The News Courier in Athens, Alabama

July 2, 2014

Henry Kessler Richter

The News Courier

— Henry Kessler Richter, son of Carl August Richter and Wilhelmina “Minnie” (Kessler) Richter, was born April 12, 1918, in Athens. 

His German-born father was the town butcher and owner of Richter’s Meat Market. All five children helped with the family business; with older siblings Carl and Margaret and younger brothers Harry and Marvin, Henry delivered cuts of meat — even by tricycle — and served bowls of the tastiest beef broth in town.

The Richters owned a Ford that Henry began driving at age 12. Henry and Margaret once drove from Athens to Chicago, encountering only a few dozen vehicles the entire trip. Ever the defensive driver, Henry drove 80 years before his first traffic violation.

Henry graduated from Athens High School as a standout athlete. In basketball he jumped center after every goal; in football he was a wide receiver, scoring the first night-game touchdown at Benson Field playing against Decatur High School.

In 1935 Henry enrolled in the School of Engineering at the University of Alabama. Discerning that his aptitudes lay elsewhere, he left after freshman year, hitched a ride to Chicago and worked at Woolworth’s on State Street.  He then returned home and attended Athens College, where he met Virginia Tucker of Attalla. Henry courted “Ginny” by leaving her half a candy bar in her locker — a harbinger of Richter frugality as well as a pledge that half of whatever he had would always be hers. Henry and Ginny were married Aug. 24, 1940. During his final days, Henry enthused to everyone in earshot that “my wife is the reason for all my good fortune… she’s as beautiful today as when I first met her 74 years ago!”

Henry taught himself to touch-type, a skill that equipped him for cryptography during World War II. Stationed in Tapachula, Mexico, Henry and his undercover unit wore civilian clothes. When not conducting surveillance, Henry played cribbage, composed ocarina ditties, and learned enough Spanish to haggle with vendors at the local market. He was grateful he never saw combat.

After the war Henry and Ginny moved to Decatur, where Henry bought a tennis-racquet-stringing machine with plans to open a sporting goods store with brother Harry. With no building available for their store, Henry took a job with the State Employment Office, equipping him for personnel work with a textile company that became Chemstrand and later Monsanto. A loyal company man for over 30 years, Henry never met a polyester shirt he didn’t like. He loved interviewing people and offering good-paying jobs with benefits. Henry organized the Chemstrand Credit Union (now Family Security Credit Union) to provide low-interest loans and promote savings accounts among company employees.

Henry and Ginny were married 15 years before children arrived: Don, David, Judy and Marcia (Catterall).

When Judy was born with Down syndrome in 1960, Henry urged that they take her home and devoted the next 54 years to caring for her with special affection, also serving as president of the tri-county Association for Retarded Citizens. All four surviving children recall the laughter and wisdom shared nightly around their dinner table. Often neighborhood children would stick around for dinner so they could join in the fun, with Henry and Ginny at the center.

A ruling elder at Westminster Presbyterian Church, Henry faithfully attended the Hagerman Class and worship every Sunday. With gusto he sang “I Love to Tell the Story” while driving his family to church in a “vintage” green Plymouth.

In retirement Henry became a regular at the Aquadome and Point Mallard Aquatic Center, which awarded him a lifetime pass. He enjoyed teaching his beloved grandchildren (Jonathan, Katherine, Kessler, Zachary, Lydia and Daniel) the life lessons he wished his own children had learned.

As was his final hope, Henry died peacefully at home on Monday, June 30, 2014, surrounded by friends, family, and attentive caregivers — especially Gloria, Tina and Zandra.  A Service of Witness to the Resurrection will be held at 2 p.m. on Saturday, July 5, at Westminster Presbyterian Church, 801 Jackson St., Decatur 35601, followed by a reception and family visitation.

In lieu of flowers, the family requests that donations be made to Westminster or to the ARC of Morgan County, 2234 Graham Ave. SW, Decatur 35601, which serves individuals with special needs.