Richard Lee Van Sickle Oct. 12, 1949-Jan. 31, 2021
For a man who spoke of death casually for as long as anyone can remember, Richard Van Sickle fought it like hell when it came calling for him. It did not interest him at all. At 71, he still was very attached to living.
Richard completed the diner-hopping, game-hunting, jack-of-all-tradesing, auction-going, junk-and-tool-collecting, paperback-reading journey that was his life on Jan. 31, 2021, at Doctors Hospital West in Columbus, Ohio, where his last discernible words were along the lines of “get me out of here.”
Known as Rich to many, he was also called at different times by different people “Butch,” Tiny,” “Pugsley,” “Dad” and likely a bunch of other nicknames of which his family is unaware, as he was from the school of “just don’t call me late to dinner.”
His family moved as often as lazier people change their furnace filters when he was a boy, but Richard spent much of his formative time on his mother’s family farm in Bremen, Ohio, where he was born and where he learned the ways of farming, hunting, fishing, building and sundry other practical skills. Toward the end of his life, when asked if this is where he learned how to do so much, Richard said he never learned anything at all and that he was just from an ilk that had common sense; they just knew stuff like “what kind of weasel it takes to make weasel soup.” He also lived in Logan, Ohio, where he’d been making his home for more than 50 years at the time of his death, as well as Newport Richey, Fla.
Sometime in the ‘70s, Richard was cruising the main drag in Logan with a buddy at the wheel when he saw a young woman in a car ahead at an intersection, hopped out of his ride, knocked on her window and asked her for a piece of the pizza she had with her. Connie doesn’t remember whether she gave him a slice, but remembers this as the start of a courtship that turned into a marriage that spanned nearly 46 years.
Richard was an outsized man, standing around 6’3” before being reduced an inch or two by back and knee surgeries. His hands were big, his wrists were big, his facial features were big. He didn’t fit neatly into any mold, in fact. He was very much a country person, but he was scholarly in his way. He was strong as an ox, but he wept at sappy kids’ movies. He was generous, and he was grumpy.
It cannot be overstated how staunch a contrarian Richard was. He was unlikely to tell you a lie to deceive you, but was incredibly inclined to tell you emphatically an obvious lie in the face of overwhelming controverting evidence for the sake of sport and humor. He would defend this nonsense with ardor, and, if that didn’t work, he would change his position on a dime without admitting he’d been claiming the opposite a moment before.
“That’s a fine crystal chandelier!” he once insisted of an object that everyone, including him, could plainly see was a gaudy plastic lighting abomination. Days before his death, Richard told a story about a brief encounter decades ago with former NFL player Rosey Grier. His daughter Googled the name, getting a first hit of a needlepoint book. The Rosey Grier in question did not have a needlepoint book, Richard said decisively. Clicking on the link, his daughter discovered the one-time football player did in fact write “Rosey Grier's Needlepoint for Men.” “Of course he has a needlepoint book,” Richard insisted as vehemently as his denial of the fact just seconds prior. “All of us tough men do!” These were classic Richardisms, and there were many of them.
Richard and Connie had four children, and, in every case, the apple was flung about as far from his tree as possible. Even the handiest of them couldn’t come close to building a barn from scratch. None of them ever killed a deer without a car. Yet, he seemed satisfied that they could take care of themselves. He did not meddle much in their lives, but was always willing to help them if called upon. Asked whether he was ever disappointed that he didn’t get more rugged children, Richard said, no, he thought his kids grew into fine people. Further, he said, a buddy of his had a boy he thought was tough, but he was still afraid to relieve himself in the woods at night, so it’s all relative anyhow.
The man loved to read books and was not at all a snob about what they were. In fact, his preferred books, he said, were those that were big, written by a man and were 25 cents or less from a thrift store. He valued a low per-word cost and would likely have been appalled at the expense of this obituary, which is being written by a woman. Gotcha, Richard!
He entertained his elder daughter to no end with his descriptions of the characters he knew throughout life — the old-trapper lady who wore a coonskin cap and ate mentholated salve by the jar, the crazed flexible man who made his entrance into drinking establishments by somersaulting down the bar, the woman who was walking down her basement stairs one day and got depressed and stayed depressed for 20 years. (There was no more to that story.) Toward the end of Richard’s life, this daughter had a fantasy they might write a book together based on these characters, but time ran short.
Richard was informal, practical and an imperfectionist. In his world, some boot strings tied together could form a serviceable belt, even if this device had a rate of failure greater than zero.
He enjoyed going to concerts, camping, board games, taking trips mostly by driving, because that was part of the experience, and playing cards. “Dad was a solid partner who could always be counted on to take at least one trick,” his younger daughter and partner in a two-decade family rivalry said of his euchre acumen.
With his younger son, he shared an interest in old coins. Richard bought this son a silver dollar at an auction in 2019, also buying one for each of his other very grown children, deciding that would only be fair.
His older son, a notorious sore loser as a boy, remembers playing chess with him and actually winning once after Richard deployed a terrible attack-with-the-king-strategy, saying you never know for sure whether some things are a bad idea until you try them. The son thinks his dad was just letting him win one.
He held a number of jobs in his life, including working for Ohio Oil Gathering for many years, selling real estate and operating a rental business. He was a 1967 graduate of Logan High School.
In his final days, during his brief hospitalization related to Covid-19, Richard spoke of wanting to be home, to play cards and simply to sit in his truck in an alley, where he liked to read books, and watch people go by.
He was far from a perfect man, but we think he was a good man and the right man to usher us through life for so many years. He was loved fiercely. His good side didn’t always win over his bad, but most often it did.
He had two young grandsons, Theodore George and Sullivan Richard Pavlik, of whom he was completely enamored. In addition to these little guys and Connie, Richard is survived by his children, Joseph (Melissa), Wendy (this one couldn’t get a partner), Jeffrey (Christa Nelms) and Kelly (Rudy Pavlik) Van Sickle.
He is also survived by sisters Dianne Martin and Barb Rittgers and a host of other relatives and friends.
He was preceded in death by his parents, Wayne and Patricia Kessler Van Sickle.
Richard was cremated and his family hopes to put some of his ashes on Bois Blanc Island, Mich., where he enjoyed annual camping excursions for many years. He lost part of a tooth once and carried it in his billfold for months so that he could leave it on the island.
A socially distant memorial service with masks required will be held at noon on Saturday, Feb. 13 at Roberts Funeral Home, Logan, Ohio, with calling hours two hours prior to the service.
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