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March 1, 2017, 12:00 AM

My Two Cents


Every now and then, when it’s time to write “My Two Cents” I get stuck. Can’t think of a thing worth writing about. Writer’s block? Sometimes it feels like writer’s tackle. It’s a discouraging thing that tempts one to let the column go until next time. But, then, there was Richard to think about.

 

We first met Richard Kieffer maybe fifteen years ago when his feisty neighbor and longtime Christian Temple member, Ethel Hall, invited him to worship. Ethel and Richard both lived at the Benet House, an old city school restored and repurposed to be an apartment building for seniors. They were both chauffeured to worship each week by various congregation members, mostly the Helmes. Then, after Ethel died, Richard kept coming.

 

Richard was many things. He was mostly an artist. His apartment was a crowded gallery that told the story of his life and faith in Jesus through oils, pastels, watercolors, and chalk. For a while, our official Christian Temple note cards featured a pen and ink drawing of the old church building. Richard did the artwork. Agnes Childers carefully bundled the cards and the envelopes in tens. We’d sell them and use the proceeds for Richard’s tithe to the church.

 

But Richard was more than just an artist. He was diagnosed with Schizophrenia as a young adult during the dark days of how such illnesses were treated. He told terrible stories of his isolation and the experimental therapies he endured. But he became the Big Man on Campus at Shepard-Pratt Hospital after they straightened out his medication. Eventually he was cleared to live independently. Next thing you know he had moved into the Benet House and next door to Ethel.

 

Richard was an artist who lived with a very difficult diagnosis. But he was more than that, too. He was a friend who LOVED Christian Temple. He loved to attend worship and his voice could always be heard above the crowd repeating the Lord’s Prayer. During the days of his long beard he treasured the Sunday before Christmas when he gave out candy canes as Santa Claus to reticent kids who weren’t quite sure what to make of him. And Richard LOVED getting mail from his church.

 

On one of our first home visits (“It’s Richard visiting Richard!)” after he gave me the grand tour of the Kieffer Gallery he showed me where he kept his church mail. Every note, card, plea for money, and program flyer he’d ever received was carefully stored. His favorites and most recent were out on display. And, in a special place Richard would show me every time, there they were- “My Two Cents” columns by the dozens, highlighted, underlined and carefully stored in zip-lock bags. From then on, whenever I got writer’s block I’d think of those bags.

 

Richard died on December 27th 2016. After a long, painful illness his death was mercifully peaceful. He was alone when he died, but since I believe that heaven is our life story, remembered, I wanted to be sure to share a small part of his with you.

 

I love you, too, Richard. Happy trails!

 

Richard                                                                                                                                      

 

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