Evanson: Are you a better person because of Rich Kucera? Me too
Richard Kucera. They didn't make 'em any better.
The 85-year-old native Californian but 60-year Hillsboro resident passed away March 23 from complications stemming from a brain tumor discovered just weeks earlier.
Behind he left his wife of 20 years, seven children from his first marriage, three stepchildren, 19 grandchildren and three great-grandchildren. But he also left in his wake hundreds of friends, pupils, ex-players and students who'll miss the man who couldn't golf, but did as often as possible; couldn't sing, but did too much; and couldn't help but be the butt of the joke, which he wouldn't have had any other way.
He liked everyone, and everyone loved him.
He wasn't perfect, and in fact, he'd have been the first to tell you such. But what he was was a perfect gentleman who knew no other way.
I first met Kucera as a kid growing up playing golf at Forest Hills Golf Course in Cornelius. More than 30 years later, I'm just one of the many people sad to see him go.
Rare are the people capable of overcoming life's hardships with a smile on their face, but Kucera was that guy. He started every day with a song, every encounter with enthusiasm, and tackled every obstacle with class.
He joked that you'd never see him complain.
"I never whine and snivel. That's one thing you'll never see ol' Rich do, is whine and snivel!"
Now, he'd typically say that a split-second before pouting about a losing hand of cards or being on the wrong end of a golf wager, but that was part of his schtick.
He also loved to gamble, but never for anything more than a fistful of dollars. He'd bet anyone who'd take it, and if you took it he "had you down" forever.
He never won if you asked him, and in fact he lost "$585.35" every day — which of course was a lie, and maybe the only lie I ever genuinely heard him tell.
In preparation for this piece, I asked a number of people for their thoughts on Kucera. Without exception, responses started with his love for golf and ended with a story that told more about the man than the game he loved.
He was an Army Airborne veteran, enthusiastic chess player in his youth, avid sports fan and even coached.
Bart Bass, who knew Kucera for close to 50 years, played basketball for him in middle school at St. Matthew Catholic School in Hillsboro. He fondly remembers a story of Kucera harmlessly kicking him in the butt after Bass had taken a half-court shot in the final seconds of the half while his teammate stood alone under the basket awaiting a pass and easy score. The two had joked many times about the incident during cards or golf at Forest Hills over the years, fondly remembering the beginning of a relationship between a "ball hog" and the coach who couldn't rein him in.
Bass said Kucera always had a plan. Every day at practice, there'd be a checklist of things to do and an organized way in which to get them done.
He kept a book of his bets — which he called his "brains" — and organized golf tournaments, trips and even a monthly league he called the "Traveling Circus" of which he was the head clown.
Marcus Speros, who manages Forest Hills Golf Course and whose dad Dick has owned it for more than 40 years, understands what Kucera did and still means to the course, saying, "He was and will continue to be an icon of Forest Hills. He is loved and missed by far too many."
Ron Smith, Kucera's friend for more than 30 years, says it's not been the same since his passing.
"He was like a brother to me and I will miss him a lot," Smith said. "Golf and cards don't seem as much fun right now."
If this were an obituary, I'd talk about his job at Hillsboro's Pool Gardner Lumber Yard as part of his first wife's family-run business. Maybe his time in the military or his job as a toy store manager in Burbank in his youth. About his family, the kids he left behind, or his second wife Patsy, whom Rich himself told me changed his life.
But I'm not here to celebrate what he knew he'd done, but rather appreciate what he didn't know he was doing all those years of golfing, singing, and simply being him — teaching people like me how to be better.
I'm a better person because of Rich. Forest Hills is a better place because of Rich. And I'm guessing Hillsboro in some way, shape or form is a better city because of the guy who spent mornings at the aquatic center working out, countless days at the golf course playing golf and cards, evenings out treating his wife to dinner, and every day singing, smiling and making a difference just being him — one of the best guys I've ever known.
From 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. this Saturday, May 14, they'll celebrate Kucera's life at Forest Hills Golf Course. A collection of his family and friends will eat, drink and tell stories about the man who made a difference in all of their lives. It will of course be sad, but it will also be a reminder to me and everyone who had the pleasure of knowing Ol' Rich of how special he was and how lucky we were to know him.
Rest in peace, Rich, you deserve it.
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