It was almost two years ago that I got in touch with Ed Richter.
He was a first cousin to my great-grandpa Frank Becker.
At that time I had made a lot of progress in developing my Becker family tree. As I was looking at all these first cousins, I realized that Ed was still living. On a whim, I wrote him a letter, and asked if he would be interested in some of the family history stuff I had uncovered.
I was excited to hear back from him and eventually to meet him in person. As it turns out, he lived only about 15- minutes away — just a straight shot down Chambers Road.
We talked on the phone and met at his house several times. He remembered quite a bit about his aunts and uncles on the Becker side, even though he wasn’t especially close to them. I learned things from him that never would have turned up in old censuses or church records.
During the time I knew Ed, he was diagnosed with cancer. At the end of March 2009, he died. But I didn’t know about it until recently — and I feel pretty bad about it.
I had last seen Ed at the beginning of March, when I went to his house to do an interview with him on video. He had already been to my house for dinner several times (he loved Yoli’s runsas and apple pies), and I had been at his place several times. I had taken lots of notes and learned many of his stories.
But I wanted to capture him recalling his memories in his own words. Ed agreed to do it, and we spent more than an hour talking that day.
Not long before, my family life had become pretty busy with the addition of Josie. As a father, Ed could sympathize with the travails of taking care of the kids.
There were lots of projects that kept me from editing my video of Ed, and also from calling him. We were getting ready for Yoli’s parents to visit, buying a minivan, vacationing in San Antonio, etc, etc. He was always on my mind, but for several months I never took the steps to really try and call him.
Finally I did — one call here and there, never answered. At first I rationalized that he was at appointments. But after several calls, I had a bad feeling.
This week I tried again, and a woman answered. “Wrong number,” she said. To be certain I hadn’t just pressed the wrong buttons, I dialed once more. Her again.
Ed had told me in the past that when he died his body would be donated to science, and he probably wouldn’t have an obituary (he hadn’t placed one for his wife either). So I couldn’t find out about him by searching the newspaper.
Ultimately I found him online through the Social Security deaths database. I was shocked to learn he had been gone all these months and I didn’t know it.
In lieu of an obituary, I would like to pass on some of Ed’s stories — because he had many to share.
Like the time he went to work for his uncle Ralph McDonough at a candy factory in St. Louis. But 16-year-old Ed was overcome by the smells in the factory and didn’t last more than a day.
Or the time Ed went for a weekend visit to Ralph’s farm off Hwy 19 near Salem. Ed got real sick on the drive back home from eating green apples. All he could stomach for a while after that was orange juice with egg whites.
Ed had a scar that he got when he was 6 months old. The dog was chewing on a toy and Ed crawled over and tried to take it. The dog didn’t take kindly to that and tore the center of Ed’s lip, and Ed ended up with a scar on his chin.
When I first met Ed, my main interest was what he could remember about the Beckers. But Ed had so much to share (although he always denied it). I was interested to learn about his Richter uncles, about his dad and his grandfather.
Ed’s grandfather, Herman Heinrich Richter, was a German immigrant. In St. Louis he worked as a cabinetmaker for the Meier and Pohlmann Furniture Company. The factory at Blair and Palm was just 3 blocks from the Richter family home at 1421 Buchanan St.
Herman had a heart attack when Ed was about 6 years old and had to quit working. Ed remembered going with his grandfather to get his tool box and take it home, pulling a wagon. It was downhill from the factory to Buchanan St.
Ed’s father, Edwin H. F. Richter, worked in the St. Louis city efficiency office. Ed said that his father was a Republican, and when the Democrats took over city hall, he was pushed out or let go. Ed’s father later became a lawyer and held several other short-term jobs like car salesman.
Both Ed and his father served in the military. Edwin H. F. Richter was a sergeant who fought for the U.S. against Germany during World War I. Ed told me how he was unhappy when the U.S. discontinued the celebration of Armistice Day.
Ed himself was decorated with two bronze stars for his service in World War II. He started in the Army Air Corps and later was switched to the Army. He served in N. Africa, Italy, and Europe.
Ed was transferred to the 878th field artillery and he told me he would have fought in the invasion of Japan if it had happened. His brother Normand was a signalman in the Navy. Normand was on a ship on its way from the Pacific to Naples to pick up Ed’s outfit for this purpose when the war finally ended.
It was Ed’s father who eventually talked him into becoming a firefighter. Ed was a “tillerman,” meaning he drove the back wheels of the fire truck.
He told me a story about a time he was driving the truck with an inexperienced guy. He had to make a turn with traffic on both sides of the truck. He took the turn a little wider than he probably should have in order to make things easier for the other guy. Apparently this ended up scaring a bunch of pedestrians on the corner.
The Richters were Lutheran. Ed’s mother, Rose Becker, converted from Catholicism when she married Ed’s father. Ed’s grandparents had been very active members of Bethlehem Lutheran Church in old north St. Louis.
Once, when Ed and I were talking about his wife Norma, it was clear how much her loss had affected him. He shared with me that after she died, he had returned to church and re-embraced his faith. That gives me a hope and expectation that we will meet again.