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Great Lakes Burn Camp
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Life Story / Obituary
When reflecting on the life of Richard Lynn Wright, Sr., it is clear to see that he lived life to the fullest every day. He was a longtime member of the community he loved, and with an outgoing and genuine personality he was the sort of person others wanted to know. Rich was blessed to share most of his life with his true love, and together they witnessed their family tree blossom to include the numerous branches of loved ones he adored. He and his wife exemplified what marriage is truly intended to be, and their story was one that inspired not only their own family but also others who were near.
Although the 1920s were primarily a prosperous time, this all came to an immediate end with the crash of the stock market in October of 1929. This ushered in the dark days of the Great Depression when jobs were scarce and American families struggled to get by. It was just prior to that historic day that Clarence and Rebecca (McClish) Wright were pleased to announce the birth of the baby boy they named Richard on September 30, 1929, in Kalamazoo, Michigan. He was an only son born to a man who was also an only son, and his parents were a bit older, too, since his father was 52 while his mother was 40. Rich’s father worked as a school janitor, and his mother focused her time and attention at home. Although he grew up during difficult times and their family had little to go around, since everyone he knew was also in the same boat it felt normal. Rich also learned to be resourceful such as the time he tied a piece of string or wire around his shoe to keep the sole from flapping when it became loose. They also found joy in the simple things. Rich’s mother made delicious sugar cookies and loved to laugh and have fun like when she carved funny faces out of potatoes.
In many ways Rich was a young boy of his generation. He grew up in a neighborhood with several neighbors nearby as well as friends who would get together frequently. Rich could often be found out playing kick the can in his younger days as he liked playing outdoor games. He helped out at school by riding on top of a floor buffing machine. He and his sister also set up chairs in the cafeteria to make his job a little easier. It was while growing up that he discovered the incredible value of family. Rich was always very close to his family, and he looked forward to the annual Carver-McClish Family reunion. He attended Kalamazoo Central High School but went into the Army before graduating. Rich did later earn a GED. Rich joined the Army in September of 1946 as just a young man of 16, which meant that he had to forge his birth certificate to make it look like he was 17. He earned the rank of PFC and arrived in Yokohama, Japan, in January of 1947 as part of the Occupation Forces.
Life was forever changed for Rich when he married the love of his life. Her name was Margie White, a neighbor he met when they were just kids. By the time they were 14, Rich knew that she was the one for him. They were united in marriage in a simple ceremony in the First Methodist Church in Kalamazoo with her sister, Viv, and her husband, Jerry Barinka, standing up for them on Thanksgiving Day in 1949. Together they were blessed with four children including their three daughters and one son. Rich and Margie raised their children in a neighborhood where all their friends and children lived nearby and often got together. Although Rich put in a lot of hours at work with 24 hour shifts at the fire department, he made the most of the time he had off. Around the house he was often found painting, remodeling, or renting out properties with his friend, Vic Burdette. Rich did enjoy spending time with his family when he could.
Throughout his career Rich was very devoted to his work. He loved what he did, and he joined the union ranks to fight for better treatment and pay. Rich rose to become a union district vice-president and reached the rank of captain on the Department. He was often the master of ceremonies at a number of functions, and no matter what he was doing he never failed to put on a great show. Rich truly loved the attention as well as the exchange with people whether they were famous or not. He retired from the fire department in 1979 and from the United Way in 1994. During his years with the United Way, Rich was extremely proud of being a large part of their publication, “The Yellow Pages for Youth.”
A man of many interests, Rich was always busy. He loved playing cards, gardening, and entertaining, and he had what was perhaps too much fun producing talent shows as he often convinced male coworkers to don women’s dresses to create hilarious plays. Rich regularly donated to the Red Cross and was a member of the “over five gallons” club. He was very interested in his heritage, but coming from such a small family on the Wright side meant that he knew little about it until he really started hunting for information in the 1990s. Because he grew up surrounded by relatives on his mother’s side, Rich did know more about the heritage associated with her side of the family. He liked pets including his first dog, Lady, but it was his basset hound, Frank, that was well loved by all. Together Rich and Marge enjoyed traveling and often did so with her sister, Maxine, and her husband, Ed Hurst. At home most of their time was spent playing with family and friends as he loved watching his grandchildren and great-grandchildren in action. He and Margie were true partners in life and on the dance floor as they were always out there spinning circles around everyone else - even as they approached 57 years of marriage! Rich took great pride in their landscaping including their flowers, plants, rocks, and trees. He was quick to say that someday his home would be featured on the cover of Better Homes and Gardens.
All who knew Richard Wright, Sr. would agree that he was the heartbeat wherever he went. He was always willing to help others and could often be heard whistling or singing. Known for saying things like, “Look me in the eye and tell me,” Rich always had a fun-loving side to everything he did and an incredible sense of humor. A loving husband who cherished his children and grandchildren, he will never be forgotten.