Richard Coombs – His Life, His Legacy
September 29, 1920 – May 1, 2008
Richard Arthur Coombs was born to Carrie Kupferer and Arthur Coombs, in the home where they lived on 13th Street in St. Louis City, on September 29, 1920. Richard had a half sister Irene, 18 years his senior. In the late 1920’s his family moved to a 4 family flat, that his parents later purchased, on Eichelberger in St. Louis, MO.
Richard lost his father when he was only 15 years old, in January 1936. Two years later in 1938, he graduated from Cleveland High School in St. Louis, where he studied academics and applied trades.
After high school, Richard worked as a tradesman, serving as an apprentice in a machine shop. Due to his years of training as a machinist and his high degree of skill (keep in mind a good machinist took 3-4 years to train, while a soldier could be trained for the war in as little as 3 months), he was given 2 deferments from the draft during WW II. As a machinist during that time, he made bomb dies, propeller shafts for submarines and numerous other military needs for the war. In December 1943, Richard turned down his 3rd deferment and entered into active military service with the United States Army. When asked why he turned down this last deferment, when he likely could have chosen to remain stateside as a machinist for the balance of the war, he admitted he was uncomfortable staying here when he felt it was his duty to his country to go. Richard served with the 245th Engineer Combat Batallion, 3rd Army, from December 1943 until he was honorably discharged in May, 1946. He was a field mechanic in a headquarters company where he primarily repaired and maintained all vehicles assigned to his unit, under field/combat conditions. He served in many European countries, including Germany, France and Belgium. After the war, Richard attended Ranken Technical School under the GI Bill, and completed his training as a machinist.
On November 16, 1946, he married Melba Martha Meta Averbeck, his loving partner in life for over 61 years. Interestingly enough, Richard and Melba first met on a blind date in high school (rumor has it he was wearing an eyesore of a green shirt). Knowing he was going away to war, Richard didn’t feel comfortable marrying before he left, potentially leaving a young wife a widow in the event he did not return. As God would have it, Richard returned safely, and needless to say, it didn’t take him long to make his life’s choice!
Richard and Melba went on to have 3 children – Sharon in 1949, Deborah (Debbie) in 1953, and David in 1956. All of their children married (although it took David a little longer!), and had children of their own. Richard was a very proud grandpa to 6 grandsons (Scott, Keith, Eric, Daniel, Matthew and Adam) and 1 granddaughter (Christine), who range in age from 4 to 31, as well as a great grandpa to one great grandson (Shawn).
Hard work was Richard’s middle name. He worked as a machinist for 40 years, sometimes very long hours, primarily at Western Textile Company (now known as Greenstreak), making all sorts of plastic products, including pixie stix and hoola hoops! While working full time, Richard went to back to school, studied hard, and earned his stationary engineer’s license. Richard retired in January 1984, but because he was a man who just couldn’t sit still, remained working part-time at Western until the early 1990’s.
Richard and Melba lived a modest lifestyle in an Affton home they shared for over 50 years, a home that Richard didn’t necessarily want to (incur debt to) purchase, but was affectionately persuaded by “Mother” to do so. He always did his best to provide for his family. He also taught the importance of doing an honest job, and no matter what you did, to do your best. He and Melba raised their children in a Christian home; they were regular church attenders at a few different churches over the years, including Bayless Baptist Church, South County Bible Church, and for the last several years, Concord Baptist Church.
Richard never met a stranger; he was a man of conversation (with a capital C). He was not necessarily one for public speaking, but one on one, well, let’s just say you needed to pull up a chair! He was a man of many talents; he loved to learn, and was never afraid to try something new. He was an avid ice skater as a young man, and as amazing as it sounds, he continued to ice skate until into his retirement. Primarily from a fear of falling and potentially breaking a leg or a hip, he hung up his skates at the “tender” age of 75. In his early 80’s, he decided that computer skills were not just for the young – he took many computer classes at the St. Louis County Library, proudly learning to “surf the net.” He even took up the art of e-mailing in the fall of 2007.
Richard loved retirement, and thankfully, he enjoyed 24 full years of it. Retirement was filled with traveling and activities he never had the time to do while working. He especially enjoyed when he and Melba traveled to elder hostels across the country, as well as to Branson, Missouri. He and Melba took up both square dancing and round dancing, and for a time, they danced up to 3 or 4 nights a week. It was a joy to hear him say “Man, that was a good dance last night!!”
If you knew Richard well, you knew he loved a good meal (well, mostly the dessert) and that you could call him anything you wanted, but don’t call him late for supper! Country Buffet was one of his favorites – especially the free meal they got on Valentine’s Day for being married over 50 years.
But the thing you probably knew him best for was his incredible God-given talent with a scroll saw and a piece of wood. Until he was no longer able, he spent countless hours in his basement, making things that no machine (alone) could make. He was a perfectionist; if he made a mistake, he’d do it over, or he’d work really hard to make sure you didn’t see it! His woodworking interests varied over the years – several years ago it was miniatures, like doll furniture; other favorites included children’s toys (the batmobile was a favorite, but if you ask one of his grandsons, it’s trains!), baskets, Christmas tree ornaments, car replicas, plaques, clocks, picture frames and lighted pictures. But probably most important to him were his spiritual pieces, which he proudly displayed in cases at the County Library from time to time, as well as played “show and tell” with to anyone who had a few minutes. Richard used his woodworking gift as an opportunity to witness to others, and he did it well. He donated many of his hand made toys to children with cancer at St. Louis Children’s Hospital. He was always looking for the next challenge. There was literally nothing that Richard could not do with a scroll saw. He was proud of his talent, yet incredibly humble at the same time. Nothing made him more proud than for someone to appreciate his work, and what work it was!
Most importantly, Richard loved the Lord with all of his heart. His prayer would be that each of you would know Jesus like he did, and that you would accept Him as your personal Lord and Savior.
His kindness touched so many, and we are all so very thankful to God for the time we had with him.