Richter Family Welcome and Alumni Center to cement late alumnus Kirk Richter’s legacy of connection, care

by | May 9, 2022

The late UMSL Alumni Association president and his wife Maureen gave the lead gift for the construction of the new center near Alumni Circle.
Alumni Kirk and Maureen Richter surrounded by children and grandchildren

Kirk Richter (center) was a loving husband, father and grandfather to (back row, from left) daughter Laura Richter, wife Maureen Richter, son Daniel Richter, daughter-in-law Kelsey Laitinen-Richter and grandchildren (front row, from left) Julian Laitinen-Richter, Abby Schamel, Bella Schamel and Liam Laitinen-Richter. He also had a special place in his heart for his alma mater, UMSL, where he served as president of the UMSL Alumni Association and UMSL Business Alumni Chapter and was a member of the Chancellor’s Council. (Photo courtesy of Richter Family)

Kirk Richter had an exuberant moment on the University of Missouri­–St. Louis campus last August.

He and his wife Maureen met Chancellor Kristin Sobolik for a picnic lunch in the Quad – not an unusual occurrence for the devoted alumni couple who often discussed ways they could support and continue to transform their alma mater and the lives of its students.

On this particular day, they made their way to the west side of the J.C. Penney Conference Center, to the windowless exterior of the auditorium that faces Alumni Circle. There, Sobolik began describing what was then only an idea – the possibility of a world-class Welcome and Alumni Center.

There, in the summer sun, the typically quiet, humble man who was not usually so quick to reveal his emotions, lit up.

“He stood there in front of a blank, brick wall and went, ‘That’s it! That’s what I want!’” Maureen says. “He was so excited.”

Richter Family Welcome and Alumni Center

The Richter Family Welcome and Alumni Center will serve as a new front door to the university when it is built adjacent to the J.C. Penney Conference Center and facing Alumni Circle. (Rendering courtesy of Lamar Johnson Collaborative)

In hindsight, such a full-circle moment of clarity made perfect sense for the 1968 College of Business Administration graduate who knew first-hand what such a center could provide:

Connection. And a chance to give back.

UMSL was in its infancy when Kirk enrolled in 1964 after graduating from Beaumont High School in north St. Louis.

“I don’t know what other options were available to him at the time,” son Daniel says of his father’s prospects and decision to attend.

Kirk grew up in a working-class German Protestant family, the elder of two sons, with a father who worked for the railroad. Like legions of UMSL students who would come after him, he was the first member of his family to attend college, and someone for whom earning a degree could have easily remained a dream, if not for his own spirit of determination and willingness to seize opportunity where he found it.

Career-oriented from the start, Kirk wanted to go into accounting.

“The man loved numbers,” Maureen says. “He loved anything to do with numbers and accounting. It was fun for him.”

Alumni Kirk and Maureen Richter in the Quad with Chancellor Kristin Sobolik

Alumni Maureen and Kirk Richter visited the Quad with Chancellor Kristin Sobolik last summer. (Photo courtesy of Sharon Fenoglio)

Kirk was so certain about his course that he petitioned Emery Turner, the founding dean of the College of Business Administration, to take accounting his first semester – something still not typically allowed for first-year students.

“Emery gave him permission to do it,” Dave Ganz, who joined the faculty during Richter’s student years, recalls. “He was one of the people who got to take accounting as a freshman. He was focused, and he obviously stayed with it.”

Kirk graduated as a member of UMSL’s second class in 1968, swiftly landing a job with Arthur Andersen and officially becoming a CPA in 1972. That same year, he married his first wife, Kathleen.

Six years later, his family had grown with the welcome addition of daughter, Laura, and son, Daniel. Kirk took a job at Sigma-Aldrich, a St. Louis-based chemical, life science and biotechnology company. For 34 years, his trademark perseverance and devotion kept him committed to the company. By the time he retired as interim chief financial officer in 2012, he had helped Sigma-Aldrich’s annual sales soar from $30 million to $2.5 billion.

Throughout his entire life, Kirk’s loyalty to UMSL was unwavering.  He was forever grateful for the connections the university helped him forge. He never forgot his humble beginnings that led to sharable success.

“It’s critical that current and future students be given the opportunity to get the same quality education that I did at UMSL,” Kirk said in 2013.

Kirk and Maureen Richter at 2017 Founders Dinner

Alumni Maureen and Kirk Richter accepted the Lee Medal at the 2017 Founders Dinner. (Photo by August Jennewein)

To that very goal he invested countless personal hours – as president of the UMSL Alumni Association, member and multi-term president of the business alumni chapter and member of the Chancellor’s Council – all while steadfastly believing in the power of possibility and the potential of others.

Laura and Daniel fondly remember many occasions when Kirk would eagerly head out after dinner to attend organizational meetings or events on behalf of the university.

“My dad had a couple different organizations that played a big role in his life and helped him get where he was going;” Laura says of her father, naming his church, St. John’s UCC Manchester, and the Boy Scouts among them. “UMSL was one of the top ones.”

Although he was always serious in his commitment, it wasn’t all work. For a man who loved numbers, Kirk was perhaps rare in how much he equally loved other people.

He found great pleasure in the opportunity to socialize with fellow alumni. An avid St. Louis Cardinals fan, he looked forward to spring training trips in Jupiter, Florida, with other graduates, where he’d go decked out in his UMSL gear, always showing off his pride in the university.

Over the years, the man of great faith who held great care for the people and places who shaped his path, contributed much more than his time. He made many significant philanthropic donations to UMSL, sponsoring scholarships, supporting the Alumni Association and contributing to the construction of Anheuser-Busch Hall.

Kirk and Maureen Richter with friends at Spring Training

Maureen and Kirk Richter (at left) made regular Spring Training trips with fellow members of the UMSL Alumni Association and friends, including Tony Naughton and Mike Hogan, to cheer on the St. Louis Cardinals. On one trip, they met General Manager Mike Girsch (center). (Photo courtesy of Richter Family)

It was also Kirk who helped reintroduce Maureen – a 1974 graduate of the College of Education – to the university.

The two met in 2008 while part of the Mercy Hospice Bereavement Program as each mourned the death of their first spouse. They wound up at lunch together with other members of the group, and UMSL was one of the things they learned they had in common.

As they began to spend more time together and eventually were married, Kirk  brought Maureen with him to different UMSL events.

“It was really great,” says Maureen, who spent 34 years teaching middle school in Arnold, Missouri. “I was kind of upset with myself that I hadn’t been more involved before, but because he was so involved and knew so many people, it was really fun to meet all these people.”

Kirk  also worked to help other UMSL graduates reconnect. During his tenure as president of the Alumni Association in 2015, he was instrumental in establishing an inclusive membership model that made each graduate a member of the association by virtue of their degree, rather than requiring them to pay dues.

“It goes back to relationships,” Laura says. “He wanted to find a way to help facilitate those connections between people.”

Standing next to Alumni Circle last summer, it was the vision of a space that could do just that that got him so excited.

The Richter Family Welcome and Alumni Center – as it will be called – will be a place to welcome students into the often-foreign world of higher education while simultaneously giving those who’ve already experienced its transformative power a place to return and give back.

It will be just as Kirk wanted it.

The entire UMSL family will forever be grateful.

Kirk Richter passed away on Jan. 14, surrounded by the family and friends who loved him most – his last moments a beautiful testament to his belief in the transformative power of connection.

This story was originally published in the spring 2022 issue of UMSL Magazine. If you have a story idea for UMSL Magazine, email magazine@umsl.edu.

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Steve Walentik

Steve Walentik

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