Richard "Dick" Sartz
Richard "Dick" Sartz died Saturday, Nov. 7, 2020, at age 101, in his own home in La Crosse, with his wife, Mary Jean, at his side. Their caring neighbors provided them both with so much loving support through the years.
He was born Aug. 20, 1919, in Bayonne, N.J., and met the press early in life as a two-year-old toddler, when his terrified mother frantically reported to the police that her son, little Dickie, had been kidnapped from their back porch. But he was soon found casually strolling along two blocks away.
The family (father, mother, and older brother, Jack) moved to Wyomissing, Pa., when Dick was four. He attended grade school there, but at age 11, they moved to the country and he then went to the new Penn Township High School for six years, graduating with 15 others in 1937. In high school, he enthusiastically took up drumming, playing in the band, orchestra, and in a 12-piece dance band. He also sang in the chorus and in a male quartet.
After high school, he went to Pennsylvania State College (now Penn State University), graduating with a BS degree in forestry in 1941. While there he joined Sigma Chi fraternity, paying his house bill working in the kitchen and as a caterer. He went out for the swim team earning his letter "S." At Penn State, he met Helen (Betty) Wilde, a professor's daughter and college freshmen. They were married Feb. 14, 1942, in York, Pa., where Dick worked in a defense plant.
In January 1943, he was inducted into the Army and sent to Aberdeen Proving Ground, Md., where, after nine weeks of training during which his daughter, Diane, was born in Bellefonte, Pa., he was shipped across country to Camp Santa Anita, near Hollywood, Calif., to teach artillery mechanics. While he was there, 20th Century Fox was filming Four Jill's and a Jeep, starring Kay Francis, Mitzi Mayfair, Carole Landis, and Martha Raye, and they needed some soldiers and equipment for a scene. Dick happily volunteered and spent three fantastic days and nights at 20th Century Fox, being treated like royalty.
In August 1944, he sailed out of San Francisco Bay-destination Asiatic-Pacific, 16 days later, disembarking on the Papuan coast of New Guinea, where he joined the 24th Infantry Division's ordnance company as an artillery mechanic.
They island-hopped to Leyte, Mindanao, and Mindoro, in the Philippines campaign, then on to the Japanese island of Shikoku, for a few weeks of occupation duty before shipping out for Seattle, then to Pennsylvania, and return to civilian life.
After a brief stint with a wood-treating company in Gainesville, Fla., where his daughter, Carol, was born, Dick started work with the USDA Forest Service in Upper Darby, Pa., thus beginning a 28-year career as a research forest hydrologist, with subsequent duty stations in Portland, Ore., where daughter, Nancy, was born, Washington, D.C., briefly, and Laconia, N.H., where son, Jon was born. During their four years at Laconia, Dick and Betty were introduced to duplicate bridge, which would become a lifelong passion.
In 1958, he was transferred to La Crosse, to study the effects of land use on flood runoff and soil erosion, in the Coulee Region. As project leader, his first job was to select an area for the research. He chose a 2500 acre tract near Bangor, naming it the Coulee Experimental Forest. Needing an office/laboratory facility, he negotiated with the city of La Crosse, for a building site on the "city farm" off Highway 16, near Quarry Road. The Forest Watershed Laboratory was built there in 1967.
Upon completing his research mission in 1975, Dick retired and the Forest Watershed Laboratory was given to the city. The building, which soon became the Hixon Forest Nature Center, has since metamorphosed into Myrick Hixon Eco Park. Over his 28 years with the Forest Service, Dick authored some 60 publications, including the article on watershed management in the Encyclopedia of Forest and Conservation History.
On coming to La Crosse, Dick and Betty started the Unitarian Fellowship and joined the La Crosse County Mental Health Association, with Dick serving as president. He served on the boards of the La Crosse Symphony and the People's Food Co-op, and in the 1960s, was instrumental in founding the Coulee Region Humane Society, subsequently serving on the board and as president.
After a hiatus of 66 years, Dick took up percussion again, playing in the Da Capo band from 2003 until 2017. He joined the La Crosse Duplicate Bridge Club in 1958, became game director and managed the club for 35 years. He also taught Bridge and will be remembered by his many students for his instruction manual, Introduction to Contract Bridge.
He married Mary Jean Kerska, March 10, 1973, and for many years, they went on annual trips to Snowmass, Colo., to ski and to Big Sky, Mont., where Dick would fly fish in the Gallatin River. They also competed in Bridge tournaments in several cities in the U.S. and Canada. Dick had achieved the American Contract Bridge League rank of Silver Life Master. Both Dick and Mary Jean were enthusiastic golfers. Although a terrible golfer, Dick did score a hole-in-one at age 95.
Encouraged by Mary Jean, at age 54, Dick auditioned for a Community Theatre play and was cast as the 90-year-old Firs, in The Cherry Orchard, beginning a second and enjoyable career as an actor. He acted in 46 plays at the Community Theater and in six more in other local theaters. His last role was the judge in To Kill a Mockingbird, at age 89. Dick was inducted into the La Crosse Community Theatre Hall of Fame in 2018.
An avid reader, he had wide-ranging interests, science, religion, the arts, and politics. In many ways Dick stepped to a different drummer. He did not hold traditional religious beliefs, but he had a deep reverence for life, for all living things and for the natural world. He will be remembered by all who knew him as a kind, gentle, caring person, and as a truly honest man.
He is survived by his wife. Mary Jean; daughters, Diane Sartz Ducey (Jim) of Mountain View, Calif.; Carol Sartz (Art Schwenger) of Heath, Mass.; Nancy Roe (Bill) of Columbia, Mo; son, Jon Sartz of Madison, Wis.; four grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren, Karin (Jeff) Munoz, Bakersfield, Calif., and their children, Kirsten and Kimberly; Rick (Chandra) Lund, Burlingame, Calif., and their children, Ricky, Juliana, Elsa, Catharine and Tommy; Olin Schwenger-Sartz, Heath, Mass., and his son, Oliver; and Peder Compney, Columbia, Mo.
He was predeceased by his parents, Alice Messner and Jack P. Sartz; his brother, Colonel Jack P. Sartz Jr.; his first wife, Betty Wilde Sartz; and his grandson, John Pretasky, son of Nancy Roe.
Memorials to honor him may be given to the Coulee Region Humane Society or the La Crosse Community Theatre.
A memorial service will be announced at a later date. Schumacher-Kish Funeral and Cremation Services-La Crosse is assisting the family.