Rick Rietveld had a flair for the dramatic, a spirit of adventure, a penchant for methodical planning and the gift of impeccable timing.
Each talent served him well as theater administrator, actor, and 25-year Valencia College professor, dean and founder of innovative programs that were the first of their kinds in Central Florida.
Rick graduated from Thornridge High School in Cook County, Ill., where he was introduced to the magical world of theater. He earned a bachelor’s degree from Hope College in Holland, Mich., in 1967, acting prolifically in school plays. In fact, he won first place in the state oratorical conference and second place in multi-state oratorical finals. Rick completed a master’s degree in arts, majoring in speech and performance theater, from Colorado State University in 1972.
He journeyed around the country in a career adventure, which included floor producer for a TV station, general manager of the Milwaukee Opera Company, theater director for the School of Fine Arts in Birmingham, Ala., and general manager and director of the Birmingham Children’s Theatre. In that role, he transformed a struggling company deeply in the red into the thriving company it remains today.
“His vision was that a traveling children’s theater could reach school-age children, expose them to theatrical experiences and plant seeds for future interest in the arts,” his wife, Kris, says.
A life-long learner, he enrolled at Florida State University to pursue a second graduate degree in theater. “Searching for a job in the arts during the Reagan era was difficult because budgets for the arts had been cut, and every school, university and college – as well as community companies – were struggling,” his wife explains. “But Rick was confident that, if he could sell a children’s theater to small, rural towns in Alabama, he could sell himself. He just needed to get the interview.”
While at FSU, he met his bride through a series of calamities that included a fender bender and a messy wine collision. They soon realized their lives had directly crossed among different cities, programs and people, but they had never met. “Not surprisingly, Rick’s timing was perfect,” Kris says. “He always instinctively knew how to do the right thing at the right time. He would tell us, ‘Life is all about timing. Say it with me, T-I-M-I-N-G.’”
Timing aside, they had their individual differences. When Rick was obviously moved and bemused by the subtle nuances of George Bernard Shaw’s play “Misalliance” during their courtship, Kris felt out of her element and almost gave up. “Friends said it wouldn’t last. Little did they know,” she says now with a laugh. “But the yin yang of the relationships was the glue. We were on a perpetual honeymoon, rarely separated.”
Rick was, indeed, granted the interview and hired by Valencia in 1982. He wore many hats: professor of theater; director of the Performing Arts Center; technical director and designer; founding program director of theater and entertainment technology; and dean of humanities, foreign language, visual art and performing arts.
But students and colleagues treasure far more than a series of titles. Rick partnered with Orlando theme park companies to create innovative programs and degrees that served the community and local industry, as well as Valencia learners. He changed countless lives.
His vision of a Central Florida associate’s degree in theater arts came to fruition in 1984, offering opportunity for thousands of local students. Rick led two grants in collaboration with Walt Disney World and Universal. And he wrote the curriculum that created, in 1985, the region’s first film technician training program. It has since produced 47 full-length feature films. As dean, he worked with faculty to expand Valencia’s offerings to include sound and music technology, and digital media. As a professor, he inspired three generations of students. As a philanthropist, he raised significant funds for the college foundation and was instrumental in expanding the faculty endowed chairs program. In 2008, the college honored Rick as one of 10 distinguished contributors for the previous decade.
“Whether you met Rick or not, his influence is permanent in our arts and entertainment programs at Valencia College today,” says Valencia arts and entertainment dean, Wendy Givoglu. “He envisioned and created the synergies between our disciplines and how they could function at the college, mirroring the cross-disciplinary collaboration of creative industries. Rick was an icon and the consummate leader – witty, creative, strategic, diplomatic, compassionate, intelligent, and perhaps a little clairvoyant. We are just now catching up to all that Rick imagined we would be able to do and be as educators in the arts.”
The college’s president agrees. “Rick was an amazing leader for Valencia. He knew how to get the best out of everyone around him – including me – without calling attention to himself,” Sandy Shugart says. “Losing him from the college was like losing a lung – we knew we’d survive, but we’d never be the same.”
In addition, Rick continued to pursue his love of the stage, directing shows, teaching speech and impressing the importance of elocution, which he had learned as a child and understood gave students the power to influence in every field of endeavor.
He traveled and was sure to pack in as many performances as possible. “One Christmas break in London, he saw 11 plays in six days,” Kris explains. “He loved quirky little plays and was passionate about the theater of the absurd. He sought out venues and plays that never make it to big playhouses.”
But Rick’s dearest passion was his family. He was so thrilled about his daughter Harley’s arrival that he sent out a giant birth notice with a size-6 footprint. He encouraged her to discover her own path, be flexible and make a plan, saying “if you don’t know where you’re going, any path will take you there,” Kris recalls.
Likewise, he relished his grandchildren, whether it was feeding them, celebrating each developmental stage, ensuring their Christmas wish list was under the tree, or taking them to fish and ski on the lake – a place had found solace since his own childhood. “He made time to teach, guide and show them the ways of the world,” Kris explains. “He wanted them to know unconditional love, that he was always there for them.”
He handled life-threatening challenges with calm determination and aplomb, whether it was a serious fall from a ladder or a diagnosis of MDS (Myelodisplastic Syndrome).
A successful 2011 stem-cell transplant, donated by his sister, Sue, bought the Rietvelds three more years. In fact, coupled with his “fall from grace” off a roof, his wife maintains he “cheated death” more than once: “Rick said, ‘I have lived the lives of two or three persons in my one life.’ That he did.”
His illness and treatment mirrored that of news anchor Robin Roberts of ABC’s “Good Morning America” and was featured in a newspaper. But that was not the first time their paths had crossed. In 2004, Rick had hand-delivered a copy of the Tuskegee Airmen documentary produced by Valencia’s film program directly to Robin, whose father proudly served in the unit.
Here is a link to Rick’s television spot.
Rick was born in South Holland, Ill., a small farming community where is grandfather was an onion farmer and his father the owner of a roofing company. He credited his work with the hot tar kettle during summer breaks with paying his way through college.
Richard Delbert Rietveld, 69, passed away on Oct. 30, 2014, leaving behind his wife, Kris, his daughter, Harley Anthony, his grandchildren Jazmin Lynch and Thomas Lynch, and his siblings, Carol Barnes, Sue Ebbens, Tim Rietveld and Bill Lee Rietveld, along with loving and supportive nieces, nephews, cousins and friends. He was preceded in death by his parents, Richard and Adele Bonnema Rietveld, and younger brother Robert Rietveld.
Family and friends will celebrate Rick’s life at 7 p.m. Monday, Nov. 17, at Valencia College’s East Campus Performing Arts Center, 701 North Econlockhatchee Trail in Orlando.
In lieu of flowers, Rick wished his friends to consider: becoming involved in the “Be a Match” marrow transplant campaign; donating to the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society at http://www.lls.org; or contributing to Valencia’s Richard Rietveld Memorial Scholarship, http://www.valencia.org or 1768 Park Center Drive, Orlando, FL 32835.
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