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1/16/2014 4:06:00 PM
Jeremy Ritchie remembered as 'always laughing and smiling'
Friends fondly recall his influence on them
Jeremy Ritchie
Jeremy Ritchie
Jeremy Ritchie graduated from Lakeland Union High School, class of 2009.
Jeremy Ritchie graduated from Lakeland Union High School,
class of 2009.
DECA advisor Umland remembers Ritchie

In this photo that appeared in the Nov. 12, 2008, in The Lakeland Times, Jeremy Ritchie (left), helps present a donation to The Lakeland Area Food Pantry’s Angela Schuh-Storey to Jeremy’s left. Also in the photo are Jeremy’s parents, Nancy Ritchie (second from right) and Joe Ritchie.

Contributed photograph

By Jim Oxley

of The Lakeland Times

The smile, passion, charm and sincerity Jeremy Ritchie showed on a day-to-day basis are what Lakeland Union High  School teacher and Distributive Education Club of America (DECA) advisor Shawn Umland will remember most about Ritchie, who was tragically killed in an automobile accident Tuesday afternoon.

“He had that smile that just won you over on his ideas, and you could see his passion,” Umland said.

When Umland first taught Ritchie, as a junior, he could already tell his student would excel.

“He brought a lot of energy and respect to the classroom,” Umland said. “How he approached people was so professional already as a junior, when I first had him in class.”

As Ritchie moved through high school, Umland saw him grow into the business-savvy young man he became.

“He really grew between his junior and senior year,” Umland said. “As a senior he really began to take on challenges.”

Ritchie stepped into a leadership role in DECA as the vice president, and through that position he became heavily involved in community service activities.

“Being the DECA vice president, he really led our march for community service activities,” Umland said. “He was always coming up with ideas, and I could always count on him to outline those ideas and pitch them to administration.”

Umland said Ritchie shined the brightest when dealing with people, whether it was the individuals he worked with in class and in DECA or the members of the community he helped through his service projects.

“He loved that part,” Umland said. “He loved that communication and that customer service aspect that the organization provided.”

Umland said he wasn’t the only one to notice Ritchie’s knack for business, as LUHS administration responded very positively whenever Ritchie pitched a DECA project.

“I would get comments from administration about how professional he was, in his manners, in his speech, and in his approach,” Umland said.

Ritchie saw things others didn’t, and tackled each and every project in his own way.

“One could always count on him to come up with some of the craziest questions,” Umland said. “He had a very good mind, and he really looked at things in unique ways, and I don’t know if he did it to challenge me or just to get other people’s viewpoints, but he really asked good questions and he had a good business frame.”

Umland recalled a project Ritchie spearheaded that raised money for a local charity by selling tickets for the chance to grab a sledgehammer and smash a car.

Umland said Ritchie took care of everything, from finding the car to getting rid of its fluids and glass, to cleaning up after the event had finished. 

Umland was impressed by Ritchie’s dedication to his projects, and said when Ritchie told him he would do something, it got done.

“He had the unique ability to really win you over with his politeness, charm and sincerity,” Umland said. “When he said he was going to do something, you believed that he was going to do it.”

Ritchie was honored after his senior year as the Marketing Student of the Year, and during his time at Lakeland he was named Student of the Month multiple times, and was a staple of the honor toll.

Ritchie continued to impress after his graduation, when he went to work for his mom and dad. Umland said Ritchie took pride in his work and kept his Marketing Student of the Year award hung above his desk in his new office as a reminder that hard work pays off.

“You could tell that he took great pride in knowing that effort has rewards,” Umland said. 

Umland was most impressed by Ritchie’s approach to everyday life, how the young man put others before himself and found happiness in service.

“Many corporate executives say that businesses are successful by first serving others, then by serving themselves, and I believe that he had that motto,” Umland said. “I truly believe that he believed that philosophy, led his life according to that philosophy, and got great joy in living that way of life, which is truly mentored by his parents.”

Jim Oxley may be reached via email at joxley@lakelandtimes.com.

Brian Jopek

Jeremy Ritchie, the 22-year-old Minocqua man killed early Tuesday afternoon in a two-vehicle accident near Harshaw, is remembered fondly by some of the friends he’s known through the years as one who “was always laughing and smiling.”

Ritchie was an avid hunter and fisherman, snowmobiler, was involved in LUHS sports and was very active in the Distributive Education Club of America (DECA) at Lakeland Union High School.

Growing up he enjoyed participating in these activities, and made some good friends along the way.

Wednesday those friends had nothing but good things about Jeremy.


‘We did everything together’

Link Abraham, a mechanic at Ritchie Oil for seven years, said he and Jeremy were like brothers.

“I’ve known him since I was about seven years old,” he said. “We worked together [at Ritchie Propane] since we were old enough to work. We were best friends. We went to Las Vegas together.”

Abraham said he introduced Ritchie to his future wife and was Ritchie’s best man at their wedding.

“We did everything together,” he said. “We went on hunting trips together and shot a lot of ducks. We were together every weekend. Every day.” 

Abraham said Ritchie’s loss is devastating. 

“He was a big part of my life growing up,” he said. “I loved him more than my own sister. He was amazing.”

Lincoln said he was probably the last person Ritchie spoke to the day of the accident. 

“I was talking to him at around a quarter to one and he died at around 1:15,” he said. “He was picking parts up for me in Wausau and was on his way back with a full load of propane.”

Lincoln said he had been with Ritchie’s parents, Nancy and Joe Ritchie, all morning the day after the accident.

“It’s a pretty bad deal,” he said.  


‘Nicest person you could meet’

Alex Lee first met Jeremy when Alex and his family moved to the Minocqua area when Alex was in fifth grade. 

“When I first came here, nobody knew me, I was the new kid,” he said. “Nobody wanted to throw the ball to me, whatever. Jeremy would always come over to me, even though I was the new kid, and was always the nicest person you could meet. He would just say, ‘Keep trying, man, they’ll throw it to you after they get to know you.’”

Lee said Ritchie was always the guy to try to make a person feel better. 

“He was never one to pick on anybody,” he said. 

As the years passed after the two graduated from LUHS in 2009, Lee indicated he and Jeremy didn’t see each other as much. 

That, said Lee, didn’t affect how Ritchie treated him. 

Lee was at the 2012 wedding of Ritchie and his wife, the former Jamie Smith.

The last time Lee remembers seeing and talking to Ritchie was at the funeral of another friend, Zeke Jonas, who died in a car crash in August 2013, near Manitowish Waters.

“Even when we were older and I hadn’t seen Jeremy in a while, I’d get back to town and he’d always be the one to greet me with, ‘Hey, how’ve you been, man?’ And he’d always have a big smile on his face,” he said. “I couldn’t think of a nicer person. It’s terrible he had to go because ... he was the kind of person we should all try to be.”


‘Just a real nice kid’

Billy Kuchler, who these days works in North Dakota, also remembers Ritchie in a similar way.

“We used to play soccer together,” he said. “We’d meet at Hoggie Doggie’s and all pile into his mom’s Suburban and go off and play soccer. It was the first time I really, I guess, knew him, from that point, as far as I can remember.”

Kuchler said Ritchie was “just a blast to hang out with.

“No matter what you were doing,” he said, “from just seeing him in school in the hallway to out hunting by his cabin.”

Kuchler credits Ritchie for helping him salvage one of his seasons as a wrestler in eighth grade.

“I wrestled ever since I was a kid, you know, real little,” he said. “Jeremy wrestled before a little bit but I don’t think he was real into it. I think his dad was pushing him to do it.”

Kuchler said Ritchie at one point was still a little unsure of what he wanted to do.

“I kept begging him to wrestle because I didn’t really have anyone to practice with at that time, like same weight and everything,” he said. “Finally, I talked him into it and he went out for wrestling. We practiced together and he didn’t know much for moves and all that, but he was probably one of the toughest and strongest kids I’ve ever met. If it wasn’t for him going out that year ... I don’t know how that season would have gone, I guess.”

In addition to that year in wrestling, Ritchie eventually went on to be on the LUHS football and track teams, was a Distributive Education Clubs of America president, as well as the DECA Marketing Student of the Year for 2009 at LUHS, was the September 2008 LUHS Student of the Month, and was the Lakeland/Minocqua Rotary Club’s Student of The Month for April 2009.

Jeremy was actively involved with his family’s racing team, known as Ritchie Motorsports. 

His younger brother, Matt, is the featured racer, though at three years old, Jeremy Ritchie won the Kitty Kat race for that age group at the World Championship Snowmobile Races in Eagle River.

Ritchie was an avid hunter and fisherman and photos of him with a deer he hunted or fish caught were on the pages of The Lakeland Times many times through the years.

He had participated many times in the  Northwoods Youth Deer Hunting Challenge. 

His accomplishments there included first place in 2005 and second place in 2006 and 2008, all in the archery division. 

“He had a hunting shack out by my grandpa’s shack,” Kuchler said. “It wasn’t that far in the woods. We’d always see him out there every deer season. He’d come over to our little shack party, my grandpa would cook a big dinner and all that.”

“He was just a real nice kid,” Kuchler said. “He always had a smile on his face. I never really saw him mad.”


‘Most wholesome person I knew’

Jason Jonas remembers Jeremy Ritchie as “a wholehearted person.”

“Jeremy was always there for his family and friends,” Jonas wrote in an email to The Lakeland Times. “Whether it was supporting his brother, Matt racing or pulling one of our trucks out when we were stuck, he was always there. He was the type of person that would give you the shirt off his back and never expect anything in return. Jeremy was the most wholesome person I knew, no one had a bad thing to say about him.”

Jonas said Ritchie was also a loving husband, father, brother, son and friend. “Jeremy had unconditional love for everyone around him, which made him a great role model,” Jonas wrote. “He had the biggest smile and even bigger laugh. He was the kind of guy that would brighten up a room.”

Jonas said he remembers a conversation he had with Ritchie shortly after Ritchie’s daughter, Jayden, was born in January 2012. 

“Jeremy said, ‘Jonas, it is the best feeling in the world!’ Jeremy then went into details of how he was in the delivery room for it all,” Jonas wrote. “Jeremy said, ‘Man, I was like the stirrups!’ This excitement and joy Jeremy had for life, love and his family is something I will always remember. Jeremy will be dearly missed by all, but his memory will live on.”

One other friend of Ritchie’s, Joel Goll, also mentioned, like the others had, Ritchie’s smile.

Ritchie “was a great friend and an amazing all-around guy,” Goll wrote. “I honestly don't think one day passed that he was not smiling and loving his life. I am so lucky to have had Jeremy in my life and have so many great memories with him that I will cherish forever.”

Jozi Weber said Ritchie “had a unique skill to connect with everyone he encountered.”

“His happy and beautiful family was an inspiration and an aspiration for many people,” she said. 

Justin Barian, another longtime friend of Ritchie’s lives in the Minocqua area and has his own wedding coming up.

“He was more excited about my wedding than I was,” he joked.

Ritchie was involved in the planning, of his bachelor party, Barian said. 

“He was getting ready to set that up with all my buddies,” he said. “I was in his wedding.”

“We’ve been together since school,” he said. “Small town stuff.”

Barian and Ritchie snowmobiled together and hunted and, like Kuchler, Barian mentioned the get-togethers at the hunting shacks.

“He was lots of fun and a really outgoing person,” he said. “He was an awesome friend and would drop anything to be there for you in a heartbeat and was a great father and great husband.”

Brian Jopek may be reached at bjopek@lakelandtimes.com.

Related Stories:
• Justine Ringberg remembered for sweet nature, good spirits

Reader Comments

Posted: Friday, January 17, 2014
Article comment by: Jim Estes

I had the great opportunity to talk with Jeremy about a few business projects this past couple of months, In the past 30 years, I have had the priveledge of having conversations with many different personalities,( thousands)
There are just a handful that I can honestly say was memorable and pleasurable, You know, the kind that leaves you saying to your self, Wow,what a powerful, friendly personality that young man has! So much so that I actually had to call his Dad to Compliment him on having a great Kid!
We could all use a little of, "Jeremy-itis" in our lives. You Will be Missed Sir!
To your family, please accept my heartfelt condolences on your loss.

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