A Tribute to a Fellow Member

Submitted by Dixie Shoptaw, President-Elect
Siloam Springs Civitan Club

What is within the heart and soul of a person that makes them more memorable than others?   That the legacy they leave will be carried on for generations to come?   I believe the answer to that question lies within those who come into contact with such a person.  One of those special people was Ric Stripling.  Ric was the Treasurer of the Siloam Springs Civitan Club and his wife Debbie is an active member.  Ric shockingly passed from complications of COVID-19 on October 1st, 2020.

Ric and Debbie had been married 43 years.  They met while working at Remington Arms; Debbie in loading and Ric in the warehouse. He would drive his forklift up to get information on orders for the day, and not all that long after meeting her he said,  “I’m gonna marry you.”  They started out as good friends first, but he was such a romantic, leaving notes on her car.  His statement became a reality.  Over the years, there were some tough times, but when one wanted to quit trying, the other didn’t.  Debbie remembers a time when God felt far from her and Ric would read from the Bible to her.  Their love for God and for each other segued into a mighty love for those with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

Ric sold cars and Debbie worked in a nursing home and home health care.  After moving to New Jersey for 10 years, they moved back to central Arkansas and she worked in hospice.  A client’s mother worked for Pathfinder (an agency that supports people with I/DD), as did Ric’s mother.  Debbie was then working nights for a group home when Ric’s mother encouraged her to apply for a job as a supervisor for a Pathfinder program.

She got a call asking her to please come to Northwest Arkansas and start a program for Pathfinder there.  There was an 18-year-old who was coming back from a conference and she and her mother were hit by a drunk driver.   She was paralyzed and the parents wanted their daughter to live a full life.  Ric and Debbie prayed and eventually moved.

“I just couldn’t hire anyone to help me and I asked Ric to come work for me,” says Debbie.  “Ric loved sales, but it was working with the clients at the workshop that made him complete.”

 The program in Northwest Arkansas was an answer to a lot of parents’ prayers. It eventually became known for firsts.  It was the first time a client had been to a college athletic event.  The local Bass fishing club was invited to do a fishing derby with their clients.  Although hesitant because they had never done anything like that before, the fishermen were willing.  They wanted to make sure someone would be there with them and Debbie assured them that she and Ric, along with plenty of helpers, would be there.  By the end of the day, the fishermen were even putting fish on the hooks of those who had not caught anything and threw them back out in the water to allow them to reel them in.  They were hooked themselves!

While still working for Pathfinder, Ric and Debbie opened their home on the weekends to participants there for respite.  They began having these individuals live with them full time.  One client’s mother was a single mom who owned a beauty shop.  While they were at a Razorback basketball game with the group, Debbie asked her how she was doing and she shared her struggles.  Debbie suggested the young man should come live with them, and he still does!

In 2015 as they were thinking of retiring, Debbie told Ric that he could add a room or get a bigger place.   The Apple Crest Bed and Breakfast was up for sale and was the first place they looked at, so they bought it.   They had four full time individuals living with them and counted them as family.

            Not long afterwards, Ric and Debbie came to speak to the Siloam Springs Civitan Club and became members.   Our yearly Civitan family dinner was at their lovely Victorian home.    I had emailed Ric in September about an upcoming meeting and he replied he would not be there as a client who lived with them tested positive for COVID and was in the hospital so they were under quarantine.  It was only a few weeks later that Debbie called me with the unthinkable.   Ric was on a ventilator.  He went to be with the Lord on October 1st.

Ric Stripling was a fun guy, with a good sense of humor.  He loved classic cars, baseball and Razorback sports.  He loved his family more.  He stepped up to the position of treasurer in Civitan when no one else would.  To answer the question of why he is so memorable in my eyes…. it’s all about his faith, family and compassion for others.  It was his service to those who needed a champion.  He was a light that drew you to him.  Debbie’s faith keeps her going, even though the days are tough.  “The knowledge that God has a purpose brings me comfort,” she says.

Debbie is following plans she and Ric made shortly before he passed and is selling their large Victorian and downsizing. The clients, her extended family, will still be with her at a smaller place.  I ask the Civitan community to join me in praying for a buyer for her home and a smooth transition.  God bless each and every one of my fellow Civitans during the New Year.  Just like Ric and Debbie, YOU MAKE A DIFFERENCE!