Thursday, September 18, 2014

One of "Those" People

Every town has at least a couple of those people. You know the ones. They quietly stand out and work behind the scenes helping to make their little part of the world a better place. No small town is complete without them. Well Tuesday, my town sadly lost one of those people. I can honestly say without exaggeration, that in some ways, he was one of the greatest men I have ever known. I was not alone in this feeling. In fact, if Facebook comments are any indication, he was one of the greatest men that many in our town had ever known.

Tony Rico and his wife Mary, were well known in our community and especially in our school district. Mary, for as long as I can remember worked in the school cafeterias, and her lunches were legendary. Tony worked around the schools and was always doing amazing things for both the district and the kids, however, Tony's presence in Mulvane started long before his days working at USD 263.

Tony was born and raised in Mulvane and lived here until he did a three year stint in the Army in the Pacific during WWII. Afterwards, in 1947, he came back and married Mary Gonzalez, the love of his life. Together they had six kids, three boys and three girls.

While his kids were growing up, Tony worked on the railroad, served as a law enforcement officer in Mulvane and finally in 1957 he went to work for the Mulvane school district, where he stayed until his retirement. During his time in the district he held many positions including bus driver and resident artist (a non-official title I am sure).  At the time, all of the school buses were numbered and it was difficult for the younger kids to remember or recognize their particular bus numbers, so Tony painted each bus with a different cartoon character. Where kids might have trouble remembering they were on bus 9, they could always remember they were on the Mickey Mouse bus. For years, Mulvane was known to other towns around, as the town with the cartoon character buses and trust me, the kids loved those buses.

Tony was a phenomenal artist and his artistic skills were not just bus worthy. His talent adorned school megaphones, year book covers, murals, prom backdrops, our school mascot and an amazing picture of Iwo Jima that hung for years in the entryway of the old high school.  It was said, that from time to time, Tony would gift a student with one of his works of art. Rumor has it that many of those recipients still cherish those gifts to this day. Aside from the schools, Tony's artwork also found it's way into homes, Mulvane businesses and also St. Michael's church. He was a very talented man and he was wonderful about sharing his God given talent with others. Because of this, his work still lives on today.

After word of Tony's death was made public, someone on FB asked people to post their favorite memory of Tony. As you can imagine, there were many many comments, however, the common memories that seemed to pop up were his amazing artistic skill, his kindness, the passing out of bubble gum to the grade school kids and his love of music.

For many years, he was a fixture at the grade school and was well known by all the kids. I believe he worked as janitor and pretty much a jack of all trades around the old building. All the kids knew Tony and he went out of his way to make each and every child in his building feel special. One thing he was especially known for, was always carrying bubble gum.  A kid considered himself very special if Tony walked up to him on the playground and gave him a piece of bubble gum. It could absolutely make a good afternoon.....a great afternoon! It was these little moments of kindness and generosity that made this man so special to our community.

I am told that Tony was a member of several bands throughout the years, but the one that I remember watching him play in, was The Powder River Band. They played an old country swing style and Tony's most memorable song was "Tiny Bubbles." The band always played at our annual town event, Old Settlers and on occasion, the school kids would be lucky enough to be treated to an in-school performance. This man and his band were something that a small town kid remembers forever. Tony didn't just perform at Old Settlers though. In 1989, he and Mary were chosen as Old Settlers King and Queen. It was a well-deserved honor. Not surprisingly though, this was not the Rico's first town recognition. In 1978, they were chosen as Outstanding Citizens of Mulvane. I can't think of a more fitting title nor a more deserving couple.

While the town adored him, Tony's devotion went beyond the town and schools. He was also very devoted to his church. I was blessed to be able to attend weekly mass with Tony and his wonderful family for many years. In fact, if not for Tony and Mary and a few other families from Mulvane, my church, St. Michael the Archangel Catholic Church, might not be here today. The story that I remember hearing from Mary many years ago, was that the nearest Catholic church was about 6-10 miles away and these families felt that Mulvane needed it's own Catholic church. They petitioned the diocese to allow a church to be built in Mulvane and after much effort, it was finally okayed, so in 1948, the Rico's and the other families built the original church from the ground up. Once the church was built, Tony, Mary and their kids, were always very active in it. St. Michael's was very special to them and everything they did for the church was done with great love.

I have found, that for every person that remembers Tony, there is a personal story attached. My Tony story is two fold and happened years apart. The first part was about 29 years ago, when I found myself pregnant and unmarried. Back then, it was a much bigger deal socially, than it is now. My mother was humiliated and she felt that it was much better that I "stay in" out of the public eye, which included not going to church while I was showing. Once my son was born though, Mom was fine with me going back to church. I on the other hand was a little nervous as no one had seen me in months and now I was going to church with my newborn. I was pretty sure... people were going to talk! On my first Sunday back, I remember trying to make myself and my son as tiny and unnoticeable as possible as I sat there in the pew and I am sure I looked as nervous as I felt. Suddenly though, I felt a hand on my shoulder and I looked behind me to see Tony. He had the kindest look in his eyes, that I had ever seen. He smiled at me and said, "Welcome Back and God Bless that little one." I immediately teared up and all I could do was smile through the tears. That tiny act of kindness, put my heart at ease and made me feel like I was home. I doubt Tony ever knew what that meant to me, but it truly meant the world.

The second part came 17 years later after I had just lost my mother. To be honest Mom's funeral was a blur to me. I am sure that Tony and Mary were there as they seemed to be at most of the parish funerals but to say definitely.....I can't. However, the following Sunday after Mass as I was walking to my car with the kids in tow and still reeling from losing Mom, Tony and Mary caught up with me. Mary hugged me with tears in her eyes and then Tony took my hand and said, "She is with God and she is happy." Then without another word, they walked away. I almost cried because it was as if he knew what I needed to hear at that moment. Such a random act of kindness that again, meant more to me than I am sure he ever knew.

Yes, Tony was one of those people. He helped to give this town art, music, a church, kindness and the feeling that when you were in his presence, you were with a truly good man. He was a man of great humor and a man of great faith and he lived that faith daily. Someone said that there was just no adjective good enough to describe Tony and I have to say, that I agree. He was a one of a kind man, and Mulvane was very blessed to have him.

Tony died on Tuesday after being ill for some time. Since he had lost his beloved Mary, two years earlier, he had gradually gone down hill. He was 92 and he left behind his 6 kids, 28 grand children, 15 great grand children and he had 2 more on the way.

Tony Rico was never rich and he never had the trappings of what we think of great men having, but everyday, he quietly went about life, loving God, taking care of his family, his church and his town. It simply was who he was and with his kind ways and generous spirit, he made Mulvane and the world.....a much better place to live.

Thank you Tony. RIP

A very special thank you to Ody Rico for permission to use the above photos.


Anonymous said...

I've said it before and I will say it again, if I died I would want you to write my memorial. I didn't know this man, but you sure made me wish I did. RIP Tony. Great blog!

Anonymous said...

I agree. This blog was so nice. As a kid I remember Mr. Rico. He was very kind and he was funny too. Once I moved away I never kept in touch with too many of the people still there. This blog took me back to a much simpler time and place. Thank you. RIP Mr. Rico

Gloria Rico said...

Thank you for your kind words about our father. You gave form to our feelings, and I'm sure the feelings of our community. Your memorial blog is something of my father that I can see, hold and reflect on...and proudly say, "yes, that's my dad". I have loved hearing our community's personal stories about dad. It just makes the love for him expand and pulsate so much more. I appreciated beyond words, your very personal experience of him. I cried but it was tears of awe and great love that over came me. I can say without a doubt my family and all of Tony's grandchildren and their children will cherish this experience that you have shared! And as dad would have said, "Well, God Bless You!" --(Gloria Rico)

Anonymous said...

The world needs more Tony's. It is sad that this one is gone. The things that made him so special to the school kids probably wouldn't even be allowed today, like giving kids bubble gum. This was a really great blog and I enjoyed learning about one of "those" people from your town.

MarniJ said...

I personally didn't ever meet Mr Rico but from what you wrote here he was an amazing presence to be around. There are so few around these days like him. Thank you so much for this write.....beautifully written!
Prayers to the Rico Family.

J'nelle said...

I dearly love your blog memorials. They are always people who seem to have touched you in such a special way and you bring that to your blog. I am with the others. I would want you to be the one to memorialize me if someone had to do it. LOL I am sure Tony's family are touched at your memories and your kindness to this man. Beautiful tear filled blog.

Cybrik said...

Thank you for this blog entry, I also grew up in Mulvane and have to say you brought back some good memories for me. Tony was a special man to all of the kids that went through the grade school. He was a talented artist and musician. However I think his real talent was making everyone he came in contact with feel they were special, if only for a short time. He seemed to show love and caring to everyone. He was a great man and surely will be missed.

robert crawford said...

My first memory of Tony was the first day of school as the first fifth grade class in the new grade school. My class was going to music, and as we past the bathroom I had to go, so I dipped into the bathroom. When I came out, I had no clue wich way to go. I was wondering around the halls tryin to follow the sound of the music when around the corner comes Tony. I froze scared I was in trouble. He Mus of been able to tell, he looked at me and said " It's alright, are you lost?" I just shook my head. He as me who my teacher was and when I told him, he said they are in music and took my Han and leave me to the music room. And I remeber him on the black top at lunch recess. I would come up and say Papa Chew chew please and he would give me a piece of bazooka joe, I'd use the wrappers as book marks. On far occasions tho, he would say "no, no chew chew." But pull butterscotch and peppermints out and let me pick only one piece so every one else who asked could have some.
The two sides of my family are from Mulvane, and we knew Tony and his family well. My dad's side is the Crawford/Walker. And my mom's, the Clarks. My aunt Pat (Crawford) Walker worked with Mary in the school cafiterias for many years. My grandpa Johnny Clark worked with Tony on the railroad and school district.
Reading the main blog here, I had to fight back tears. While I wasn't related to Tony, and I was extremely close to him, I just feel a great deal of loss with his passing because of the impact just the few little moments I had with him made on my life. He was a great man, and I am sure that every man, woman, and child that was ever blessed with the chance to meet him and exchange just even a few words will forever feel the same.
Tony, sir, you were an amazing man. You will live on in the hearts of many lives until we all come home and can once again see you face to face and say "Papa Chew chew please"
We love you Tony, Rest in piece.

Ronald Eubanks said...

Tony gave me my first was a 51 chevy ,green with a white top tony had painted and a wooden gas pedal he had father worked with tony as a dad, tommy eubanks,was his coworker .tony refused payment on the car.he will always be a good influence in my life because i was so small when i first met an seemed so way cool with his steel guitar.since we lived on boxelder street we lived on the same side of the tracks .tony will always have legendary status in mulvane .

Anonymous said...

I remember taking guitar lessons from Tony when I was 10..just a wonderful soul him and his wife a humble quiet man could make. Such a difference in so many people's lives is simply amazing...the doors swung right open for this loving soul....Lonny

Ted Sweet said...

What a beautiful testimony to a great man. Thank you for writing this.