02 Mar Senior in Action – Avid Bicyclist Robert Richards
Marilee Marrero Stefenhagen
Former County of LA Public Library Administrator is having the time of her life as a retiree; meeting fascinating people who are active seniors, and volunteering for Soroptimist International of Norwalk and other women’s groups.
Senior in Action – Avid Bicyclist Robert Richards
Attached photo: Robert Richards as a “young man of 68” when bicycling Cycle Oregon in 2009”
In 1941, Robert Richards was born in Fresno, California at Burnett Sanitarium. This private hospital, founded in 1897, formerly operated as Celia Burnett’s boarding house. In 1945, the Sanitarium sold to a nonprofit corporation, Fresno Community Hospital. The Richards family moved from Fresno to Redwood Estates, a beautiful mountain community which Robert loved. When the family relocated to San Jose, Robert begged permission to finish the school year with his classmates. At 9 years old, he rode his bicycle 5 miles each way to carpool to his old school.
Robert shared, “I was popular in high school. I was president of my senior class, and played the lead in the senior play. Sadly, Camden High School in San Jose was demolished in 1980, and a shopping mall built on the site of my former alma mater.” After HS graduation in 1959, he attended University of the Pacific in Stockton to study speech and drama. He found “summer stock” jobs until his senior year, playing the lead in “Miser” and “Send Me No Flowers.” He joked about being interviewed for Not Born Yesterday newspaper because years ago he was in a stage version of “Born Yesterday.” He acted the William Holden part who tutors a blonde played by Judy Holiday in the movie.
By 1967, Robert claimed to be “a poor, starving writer/actor in San Francisco.” He says, “I wanted to travel to Europe but had no money. So, I got trained to be a bicycle leader. I led a 60-day trip in 1968 and a 30-day tour in 1969 for American teenagers. I also led US tours in Nevada, Utah, and Oregon.”
He continued, “In 1969, my newlywed bride met me in Paris with her father’s wedding present – an old tandem bicycle. I have no idea how, but we bicycled with saddlebags and knapsacks out of Paris after never having ridden it before! We rode through four countries; France to Switzerland, off to Germany, then home again in Holland. 750 miles total! We had to walk some of the steep mountains in Switzerland and soared down them! Not a single flat tire until…believe this!… just as we entered the outskirts of Amsterdam, we got one on the front wheel! I squeezed the front brake by mistake and wheel turned into a pretzel and we tumbled to the ground. (She was tempted to divorce me right then and there!) INTERESTING FOOTNOTE… as we cycled along the Rhine in Germany, an ancient geezer in his old Gestapo uniform stumbled out of the woods and tried to knife me! As soon as I spotted him, I kicked it up a notch. My bride hated Germany because her sister nearly died of starvation during the last year of Nazi occupation, when the German military hoarded food.”
Robert travels annually to Holland, bicycling with two of his adult children and being “Opa Bob” to his five grandchildren who live there. After years of a long work commute from Lancaster to a law firm in West Los Angeles, Robert is content living in the mountains of Canyon Country with an occasional bobcat visitor, cottontails, or squirrels.
But don’t let this idyllic setting fool you. Not only is Robert an avid bicyclist, he hikes, swims, and rides a Suzuki Bandit motorcycle in his spare time. Can anyone match Robert’s record of hiking Mount Whitney 22 times? Perhaps you ‘ll emulate his mile-long swim workout (68-72 laps) three days a week? Next on Robert’s wish list is a bicycle tour of the San Juan Islands off the coast of Seattle. Good luck and Godspeed!