1/17/2014 7:30:00 AM
Jeremy Ritchie remembered as 'always laughing and smiling'
Jeremy Ritchie, the 22-year-old Minocqua man killed early Tuesday afternoon in a two-vehicle accident near Harshaw, is being 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 to say 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 part of 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 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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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