In Memory

Richard Joseph Underriner Jr.

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07/05/14 02:34 PM #1    

Richard Allan Marin

I was talking to Jeffrey Weiss a few days ago, my dear friend of 44 years, and he mentioned that there were, as yet, no comments about the passing of our classmate Richard Joseph Underriner II.

He said, "I don't know where to start. Do you?"

Dick had a very big personality and heart, and I certainly understand the problem. This is inadequate, but I offer it as a tiny start that I hope triggers memories for others.

I met Dick in Junior year history class. He was a new student at ETHS, having un-enrolled himself at Loyola Academy without his parents’ knowledge.

We were always "friendly", but not really "friends", our strongest shared interest in those days being to successfully cut the history class.

Most of our conversations took place in the ETHS parking lot where we would meet as we left the campus to go our separate ways, me in my little gray Toyota and Dick in his family's behemoth of a green 1970's station wagon.

After graduation I don't remember seeing Dick at all the following summer -- we were both busy, and time seems so limitless when you are young.

In mid-August 1974 my father dropped me off at O'Hare airport: I was bound for New Orleans and Tulane University. As I approached the gate with my boarding pass there sat Dick, identical boarding pass in his hand: unbeknownst to either of us, we were going to college together.

We shared a steamy hot taxi complete with orange shag carpeting and bobbing-head dog to the Tulane campus and the wretched 1950's mess of a dorm that we would both room in for the next year.

I can not, for the life of me, remember the name of the dorm. I always knew that Dick would remember, and therefore I didn't have to remember, and that is the smallest of illustrations of how we become dependent on irreplaceable lifetime friends.

The year at Tulane cemented a friendship as I think that no other experience could have. We were both far from home in a truly kaleidoscopically different environment: it doesn't get further from ETHS than bar crawling the French Quarter at 2 am or greeting the dawn stoned at Cafe Du Monde.

After freshman year I dropped out but Dick went back.

In mid sophomore year his father had a stroke and -- in the first of the many enormously strong and generous choices he made in his life -- he returned to Evanston to be with his father and family.

He managed to get into Northwestern which was hard for two reasons, one of which was obvious, the second less so.

The obvious reason was that Dick's grades at Tulane weren't exactly stellar.

Some of you might find it difficult to understand why this would be the case given Dick's native intelligence and the time and intensity with which he studied the French Quarter -- the heart of New Orleans' history and culture -- but he was somewhat "distracted" freshman year and instructors at Tulane in those days were pretty narrow-minded about crediting life experience.

The other reason, completely unknown to me, was that Dick was somewhat dyslexic. I have no idea how to quantify dyslexia -- "slight", "mild", etc -- but he did struggle with that for many years.

His dyslexia had a funny aspect, something that I came to view as "conceptual dyslexia". An example of this might be him saying, "do you remember the riff at the beginning of the Dark Sunday concert?"

Black Sabbath.

Often I would find myself saying, "what Mr. Underriner means to say..." As the years went on and his dyslexia receded I sort of missed that.

After graduation from Northwestern Dick embarked on a true -- and not particularly short -- journey of the soul.

He lived for several years on the Lakota Sioux Indian Reservation in Pine Ridge, South Dakota, and had experiences and adventures that enriched him in ways that are difficult to describe in polite company but were easy to observe: his apartment on Ashland Avenue was, for a time, a microcosm of Urban Indian life, complete with real Urban Indians and the trappings of their lifestyles.

Dick made his career in construction in Chicago and, after several years in partnership with Jeff Weiss, only really held two jobs. The latter of these was at Leopardo Construction, where he rose to senior management, and became widely known throughout the construction and architecture communities as one of the finest project managers in Chicago.

After his passing in 2013 Leopardo inaugurated an annual Richard J Underriner Jr Memorial Award for Excellence in Project Management.

Marriage and parenthood came later for Dick than for many, but when they arrived they were spectacular. In 2005 he married Kathleen McKeon of Northbrook, who he met on a golf date.

Kathy was -- from day one, and throughout their marriage -- a far better golfer than Dick, and beat him virtually every round.

I never once beat Dick at a game of one-on-one basketball.

Pretty early on in Dick and Kathy's relationship I had to confess to him that -- while it certainly doesn't reflect what I hope is the better side of my character -- hearing about him being consistently athletically humiliated by his wife-to-be brought me great pleasure.

The memory of it still does.

In 2006 Dick and Kathy had a daughter, the amazing Colleen Patricia Underriner who is now 8 years old.

Dick fought cancer tenaciously, with tremendous courage -- and with a great sense of humor.

One night when he was back at work during one of his remissions he explained how having cancer could be used as a powerful negotiating tool.

"You see, Richie, first I listen to this new sub's bullsh*t about extra charges and change orders. I let him get through being all aggressive with me and then I get up in his face and holler at him 'I don't need this sh*t today, ok? You hear me? I don't need it! I gotta go for a test! (then Dick's mild, calm voice) Do you know I'm a cancer survivor?"

Other Guy's Voice: "Aw, Dick. No. You ok? Listen, don't worry about this crap. I can bury it in another job. Don't even think about it, you take care of yourself."

Dick to me: "I knew I had him when I said the word cancer."

I was laughing through tears when he said it to me, as I am laughing through tears now.

Just before Dick's passing Jeff Weiss and another classmate, Philip Rosenberg, and I decided to meet Jeff's cousin Lee Bendersky -- who had become fast friends with Dick decades before -- at Evanston hospital to try to support him.

This was not planned as a Last Supper, but by the time Phil and I met at O'Hare the morning of January 16, 2013, the phone message was grim: we were told to get to the hospital directly, Dick was struggling and it could be anytime.

Phil and I moved as fast as we could, but securing the rental car and the drive ate up an hour and a half, maybe more.

As we turned the corner from the elevators and walked down the hallway I didn't see any crying or other lamentation and I thought "good". I had no idea.

We walk into the room and Jeff and Lee are already in there, seated at the foot of the bed. Dick is sitting up, eating something, and chatting.

He greets Phil and I, puts down his tray, and then launches into what I can only describe as a comedy routine. He's pulling catch phrases and inside jokes that he had shared with us collectively and individually for over 40 years.

I'm watching his every move and listening to his every word, but I can't help but swipe brief glances at Jeff, Phil and Lee and, when our eyes make contact, there is the same amazement at what I am experiencing -- when not simply laughing.

He passed away the following day and, at that moment, the world became a poorer place for me and for many, many others.

I was privileged to be one of Dick's pall bearers which was -- I didn't think of it at the time -- a bit of an ETHS reunion itself in that the other pall bearers included Jeff Weiss, Phil Rosenberg and Todd Omori (ETHS '76, and Dick's brother-in-law).

As we stood by the graveside, two things struck me.

First, that I had, cumulatively, hundreds of years of friendship with my fellow pall bearers, and that that was a blessing beyond measure.

The second -- far more important than the first -- was that Dick, alone, had provided hundreds of years of friendship, support and love to all of us, and that that was just was just the tip of the iceberg of his impact in the world.

Miss you Homes. One Love.

Richard Marin, ETHS, 1974


07/06/14 07:18 AM #2    

Marie (Mimi) Thompson (Pomeroy)

I didn't know Dick, but I wanted to compliment you on a wonderful tribute to an old friend.

07/07/14 01:35 AM #3    

John O'Connor

I'll light a candle and say a pray for his wife and daughter. 

02/03/16 04:50 PM #4    

William Lemieux


What a great tribute. Dick was a great guy.

02/04/16 08:48 AM #5    

Susan Lipkowitz (Welton)

I did not know him either but thanks so much for sharing 


02/05/16 06:00 AM #6    

Ben Bochner

Nice tribute, Richard. I am very sorry to hear about Dick's death. I mostly remember him as a basketball player. He was lanky and dang good. Starkmanesque, if you know what I mean.

Seems like I remember that Dick grew up in one of those grand houses that looked out on Lee Street beach. Can that be true? Always something Gatsby-like about him, even if that's not true.

RIP Dick. You'll always be playing in a pick up game at the Y in my mind.

Ben Bochner

02/06/16 11:51 AM #7    

Anita Imler (Goss)

Great tribute Rich - extremely well written. I didn't know him personally, but I am sorry for his loss. Anita


02/06/16 07:52 PM #8    

Joanne Silvertrust



Really beautiful words well written   Although we all went our life fun ways we are always connected in such a lovely grand way  😇The 70s were good to us and gave us all connected foundations🌺🌺👍





02/07/16 01:42 AM #9    

Suzanne Katz (Harney)

Richard you are nothing but eloquent in your tribute.  What on earth are you doing in the Philippines? Last sighting I had of you was Mexico where I heard that you and Mr Tequila were fast friends

02/07/16 09:02 AM #10    

Marel Sitron

Thanks Richard Marin for writing an epic heartfelt tribute to Dick Underriner. Forgot that he had left Loyola like that and interesting that he too had challenges with Dyslexia. He made a great choice and many friends at ETHS. People spoke of him with such reverence at our 40th reunion in 2014. More recently heard of Deborah Graham's passing. Hope all the ETHS Grads of 74 (turing 60 this year!) can get together at our 45th reunion in 2019 to celebrate our connections, history and share our stories. 

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