POLAND – Jean F. Richards, born June 10, 1927, in Youngstown, passed away quietly in her sleep in Poland, Ohio, on July 16, 2018, at the age of 91, due to complications following hip surgery.
She entered into this life as a foster child, and after several temporary placements finally found a permanent home at the age of 10, with Joseph and Catherine Farnell of Youngstown, who, incidentally, were recent immigrants to America from the United Kingdom.
A graduate of South High School in 1945, Jean exhibited a passion for dance and many other pursuits throughout her high school years. She competed as a nationally ranked tap, jazz and ballet dancer across the United States and Canada, achieving many 1st and 2nd place medals and trophies. Her love of dance as an artistic pursuit, never dissipated, as years went on. She loved to study, analyze and discuss the technique, the aesthetic considerations, and the biomechanics involved in body movement. She spoke at length on the psychological mindset and the focus necessary for a student to develop the art. This passion continued well into her later years, and actually, never lost any steam. The mere mention of anything related to dance and body movement would start a fire inside her, and she would go on for hours and hours to anyone who would listen.
In high school, she was basically a natural athlete, exhibiting great interest in many sports, and excelled in running and swimming.
In addition to her passion for dance and sports, she was also an accomplished marksman and at one point, became recognized as the State of Ohio high school “sharp-shooting” champion of 1943-44.
Following high school, she earned her Associates degree from Youngstown State University in 1947 and married Robert Burkhart, also from Youngstown. During the late 1940s and early 1950s, Jean worked as a telephone operator at Ohio Bell. One unique role of note was that during the great snow of 1950, she supervised the emergency switch board for the Ohio National Guard organizing many rescues of distressed families in the Youngstown/ Warren metropolitan area.
Jean and Robert divorced in 1954-55, at which point she became a single working Mom, to her first son, James. (born in 1947)
In the mid to late 1950s, Jean took a job with the Standard Oil Corporation as a communications manager. During this time in the late 1950s, she also dabbled in amateur racing and joined a team at Akron Motor Speedway where she raced very early model corvettes on the weekends [1958-59].
In 1961, she married another Youngstown native, Haydn Richards, who had recently returned to the area after a 15-year career in textile sales, in NYC. Subsequently, Jean and Haydn managed to buy a home in Canfield, and soon thereafter, her second son, Haydn West Richards, was born. (1963)
Throughout the 1960s and into the 70s Jean remained an active member of the Boardman Christian Church and served as a volunteer at Eastern Star and the American Red Cross.
During this period, she also developed an avid interest in Airedale Terriers and became a breeder from 1968 until 1973-74. She remained an active supporter of the breed throughout much of her life.
In the 1970s Jean embarked on a decade of extraordinary activity and volunteerism. In the early to mid 70s, she played a major role in organizing the Canfield 4th of July and Canfield Fair parades including the bicentennial in 1976. These were the second largest parades of their kind in the state of Ohio.
In the mid to late 70s, Jean was active in the Girl Scouts of America. She led a marketing campaign for the NE Ohio Chapter membership program and organized artists and graphics design companies to promote the organization throughout the region.
Concurrently, she became heavily involved in teaching dance and gymnastics to girls and boys of middle school and high school age at Leah Flock Studios, in Canfield.
During this time Jean also served on the Board of Directors of the Youngstown YWCA, where she taught swimming and supervised life guard training. At this point, she also earned her Scuba Diving certificate.
However, her most satisfying activity during this period was her time serving as a swim instructor for severely handicapped kids, where she managed to foster an environment of purpose, fun and hope for both the children and the parents. Many of these children were victims of the Thalidomide tragedy of the late 50s that lead to birth defects manifesting in the form of fully aware, mentally and verbally active kids who were left to navigate life without arms or legs. She used to speak at great length about the strength and resiliency the kids exhibited, regardless of their handicap.
In the early 1980s Jean took up sky diving as her next hobby. later even trying her hand at co-piloting sail planes. It is also worth mentioning that throughout the 1950s, 60s, 70s and even into the 1980s Jean was an avid snow skier, where she skied the mountains of western Pennsylvania, New York State, New England and the Alps of Austria. She spent a great deal of time introducing many children and students in the Youngstown area to the sport, many of whom still enjoy snow skiing as a past time today.
In the mid 1980s, Jean joined the Giant Eagle Corporation and spent 15 years running what eventually became the second largest dispatch/ logistics and transportation operation in Ohio’s grocery industry and was instrumental in making improvements to the supply-chain management systems of the day having a positive impact on consumers.
In the early 1990s Jean went back to school, earning another Associates Degree at the University of Akron. Later in life during the 2000s, she dedicated her time as caregiver to her husband who suffered from Parkinson’s.
While her start in life may have been challenging, Jean never was one to complain or look for excuses. She was always too busy. She maintained a unique passion for learning new things and taking on new challenges with boundless energy and enthusiasm. She succeeded in nearly all her endeavors with strong focus and determination, but never without an eye toward helping and encouraging others along, during her long and remarkable journey.
Mrs. Richards leaves behind two sons, James R. Burkhart of Berkeley, Calif., and H. West Richards of Roswell, Ga.; and one stepdaughter, Jane Ann Baugh of Fresno, Calif.
In lieu of flowers the family has requested that family and friends please make a one-time donation to either of the charities listed below in the name of Jean F. Richards of Boardman, Ohio [Tribute].
A memorial service is being planned for the fall to take place at Seven Springs Farms & Resort in the Laurel Mountains of Pennsylvania.
The Michael J. Fox Parkinson’s Foundation: www.michaeljfox.org. Make donation under Tribute and Send Card.
The Special Olympics: give.specialolympics.org. You can also make a donation by telephone at 1-800-380-3071 and mention Jean F. Richards Tribute.