Clarence W. “Badger” Richey, 81, was a mysterious genius with a great heart, friends say

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Catherine W. Idzerda
Thursday, November 7, 2013

DELAVAN—Most of us let life happen to us.

We take the safest routes to our destinations, try to remain as comfortable as possible and wait so long to make our choices that they get made for us.

Clarence W. “Badger” Richey didn't live that way. He left his family as a boy to seek his fortune and chose a life in transit rather than one in the stable middle class.

Richey, who died in October, was a fixture in the Delavan area. Those who knew him personally counted themselves lucky. The rest of Delavan knew him as the old man with the fantastic beard who walked everywhere and seemed to know everyone.

By his own account, Richey was born in East Texas in 1932. He told people that he ran away from home during the Depression, eventually making his way to New York City. He spent a lot of time in libraries, keeping warm and absorbing as much information as he could. Rumor also had it that he made money on the stock market, and it became one of his sources of income for the rest of his life.

There are also these facts:

--Richey earned a doctorate from Harvard's School of Applied Sciences in June 1970, according to a Harvard spokesman.

--He taught literature and languages at UW-Green Bay for at least two years.

--In later years, he lived in Milwaukee before finally making Walworth County his home, said Lisa Maria Schmelz, a friend of Richey who wrote his obituary.

--He collected cans, delivered newspapers and became a fixture at local libraries.

John Finley remembers him as brilliant and kind.

“The guy was a walking encyclopedia," Finley said. “He could talk about anything from astrophysics to local politics. He would switch languages in the middle of a sentence.” 

Richard Beers, a friend of Richey for seven or eight years, described his as “rigorous in his language. He took his words very seriously.”

Even before Richey got into graduate school, he was writing papers on mind-boggling subjects, such as “On the Intentional Ambiguity of Heidegger's Metaphysics.”

When Richey made an argument, Beers said, he invoked everyone from Mark Twain to Buddha.

“He was linguistically the wealthiest person you'd ever know,” Beers said.

People who were able to see through his scruffy appearance often found a great friend.

Schmelz remembers the advice he gave her, exactly when she needed it: “If you think there is hope, there probably is.” 

“He was kind. He was nonjudgmental. He was loving,” Schmelz said.

Finley remembers when the city council discussed opening a homeless shelter in Delavan.

“He asked me to help him buy a home in Delavan where homeless people could live,” Finley said.

Richey also was financially instrumental in helping the River Church of Delavan  establish a kind of homeless shelter.

The best tribute to Richey's life comes from Schmelz. She and other friends of “Badger” plan to continue their research into his life. They hope to collect his writings, including his doctoral thesis, so his extraordinary life will be remembered.

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