Dick Stricker, who passed away yesterday at age 84, was one of Lansdale’s most colorful personalities. I came to know Dick after I became mayor seven years ago. He was the most frequent visitor in the mayor’s office, and he also stayed the longest. If someone was waiting outside, he would glance at them and continue talking. Dick had never been married (someone told me he was jilted at the altar) and therefore didn’t have any children. I guess one could say that Lansdale was his family. He owned numerous properties in town with two being some of the largest and most historical houses in Lansdale located on the corners of Columbia and Susquehanna Avenues (where he lived) and another located on Vine and Green Streets.
One humid August day in 2013, I stopped in to see him and show him a plaster art nouveau bust that I had taken out of the old Jenkins Theater before it was torn down. I rang the bell and to the door, slowly came Dick in his white sleeveless t-shirt and boxer shorts. He was happy to see the piece of art nouveau, Lansdale history, but what he really wanted was to show me his house. This is where things get a little peculiar.
Dick was an active member of the historical society and a founding member of the Board that preserved the Lansdale Cemetery. He owned houses that must have been fabulous in their heyday. He invited me into his house and gave me the tour. With a broom, he popped up one of the tiles of the drop down ceiling. “Look at that beautiful molding there! Look at these parquet floors!” as he pulled away the green shag rug. This once majestic house now was seven apartments. “Come with me, I want to show you something”. Up a flight of stairs no more than three feet wide to a landing then up some more stairs. “Can you imagine that there once was a horseshoe double staircase here with a mahogany banister?” He eyes lit up as he described the grand architectural aspects of the house. ‘What happened to them?” I asked. “I tore them out”, he answered with no hint of irony. I couldn’t believe my ears; here was a member of the historical society talking about how he had dismantled this mansion to make room for apartments.
Now, before we judge Dick too harshly for his actions, this was a fairly common practice in the sixties, seventies and even eighties before architectural, historical consciousness set in. And as I understand it, Dick was a very kind and understanding landlord, and even though the apartments may have been dated, they were very clean and well maintained. As a single man, to have a gigantic house was not his style; he was practical and made money off of the buildings and provided housing for others. Very utilitarian and very characteristic of Lansdale.
Of course, Dick had his quirks. His constantly shrugging of his shoulders, his bulbous nose and his nasally pitched voice not quite fitting the largess of his body. There was his dark, ruddy skin color with deep creases in his forehead that he was inordinately proud of. The creases I believe were the result of some medical treatment that I can’t quite remember. And of course, his beloved Cadillac that he sailed around Lansdale in. He was also a member of Lansdale Borough Council in the late seventies giving him carte blanche to criticize whatever was going on politically at the moment which he never hesitated to do. He was most happy with the Vine Street Expressway that was completed in September of 2014. According to him, with a newspaper article to back him up, he planned this project in 1977. He could die happy now.
A few years ago after I had painted Mayor Mike’s portrait, Dick came to me very soon after and asked when I could paint his portrait. I was a bit taken aback by his forwardness. “When could you start?” he asked. “You see, I’m not going to be here much longer,” he continued. Please keep in mind that this was the spring of 2013. I obliged him and invited him over to take some photos, which he then questioned as being good enough to make the portrait from. A few days went by and Dick called to see if I was working on the painting. I hadn’t even begun. I told him that I would call in a few weeks once it was close to ready. Once I had a portrait that was 90% finished I called him and he came over (within five minutes) to see the result. Walking around it and muttering a few “uh huhs” he asked if his hair was that grey. “I can darken it if you want,” I replied. “No, no. That’s ok. I’ll come back when you’re done.” He didn’t leave until he took a tour of my house this time and pointed out that I had very rare, irregular sized radiators.
Two weeks later he came back for the finished product. Inspecting the portrait, he declared, “I think you should darken those creases in my head a little. And that space between my teeth; is it that wide?” With the portrait on an easel on my front porch, I took out the brush, mixed up a little paint and made a few corrections. “That’s better!” Now came the instructions for his portrait after his death.
As I mentioned, Dick was a member of the Cemetery Board that cleaned up the cemetery in the sixties and seventies, therefore it may be no surprise that he was preoccupied with his death. Upon finishing his portrait, he gave me very specific directives as to where it should hang during his funeral at Huff & Lakjer, during his internment into the mausoleum (where according to him, his drawer is the best spot to observe those coming in and out of the mausoleum) and then finally, where it will hang in the historical society.
Dick Stricker was a kind old man, very typical of Lansdale with all its idiosyncrasies that make a life and a place interesting. Anyone who met Dick is most certain to have a story; I understand that there is a celebration in the works to honor his memory, which I hope will be a doozy. Please post your stories to this blog or send them to Dick Shearer at the Lansdale Historical Society at 137 Jenkins Avenue, Lansdale, Pennsylvania 19446.