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It's delicate work, but weaving telephone wire together can make beautiful art.

Gored by bull, Richards reinvented himself

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region Park Rapids, 56470
Park Rapids Minnesota PO Box 111 56470

When Charles (Chuck) Richards opened his eyes that bleak and gray November day in 1978, searing pain took over. What happened? Why was he in this glaring, blindingly white room? This wasn't his cow lot. And, where was his barn?

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Gratefully, Chuck mentally welcomed back that black hole of blessed oblivion where there was no pain.

Then, almost four days later, the pain was back; the white sterile room was back. Chuck couldn't recall a single minute of why he was there.

The multiple tubes coming out of his body attached to bottles of something over his head, the places he was clamped and bandaged together, hurting all over, told him something terrible had happened.

A ruckus down by the barn drew Mary to the back porch. Their herd sire, a 1,500 pound Holstein bull, was bellowing while he pummeled an inert something into the muck of the cow lot. What was it, a bundle of rags?

Chuck? No, no, surely not Chuck! But, it was Chuck, Mary's husband. He wasn't moving or making a sound.

Instinct, or maybe being the wife of a farmer, told Mary the only way to get a furious animal away from its victim was to get its attention.

What gets the attention of a bull without fail? A heifer. Bulls always check heifers, so Mary ran to the barn where she started turning out cows.

After working several hours over Chuck in ER, doctors told Mary there was a good chance he wouldn't make it. Besides being gored, having 13 busted ribs, a back broken in several pieces and fractured limbs, as well as unknown internal injuries, it was too much for a middle-aged body to deal with. If he lived, he'd more than likely never walk again.

After several months in the hospital Chuck was glad to be back home with Mary and their seven kids, but not really. Not like this: weak as a kitten, feeling ornery as a poisoned pup, able only to look out the window to watch his family try to cope.

Pablo Picasso, it is claimed, had his rambling house built one room at a time, with each one mirroring how he felt on that particular day. As a result, a few rooms were pretty and bright in sunny colors, a veritable delight. Being a confirmed sadist, most of his house was dark gray, or even black. A real downer.

Well, if Chuck Richards had been building a house those few years it wouldn't have had even a window in it. Try as he would, he saw no glimmer of hope, no future. His gauge was on empty. Ziltch. Kaput.

Mary, who didn't tip the scale at more than 100 pounds soaking wet, was working much too hard. The boys doing chores (there were two sets of twins) should have been going on to higher education.

And, nobody in their right mind would be crazy enough to buy a 400 acre dairy farm shrouded in snow, in the middle of Minnesota, in the wintertime. The guy would have to be more lunatic than farmer. You know he would.

Then one of the physical therapists out of Fergus Falls who was working with Chuck said: "There's an art class starting up in a few weeks aimed at retraining people. I've noticed you like to doodle. Ill bet you'd enjoy it. There's nothing wrong with your hands."

After serious consideration and doubt, Chuck decided to try it. It would get him out of the house for a few hours, give Mary and the kids a rest from listening to his varying moods. He'd always been able to draw stuff. Years of therapy put Chuck back on his feet, a weakened rendition of his former self, but under his own steam.

Now, leaping over the next five years, after Chuck's latent talent was recognized by an art teacher, after graduating as a bona fide teacher of art from Bemidji State College, we catch up with Chuck facing his first class of fifth graders as their teacher.

Taking his hands out of his pockets, hitching his pants up a notch, Chuck took a deep breath and walked into that fifth grade classroom. Just like that. He hadn't shook like this since being pushed 70 feet across the cow lot by the massive head of that bull.

Some 25 or 30 faces were turned toward the door, as anxious to see him as he was to see them. Kids these days knew about a lot of things. Distance didn't mean anything anymore, they got around. They scared Chuck stiff!

Introducing himself went OK and he was starting into the first spiel he'd practiced when a bright-eyed kid. raising his hand high, asked, "Mr. Richards, how old are you?"

Not seeing a way out, with 25 pairs of eyes all trained his way without a waver, waiting for his answer, Chuck said in as positive voice as he could muster, "I am 57 years-old."

The room got quiet, like at church, then a little girl in the front row, rolling her eyes, breathed an audible "Ohhhhh, my goshhhhh!"

Chuck stood there, trying to smile. How he wished he was home, sitting in his big chair reading the paper. Why hadn't he taken up half-soling shoes, counting out worms in a bait store, or anything else?

Another fast forward and we find Chuck having taught classes of seventh graders in Broadus, Mont., in Juliet, Wyo., as well as several schools in Minnesota.

Chuck found students to be interested in learning what he taught. He always showed up with something interesting that could be made in an hour, something they could take home to show the folks. He believes interested kids don't cause trouble, he said.

Although now retired to their comfortable home in Wadena, at age 75 Chuck still fills in for an art teacher now and then. Take a look at Wadena's murals and you will find Chuck painted many of them. He left beautiful big murals in each place he taught school.

This year Chuck is making telephone wire art. He has made an almost life-sized Twins baseball team out of the colorful wire. There are also life-sized birds, fish, and butterflies, all of which either stands up or can be hung. His pieces have sold for several hundreds of dollars.

In the evening you will most likely find the Richards in their family room, Chuck in his chair with a few tools, turns short lengths of wire into some real-as-life object.

In an opposite corner Mary claims squatter's rights to a chair her size.

She sits there, surrounded by yarn, turning out one beautifully knitted piece after another. Since marrying right after high school, they are never far apart.

They root for the Twins. When a game is on it sounds more like a half-dozen folks watching at their house than just those two.

These days Chuck is stocking up on all sizes and prices of wire art items for the summer celebrations and art shows he plans to be at.

Look for him.

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