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RICHARD A. DUDLEY 1937 – 2023

May 24, 2023 - 00:00
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Richard A. Dudley passed May 16, 2023, at the age of 86, surrounded by his earthly family and friends and then instantaneously gathered to God the Father and God, the son, and his heavenly family; what a reunion that must have been.

He was born on March 23, 1937, but his story started before that date. The two families he derives from lived in Iola, Texas, they were farmers. His family, and in fact, the whole world had been caught up in a pandemic like Covid only much, much worse. We have all had the flu, but we have never had the most virulent strain that hit the world in 1918 and within 24 months had killed over 100 million people worldwide.

Known as the Great Influenza epidemic, this virus had morphed or mutated itself so that the normal process of the body to defend itself against a viral infection was rendered ineffective. Some of its victims died from the shear trauma to the body that the virus brought, some died of secondary causes, primarily pneumonia. Most people who died, died between the ages of 20 and 40 and they were the ones who had the strongest immune system. It was their own immune system that killed them. In their body’s effort to fight the virus, their immune system killed the person.

All of that happened because of a tiny virus in some pigs in Kansas. All viruses come from birds. Somehow the virus moved from the birds to these pigs in Kansas. The pigs were near an army base, where 25,000 soldiers were training for deployment in WWI and so from Kansas the virus went all over the world.

Richard’s mother, Zula May Campbell, was married to Noah Ralston Hill. They had three children, Joe, Lanell, and Aubrey when Noah died from the flu in 1919. Across town, 17 days earlier, Richard’s father, John Texas Dudley, had lost his beloved wife Annie Belle (Poss) Dudley. Annie Bell and John Texas had seven children: Chester, Preston, Ola Dee, Ona Belle, Eunice, Ruby, and Weldon, who was a year old, at the time.

Wasting little time, six months, partly because John Texas had an infant and partly because he had taken notice of a tall, lovely woman who was in the same predicament, the ever-practical John Texas went to Zula May’s home. He explained the purpose of his call, he had lost his wife, he had seven young children and they needed a mother, he surmised Zula May’s position, she had three young children, and they needed a father. He suggested that they go on a buggy ride and days later they were married.

John Texas broke the news to his children in this manner: In a few minutes, a woman is going to walk in the door of this house, I have married her. You, younger kids, are to call her mom, you, older kids, can call her Mrs. Zula. The two families, now consisting of 10 children, blended perfectly, at least until Zula found herself pregnant again. Some of the older children thought it was inappropriate to add to this already large family, but Zula straightened them out quickly letting those older children know that this child had every much a right to be born as they had, and that every child was a blessing from God.

John Texas and Zula had a total of 10 blessings after their union: Mildred (Mickey) Winslow, John Texas Jr., Joyce Rice, Betty Crenshaw, Edgar Lee, James, Donald, Tommy, Richard, and Judy Lambright. Fittingly, Richard was the 19th born and the 19th to pass away, survived only by his younger sister, Judy. An older sister, Joyce Rice, passed away earlier this month at the age of 96.

Interestingly, Joyce, had a degenerative bone disease as a young child and the treatments for that disease caused the family to sell their farm and become sharecroppers. Zula May was not concerned, all she wanted was for her family to be safe and to have enough food to feed the family and graciously the Lord provided.

God blessed this relatively poor, hardworking, God-fearing, blue collared family immeasurably. Counting their first marriages, their marriage to each other and their children’s marriages there were 23 marriages that survived until death parted them. I think we can all agree that is an unbelievable statistic.

Between Richard and his dad, their lives spanned from 1878 to 2023, 145 years. Richard had three vivid memories of his dad, who passed away when Richard was seven. The most pleasant one was after selling a cotton crop at the gin in Iola. John Texas took Richard to the café and bought him a bowl of chili for a nickel. The other two involved the sternness of John Texas. The first, Richard had been tasked with gathering eggs, but he was not to put them in cartons because the family sold eggs and his dad was afraid that Richard would put a broken or cracked egg or miss an egg and he did not want anyone to think the Dudleys were trying to slight them. Richard put the eggs in the carton anyway and faced the punishment. The second was that the family had raised a crop of peanuts and the peanuts were on the back porch drying out. Richard had been instructed not to eat the peanuts, but a few days later he was found asleep on top of several sacks of peanuts with peanut hulls all around him.

The Dudley family had a rule of 10 whereby when you reached the age of 10 you were allowed to sleep in the barn. This was Richard’s goal. The barn was where the good conversations took place, the real education, and out from under the control of his father, not that his older siblings didn’t take over the parenting when needed.

Partly because John Texas’s death, Richard, like his political heroes Phil Gramm and Newt Gingrich had to repeat the first grade, a loss of time that he tried to make up for later. He walked the aisle and was saved at the age of 14 at Enon Missionary Baptist Church in Iola. By the time he reached high school, the freckled faced, red head had matured and developed into a good athlete. His junior year he was quarterback of an undefeated, district champion football team. His brother, Donald, was the star running back and another brother, Tommy, at 6’-5” was a star lineman. Richard received a letter from Paul Bear Bryant, Coach at Texas A&M encouraging Richard to have a good senior year and that he, Coach Bryant, would be watching him.

That summer Richard’s mother decided she was going to move to Houston and live with Richard’s brother, John Texas, Jr. Richard’s options were to move to Houston with his mother or live his senior year with his sister Betty, who still resided in Iola. Richard chose a third option, without telling anyone, only 17 years old and needing a parent’s signature, he forged his mother’s name and enlisted in the Army, doing all this without telling anyone. Every day, he checked the mail to see if his deployment papers had arrived and by midsummer, they showed up. Now to break the news to his mother.

The Dudleys were no strangers to the military. The older brothers started their service in the Tree Corp and the Conservation Corp, building public works projects to revive the economy after the Dust Bowl and the Great Depression. Those brothers would send their entire paycheck to their mother back home with all those kids and no father to support them, a trend that Richard and all his siblings continued their mother’s entire life. Zula, bearer of 13 children, mother of 20, lived to be 98. Richard, who as a teacher was paid once a month, likewise would pay his bills and each month there was a check cut to his mother for her subsistence.

Five brothers served in WWII, three in the European theater and two in the Pacific theater. Serving in epic battles such as the Normandy D Day Invasion, Pongo Pongo and Iwo Jima. One brother-in-law, Wesley Crenshaw, was captured by the Germans. Later, the allies bombed the POW camp where he was incarcerated and he escaped, but for his entire life he had to have shrapnel removed from his brain area. Miraculously and unlike the Ryan family, made famous in the movie Saving Private Ryan, all the Dudleys came home safely. All have their names engraved at Veteran’s Memorial Park in College Station.

Richard’s enlistment in the military served another purpose, he had fallen in love with a young girl (June Sanders) from his church and school and she was only 14 at the time. She needed time to mature, a fact that his granddaughters would loudly echo in later years telling Richard, “Grandaddy, that was just gross” that he was dating someone so young. Also, Richard was ever weary of this girl’s father, an imposing, large statured rancher from Iola. He said his goodbyes from a train station in Iola and the boy who had never been out of the state headed to Fort Ord, California.

Discipline had been largely absent from Richard’s life since his father had passed, but he was reunited with it in the Army, and he embraced it. By the time he finished boot camp, the formerly ruddy freckled face red head from Iola had Paul Newman looks and his embracement of the military life had him being selected for and assigned to the 3rd Infantry Regiment, also known as The Old Guard, the squadron that guards the tomb of the unknown soldier and is the color guard for affairs of state in Washington DC.

At the end of his first year, he was shipped to Korea, to walk and maintain the DMZ that separated freedom from communism. Daily he received letters from June, weekly he wrote back. He even wrote letters to June’s parents, Muldrew and Maxine Sanders which, if you knew Richard and his difficulty in expressing emotion, it is telling of just how in love with June he was. At the end of his second year his commitment was up, and he was ready to come home. He married June on July 5th, 1957, seven days after her 17th birthday. Neither one finished high school in the traditional sense but later they both graduated from college. In fact, they broke all the rules of success, quitting high school, marrying too early and having their first child just 10 days after June had turned 20 and Richard barely 23 while both were attending college.

Upon Richard’s return from Korea his high school coach helped him get a scholarship to play football at Blinn. After Blinn he attended and graduated from Sam Houston State University with a degree in history and a minor in education. He was the first person in his family to attend or graduate from college. He wanted to be a coach and help young men, like he was helped, to learn discipline through athletics. His first coaching stint was in El Campo. Just last year, the El Campo classes of the early 60’s had a reunion and Charles Wendt, who was one of Richard’s players in El Campo but moved to Iola, picked Richard up and took him to that event where he was well remembered by the football team members. He had coached them in junior high, but those kids went on to play for the football state championship, losing to Brownwood and they won the baseball championship in 1968, go Ricebirds!

In the spring of 1963 he was selected to be the head coach of Iola, for football, basketball, and men’s volleyball (we did have men’s volleyball at one time). Winning records in football, three consecutive district championships in basketball, and two district championships in volleyball soon resulted. After a misunderstanding with the School Board President, he was let go at Iola, only to get the same job in North Zulch in 1967, where he lost to Snook on a last second, half-court shot.

The next year he got a job coaching in Bryan ISD at Lamar Junior High. It was a great opportunity, being the head coach at a smaller class school you did everything from filling buckets with concrete for weightlifting, maintaining the fields, driving buses and class trips, etc. This gave Richard and June more time for their growing family of Mark, Marsha, and Craig. And, as most kids that have played sports can tell you, their junior high coaches were more concerned about developing the student athlete and less about wins and losses, not that Lamar lacked wins. In the late 1960s and early 1970s Lamar frequently won the football district consisting of Waco, Temple, and Killeen schools. They frequently won their basketball league consisting of local schools in the area. Most memorable were the basketball games against Neal, the black junior high, prior to integration. What quality of athletes and what contrast in style, the regimented play-oriented style of Lamar and the run and shoot style of Neal. No wonder that Bryan High, after integration, has won two state championships and finished as the runner up another time.

In 1973 he gave up coaching and became the director of the Bryan ISD vocational training program, where kids went to school half a day and worked half a day. No one knew better than Richard that traditional school was not for everyone. In 1983 he retired from teaching and began to run his father-inlaw’s sizeable ranch, which he loved. His motto, which you see to this day at several of the gate entries to the ranch is “a good rain, a baby calf and you are always welcomed”. His father-in-law tasked him with one big objective, never sell the land and Richard, along with June, accomplished that goal, turning over the ranch properties to their children in the 1990s, but continuing to help the children with the ranch operations. To Mark, Marsha, and Craig, who were blessed to have parents deeply in love with each other, Richard was their life coach.

How the practical minded Richard and the artistic right brain thinking June ever accomplished the deep and close relationship they had is a marvel. We are going to miss all the “dolls and darlings” as they affectionately referred to themselves and their great love for Neil Diamond songs which were constantly at play in our house.

Richard had three other great loves, his Lord and savior, Jesus Christ, whom he talked to openly and often. If you spent much time with him he would verbalize something, hardly intelligible at times and as time went on you understood he was having a conversation with God and a small snippet was audible. The question has been asked, whose voice is loudest in your head, for Richard it was God.

Secondly, his church, initially Enon in Iola, then Beacon Baptist, where he was a deacon and later Central Baptist where he was a member since 1990.

The last of these loves is dominoes. In Iola, there was a domino hall, a small, single room building on the main drag, with approximately four tables inside and a line of men waiting outside for their turn to play. The Dudley family had an inordinate number of domino players and at any family gathering there would be a domino game going on, if not four or five games. At each Dudley reunion there was a domino tournament and Richard won it several times. One year he finished in fourth place at the state domino tournament held every year in Hallettsville and he played and won several other tournaments. Mostly the domino game he played was 42, but in the 1970s, he started playing with a group of men, once a week, a tradition that continues today. This game is known as 79 and it involves two decks of dominos and three people to a team. Twice the number of dominos to track, twice the number of partners and opponents. He loved every minute of it. A week later he would still be talking about a play that either won or lost a game.

He was proud of all his grandkids but one grandson, Drew, played collegiate football at Kansas. Mark and Deanie had taken Richard and June to a game in Lawrence, Drew’s freshman year. Three times in the first half Richard leaned over to Mark and said, “I think I know the guy three rows back.” At halftime Mark and Richard went over and introduced themselves, telling him that Richard thought he recognized him from somewhere. The man, Charles (Tauby) Darby, stated that his grandson, Todd Reesing, was the quarterback for the Jayhawks and asked Richard where he grew up. Richard responded Iola, Texas and Charles said so did I. Charles was four years ahead of Richard in school, most people know him best by his brother, China Darby, who was Grimes County Sheriff in the 1960s.

Kansas was a good football team in those days, going 111, winning the Orange Bowl and finishing as the 7th ranked team in the nation. Richard was always proud to point out that the starting quarterback and the soon to be starting linebacker had their origins in Iola, where lots of good things come from.

Surviving Richard is his beloved wife of 66 years, June Sanders Dudley, his son Mark, and his wife Deanie; daughter Marsha and her husband, Eddie Hines; and son Craig and his wife Rachelle.

Grandsons: Chance and Laura Hines, Braxton and Akasha Hines, Drew and Anna Dudley, Taylor and Bri Dudley. Granddaughters: Megan Dudley and Jeff Claydon, Kelsey Hines and Kolton Kubin, Madelyn Dudley and Tyler Goerig and McKenna Dudley, who just graduated from A&M.

Great grandchildren: Wade Goerig, Avian Hines, Kristian Hines, Rylan June Hines, Addilyn Hines, Weston Hines, Pricilla Kubin, Hallie Kubin, Ella June Dudley, Parker Dudley, Blake Claydon, Mack Dudley, Paxton Dudley, and Blair Claydon.

The family wishes to thank the many friends, church family members, neighbors and work associates who have helped us on Richard’s journey. Richard’s caretakers, Angie DiAmicus, Paris Ewing, Jackie Lee, Alicia Tucker, and Raven Arrington. The team from Traditions Hospice were wonderful. In lieu of flowers, donations can be made to Zion Methodist Church, Iola. These funds will be added to existing funds used to purchase bibles for graduating Iola HS seniors.

A visitation is scheduled for Wednesday, May 24, 2023 from 5pm-7pm at Callaway- Jones Funeral and Cremation Center, Bryan. A memorial service will be held on Thursday, May 25, 2023 at 11am at Central Church, College Station with lunch to follow.

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