How do you describe someone's life and his impact on your region in just 800 words or less? The short answer: you don't (but you try).
While I sat in the pew at Grace Episcopal Church in East Grand Rapids during the funeral for friend and colleague Rikk David, I listened to many individuals share stories from a variety of perspectives.
However, it was his brother Michael David who said it best as he choked on the words: “I could say a lot about Rikk, but in reality, I could never say enough.”
It was a limitless tribute, the equivalent of a “...” at the end of a sentence in order to imply the mystery between the lines.
We were going to press last week when the news broke of his passing. Over the days that would follow, I would not only spend time reflecting on this man, but I would also engage in listening to others. And just as Michael David said, I too, began to feel there would never be enough space to share the things that matter about an individual who touched so many.
Rikk entered my life when I was just beginning to work with the filmmaking community of Grand Rapids in the ‘90s. It was a period of video usage, and the projects would often be a combination of the artistic (and therefore, no budget) or the corporate (the kind that pays well, allowing you to do the artistic projects for free).
I would soon discover that while Rikk was talented in making things look great for the camera, he had this knack for making our community look better, too.
It is no secret for those who can use a computer to trace some of the projects he recently supported. Hot projects from Friends of Transit, to the Grand Rapids Public Library Foundation, to Kid’s Food Basket come to mind. ??Rikk, who passed away at the age of 65, hailed from a time period when low-tech was not a reoccurring trend, but a real time period description -- when less sophisticated technology was in the hands of the people as it is today. Rikk developed skills at an early age that allowed him to think fast on his feet, traits that would suit him well later in life.
One of the best ways to describe Rikk was shared by his fellow IATSE Local 26 member, Stasia Savage, who so beautifully stated that his growth in the arts was best illustrated by his service to Grand Rapids annual Festival for the Arts.
“He went from chair lines to co-chairs,” said Savage, as she reflected on her time spent with Rikk on this project as one of her favorite memories.
Many in the performing arts community turned out for Rikk’s funeral, from stagehands at DeVos Performance Hall to the conductors and musicians of the Grand Rapids Symphony, to the dancers from various dance companies of our city.
When Dance In The Annex (DITA) was just starting at Wealthy Theatre, they were facing some of the same challenges most groups face. They had lots of talent, but who’s going to help them transition this to the stage?
“Only a few knew our name when we first hit the art scene,” says DITA founder Amy Wilson. “And even fewer people were coming out to modern dance concerts… (But) one person noticed. Rikk David.”
If you were to ask Rikk to name one discipline he loved, I am most certain it would be dance. He has a long history helping out various troupes from the early days of our Grand Rapids Ballet Company to the recent arrivals like DITA. Rikk volunteered countless hours helping that fledgling troupe get off the ground.
“Rikk David has been as much a part of DITA as any choreographer, and his lighting designs were as much a part of the movement as any dancer,” says Wilson. “He would refuse your excuses, he would challenge your compulsion to compromise any element of your performance, he battled against mediocrity; he accepted nothing short of perfect execution. And, at the end of a show that lived up to the standards that he laid out for everyone going in, you'd hear his voice over the headset, in his final words of the production: ‘Good show.’”
Rikk was not just our regional hero. He was a champion who took his credentials on the road to represent us at places like the Traverse City Film Festival. After years of political work, Rikk became one of the top people the White House relied upon on the campaign trail to make the candidates look presidential on camera. Rikk knew how to make the lighting just right because he was so gifted, knowing how to unlock and spotlight our best with a little bit of his assistance.
Over the years and throughout many projects, Rikk was only able to stay connected with many of us through one of his many Apple products. In fact, he was such a huge fan of all things Apple that he bought stock when others said 'you’re crazy.' Apple just broke $700 a share recently, so who’s crazy now, right?
And while he and his wife divorced many year ago, Michele (now Michele Ross) and Rikk never lost sight of the care for their daughter Alix, who grew up all too quickly for those of us who have been privileged to see this period of Rikk's life. She would go on to graduate from Chicago’s Loyola University and currently works for Disney Orlando.
Rikk was so proud of her, and was always beaming with news of what his daughter was up to in her life. He rarely talked about himself as he got older and found much joy sharing the stories of other people’s success. I always left each conversation with Rikk wearing a smile.
Rikk’s emails ran the gamut from short notes to those annoying FWDs that you received 10 of before his landed in your inbox. But, each and every note, regardless of the tone, always ended with a two-word closing that reflected his love of sailing: “calm seas.”
“So often we do not take the time to say thank you,” said Savage at the funeral, before handing off the microphone to Rikk’s lifelong friend John Despres.
Today, it was not my intention to just memorialize one person, as I suppose I have just done, but rather to give, or better yet, encourage a pause during what many of us know as a busy season filled with ArtPrizing, elaborate galas, theatrical dance performances and insightful, enriching lectures that open our minds.
I also would like to publicly take this moment to thank all the Rikks in our community. We should all salute those unsung heroes who do not wait to see if good luck will drop a fortune in their accounts before acting, but instead just make stuff happen at the start of something -- anything, no matter how small, to make something big happen with their touch.
For some people, their impact on society is measured by the structures and institutions they create with their dollars. These are important, but without the people-power of time investor folks like Rikk David, these structures will sit empty.
Today, I salute the ones who step forward, who forgo family time, miss gatherings with friends and even a few hours of sleep as they squeeze out the energy from a day while toiling to make sure the dreams of others are realized in our city.
Rikk was talented in shining a light on our dreams, but he did the hard thing as he put a hand to the plow to make sure those dreams came true, too.
It is my hope that in the future, I will have a chance in this life and in the next to meet more Rikk Davids.
On November 11, a memorial celebration of Rikk’s life will be at Wealthy Theatre
for the community. I cannot think of a more fitting place to join with so many others in our region who were impacted by his talent and gifts. In addition, DITA and other area dance troupes of West Michigan will dedicate their annual dance program to Rikk. Salmagundi: calm seas
on Nov. 9, 2012 at 8 p.m.
The Future Needs All of Us (calm seas.)
Tommy Allen, Lifestyle Editor
Email: [email protected]
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