Teen remembered for life ‘well-lived’


Richie Herskowitz was only 17 years old when he lost his valiant battle with cystic fibrosis and died, Monday, Oct. 29, 2007, at Medical City Hospital in Dallas. In the obituary story by Jennie Beauchamp in the Oct. 3l edition of the Dallas Morning News, Richie was described as “smart, involved in sports and loved by family and friends.”

He is also remembered with affection and respect by many in the St. Louis Jewish community, where he befriended and endeared himself to members of Congregation B’nai Amoona, including Jill Kassander, a freelance writer, and Jim Guller, president of the All-Staff Nursing and Cooperative Home Care.

Kassander told the St. Louis Jewish Light, “Richie Herskowitz had an all-too-brief life, but one that was very well-lived, and truly inspirational to those fortunate enough to know him. He was in St. Louis to receive a double-lung transplant surgery, and while in our community, he befriended many members of our local community, especially at B’nai Amoona.”

Among those friends was Jim Guller, who traveled to Dallas to offer his own words of tribute to Richie at his funeral service at Congregation Shearith Israel in that community.

“Today, I am not only here to mourn Richie’s death, but to celebrate his life,” said Guller in his eulogy. “Like all of you, I was shocked and overcome with grief to learn on Monday that Richie had died. And I agreed with Barbie when she told me that today will be the saddest day of her life. But I truly feel that we were all blessed to have known Richie and we are all better people because of the 17 years he did live. Throughout his battle with cystic fibrosis, Richie remained positive and upbeat. He celebrated life everyday. We should do the same thing by celebrating his life today and in the future.”

Guller said that he was in Dallas to share thoughts that he and his wife Joanne had compiled talking to many of Richie’s St. Louis friends, “because he touched our lives in so many ways that St. Louis was Richie’s second hometown, a place he came for all of his (and his family’s) visits because of his medical needs, but that he always approached more like a social visit or a vacation.” Guller added, “Richie loved people and being with people, and people loved being with Richie. He built strong relationships with many people, so many of whom are here today because of that special bond. He was a special son to Barbie and Mark, a special brother to Bryna, Jordan and Neil. He was a special grandson, cousin and nephew.

“Family meant everything to Richie,” Guller continued I know how much he treasured his relationship with each one of you. He was also a special friend. Richie loved to be with his friends at school, friends around Dallas, and friends in St. Louis. He always made the effort to visit many St. Louis friends during his visits, no matter how he felt after various tests and treatments. He stayed in touch with me and with so many others through email, IM, phone and in person — just to say hello, talk about sports, talk about anything. Richie had an uncanny ability to really have a conversation with anyone — kids, teens, adults, doctors and nurses — he really did enjoy people.”

In Jenni Beauchamp’s obituary in the Dallas Morning News, she quotes Richie’s brother, Jordan, as saying, “He never hid who he was. He wasn’t like most high school kids. He was smaller in size and height. He had a breathing tube and wheelchair. When you see someone like that, you stop and stare, yet his school embraced that about him. He was honest and open, and people clung to that kind of personality.”

Richie was a senior at Plano Senior High School in Plano, a Dallas suburb, and had told Jim Guller of his plans to go to college, possibly at SMU. Beauchamp quotes his mother, Barbie Herskowitz as saying, “He was an inspiration to everyone that he met. He always smiled; he never complained. … He was a fighter.” She added that he had undergone his double lung transplant when he was six years old, but had managed to lead a fairly normal life until a few years ago.

Mrs. Herskowitz continued, “For eight years he did fine following (the transplant), but three years ago his body started rejecting the lungs. It was way too soon. For the last three years he has been through radiation, high doses of steroid treatments and all kinds of things to halt the rejection.”

Beauchamp notes that as his condition worsened, Richie could no longer play sports, but he was still an active member of his schools’ teams. She quotes Tom Inman, Richie’s basketball coach as saying, “He kind of humbles you because you start thinking of all these stupid things that we worry about. He made all of us realize how dare you complain about something stupid. He always said he was doing great.”

Jim Guller also recalled that while in St. Louis, Richie became a dedicated St. Louis Cardinals baseball fan, and often went to Cardinals games, as well as St. Louis Rams football games and St. Louis Blues hockey games. “There was no bigger sports fan than Richie,” Guller said. The St. Louis Cardinals just represented Richie’s true love of sports. I was lucky to be able to take Richie, along with my kids to see Cardinals baseball, Rams football and Blues hockey games when he was in St. Louis. … I also know how much Richie loved the Dallas Mavericks, along with the other Dallas sports teams.”

The Plano Senior High School students and faculty held a fund-raiser in tribute to Richie, at which participants wore T-shirts with the words, “This one’s for Richie. Proceeds were to help the Herkowitz family with its medical expenses. Kassander also recalls that at the time of his double-lung transplant surgery in 1996, when he was six years old, Richie was the youngest person ever to undergo a double lung transplant.

“Richie Herskowitz was a remarkable young man, and his family is extraordinary. They touched our lives and we connected for a lifetime. The more you learn about them the more you will be awed and humbled by their story.”

Deb Silverthorn in the Texas Jewish Post reported “more than 900 hearts gathered at Congregation Shearith Israel, where Richie attended services, went to religious school, became a bar mitzvah and participated in United Synagogue Youth to remember the life of someone who affected everyone he met. The tributes to the Plano Senior High School senior, who died Oct. 29, speak volumes about the respect, honor, friendship, and the meaning friends and family felt for a young man who, in only 17 years, left a legacy to follow.”

Donations may be made to the Richie Rocks Foundation, c/o Plano Senior High School, 2200 Independence Parkway, Plano, TX 75075. For details on donating to the Richie Herskowitz USY Memorial Scholarship Fund, contact Jo Reingold, at 214-361-0606.