After many years together, Lee and Duane would eventually go their separate ways ending their marriage with a divorce.
Circumstances created another meeting between Lee and a young man named John. Their union brought the beautiful gift of another daughter into Lee's life. Johnnie would become Lee's third child.
Never one to sit by and let others do the work for her, Lee dug in immediately finding work at the Long Lake Tavern, South Gate, and the Hideaway in Vicksburg. It was at the Hideaway she met Robert Richey. Their initial meeting was interesting, for Bob had mustered the courage to talk to Lee after having a few drinks, and one those drinks had been peppered with hot sauce - Lee's intention to make sure he was paying attention to her. The evening was Bob's first night home from serving in the Army, and the atmosphere was electric with the potential for romance.
Despite the hot pepper in his drinks, Bob was captivated by Lee, and Lee took his heart for the rest of time. The two began a married life together which would endure the next 45 years. Bob settled into life working as the fire chief for the Vicksburg Fire Department while Lee went to work as an EMT for Vicksburg as well. They also celebrated the gift of a son, Bobby.
When the kids were younger, the family would go camping in Newaygo at their cabin. Many adventures were sought and numerous memories were created on these trips up north. They also traveled to Canada, Mississippi for a reunion, and to South Carolina to see Lee's siblings. When the family was closer to home, Lee would work her culinary magic in the kitchen. She was known for some of the most delectable meals such as her famous spaghetti, chili mac, and the most amazing thrown together meals with what she could find in the pantry.
The holiday season was a magical time for Lee and her family, for it was always a time she dearly cherished. She always made sure that the house was filled to the brim with presents for the whole family. Family gatherings were a constant tradition at their home, and so was her holiday turkey and ham. You were sure to hear, "Be quiet, it’s snowing too loud – I can’t sleep” before your stay was over, for that was always an ongoing joke in the home.
When she was not hosting a gathering, she had many other activities which she enjoyed. In the cold Michigan winter months, Lee would usually have a crochet or craft project going. In the summertime, she would tend to her beautiful gardens. A slightly more guilty pleasure involved gambling here and there. Her favorite experience gambling was when she visited Las Vegas with Bob, as this was the ultimate fun! Ironically, Lee had the worst of luck, so her love of gambling was always a bit risky. Pretty much anywhere she went, something bad was bound to happen - once a tent pole even fell on top of her! And though she did not own any animals (nor did she like them much), other people's pets always thoroughly enjoyed her company.
As her children grew up to find adult lives of their own, she looked forward to the gift of grandchildren. In time, she was joyfully blessed with 6 grandchildren, 9 great-grandchildren, and 1 great-great-grandchild. Kately , Megan, Duane, Haven, Tonya, Shawnyll, and Ryan provided Lee with enormous amounts of delight as her grandchildren. She sadly endured the loss of one grandchild named Dusty and her son, Bobby. This original crew brought more love with the next generation of extended family including Callie, Xavier, Cadin, Seth, Chelsea, Brooklyn, Bella, Hannah, and Dillen as Lee's great-grandchildren. Finally, Lee was fortunate to help welcome Ariel as her one and only great-great-grandchild. These young lives are a testament to Lee's amazing legacy in this lifetime. She loved each and every one of her grandchildren dearly.
Lee's firm dedication to the love she held for her family was infinite. She was truly one of a kind, and she was definitely the most lovable. You could always count on her to lend an ear or help if it was needed no matter what. Sadly, after 83 years in this life, Lee peacefully passed away on September 11, 2017. We will hold the memories we shared with Lee close to our hearts, and she will never be forgotten.
Left to cherish her memory are her husband of 45 years: Bob Richey; her children: Bonnie (Barry) Miller, Duane (Amy) Haring, and Johnnie Richey (Dustin) Sloan; 6 grandchildren; 9 great-grandchildren; 1 great-great-grandchild; siblings: Gene and Mike; as well as several nieces and nephews. She was preceded in death by her son Bobby and 6 of her siblings.
Memorial donations may be made to Rose Arbor Hospice or the American Cancer Society.
A special Thank You from Lee’s family to Dr. Raphelson, for his caring service to Lee.