By Paul Thompson
Dick Seidelman was never short of opinions. Those who met him at neighborhood meetings will remember as much, as will those who encountered him at community clean-up events or the neighborhood orchard, which he voluntarily mowed with his riding lawn mower. The same can be said for workers in city government or those affiliated with the department of Veteran Affairs. Nobody ever accused Dick Seidelman of being disengaged.
There are many ways to remember the man, who passed away just over two weeks ago in his home in the Sheffield neighborhood of Northeast Kansas City. Sheffield Neighborhood Association President Mark Morales remembers Seidelman as his right hand man in the neighborhood.
“When I first met Dick Seidelman, he was walking through the neighborhood picking up trash,” Morales said. “I stopped and let him know of the neighborhood meetings, and ever since then he was involved in the neighborhood association.”
The two spearheaded efforts at the neighborhood orchard and regularly cleaned up the community. Together they formed a team, but they also formed a friendship.
“He wasn’t afraid to speak his mind, and he was very well-researched,” Morales said. “I think the friendship’s going to hurt me the most. I looked forward to getting him in my truck; he always had a topic to share.”
Preston Cain, Seidelman’s lawyer, remembers a client who began as a conversational patron at his downtown bar, Zoo Bar. To Cain, Seidelman was an affable man and a fierce patriot.
“He’s got a whole drawer full of medals,” Cain said. “He was very talkative, and he was very much into the veterans stuff. He went to Washington D.C. a few times for veterans events.”
Ed Clark is Seidelman’s cousin, and he remembers someone who was always willing to lend a helping hand. The family owned property off of Van Brunt Blvd., and Seidelman was perpetually willing to help fix what was broken. Though Seidelman was proud of his war record, he rarely spoke of its particulars, even to his family. But he did relay one story that stuck with his cousin.
“In one incident he told me where they were lobbing mortars one way, and he crawled up the tree line, and he shot back and killed several of (the enemy),” Clark said.
An avid follower of politics, Seidelman was said to have watched government meetings with near-religious fervor. He loved C-SPAN, and would watch the Kansas City, Missouri government’s Channel 2 regularly to keep apprised of events at City Hall. He took out advertisements in the Northeast News before every election, simply urging the community to vote. Through his outgoing nature, Seidelman got to know area politicians on a first-name basis. One local candidate, fellow Marine Jacob Turk, even became a close friend.
“He was irascible. He was very proud of speaking truth to power. He really served as a conscience to the politicians,” Turk said. “They all knew who Dick was, and he was always very mindful of making sure that they remembered Veterans Day and honored veterans.”
Seidelman supported Turk during his various political bids, and a friendship spawned from there. In 2012, when Turk was running a primary campaign, a series of anonymous letters denigrating Turk were sent to his supporters. Seidelman took the time to write his own letter in response, letting voters know that the allegations against Turk were untrue. He wasn’t satisfied simply sending the letters, though: he went so far as to sign each of the letters personally. The pair kept up a regular correspondence.
“I just always knew when he called that he would say something encouraging,” said Turk. “I’ll miss getting those phone calls.”
Seidelman’s generosity is perhaps best reflected through his friendship with Tracy and Honey Jackman. Tracy worked in Clark’s accounting office, and Honey is her 13-year-old daughter. The triumvirate formed an unconventional bond, and the Jackman’s referred to Seidelman as ‘Uncle Richard.’ They weren’t technically related, but as they grew closer over the years, Seidelman treated them like kin.
“He gives me piggy banks, he gives me toys, he gives me cool-looking bags,” said Honey. “He’s a good uncle.”
Before his death, Seidelman had resolved to get Honey interested in politics. He brought her to City Hall, had her meet the City Councilmen and the Mayor. This year, when the Council celebrated Flag Day during one regular legislative session, Seidelman joined the Jackman’s as Honey spoke during the ceremony. Tracy said that they had all planned to take the train down to Jefferson City this fall. The Jackman’s went to his home to help clean up after his passing, and when they did, Honey was wearing a t-shirt that read “Future President” on the front. It was given to her by Dick Seidelman.
“He was always giving people things, always caring about other people; he never went anywhere to visit anyone without bringing a present for them,” Tracy said.
Among his possessions when he passed were his many military decorations, which included a Purple Heart. The question begged: how did Dick Seidelman earn all of those honors? The National Archives offered at least a few answers when it provided Seidelman’s releasable military service information, following a Freedom of Information Act request.
Before the neighborhood meetings and the lawn mowing, Seidelman was a member of the United States Marine Corps from January 26, 1967 until August 25, 1976. He rose to the rank of Sergeant (E-5). In total, Seidelman was honored more than a dozen times with official decorations such as the National Defense Service Medal, the Republic of Vietnam Cross of Gallantry w/ Palm, and a Combat Action Ribbon. Specifics of his actions in battle are few and far between, but the documents include a citation written as part of Seidelman’s Navy Achievement Medal. The medal was awarded for Seidelman’s efforts in Vietnam between January 24, 1968 and January 24, 1969, and the citation is glowing in its description of his actions. It states that he displayed “outstanding professionalism and initiative despite extremely adverse conditions and the difficulties of a combat environment.”
“As a result of his diligence and seemingly unlimited resourcefulness, he gained the respect and admiration of all who observed him and contributed significantly to the accomplishment of his unit’s mission,” the citation reads.
Though the citation leaves the details to the imagination, the immense gratitude and respect for Seideleman’s efforts is full-throated.
In some ways, Seidelman’s military history defined him. He was highly involved in the VA, possessed deep respect for the American flag, and printed business cards that emphasized his Purple Heart. But he was defined by so much else, too. He was generous and funny and gregarious; Dick Seidelman was never a stranger for long.
“He just always made you laugh,” said Tracy. “That’s what I remember about him; he just always had a smile and always made you laugh.”
“He was an awesome man,” she added through tears, “and I’m honored to have gotten to know him.”