Harold Richards was a railroad engineer responsible for miles upon miles of metal tracks. He would be the one to fix rails after a train wreck. When he retired, his focus switched to saving small, frail children with diseases wrecking their muscle tissue.
"He had a passion for fundraising for muscular dystrophy," said Jack Speece, Grand Tall Cedar of the Tall Cedars of Lebanon of North America, Chief Logan Forest No. 131.
Richards of Hollidaysburg was a member of that fraternal organization for 22 years.
Richards, 85, died unexpectedly Dec. 22 at Altoona Regional Health System, Altoona Hospital Campus.
After graduating from Penn State in 1948 with a Bachelor of Science degree in civil engineering, Richards worked for the Pennsylvania Railroad. He retired from Conrail as a regional engineer in 1989.
"He worked in Altoona, Philadelphia, Detroit and Indianapolis," said Richards' son-in-law, Duncan McIntyre of Altoona.
Richards was also a revered longtime member of the Tall Cedars' Chief Logan Forest, Hollidaysburg, and served at least 10 years as chairman of the organization's Rose Program to raise money for muscular dystrophy research.
"He was the most outstanding Cedar in Blair County without question," Speece said.
Cedar members stand outside public places and ask for $1 donations in exchange for a pink rose during their annual Rose Program. The most successful Rose program under Richards' leadership was in 2001, when the Cedars raised $12,500, for muscular dystrophy research, Speece said.
Richards would personally deliver those funds to the Jerry Lewis Labor Day Telethon in Pittsburgh - a program dedicated to raising funds to find cures and treatments for neuromuscular diseases.
Richards also transported children to Shriners Hospitals for Children as a member of the Jaffa Shrine Center's Road Runners.
"He was a real gentleman. Dependable," Road Runners Secretary Joel Weiss said.
Jaffa organizations serve children with orthopedic and burn injuries at no cost to their families, Weiss said. Surgery, check-ups and transportation for children in Central Pennsylvania to Shriners Hospitals are paid by the Jaffa Shrine.
Driving a Jaffa van, Richards would pick up children from the central Pennsylvania region including Maryland and New York borders and transport them and their parents to Shriners Hospitals in Cincinnati, Philadelphia and Erie.
"Harold was one of the sweetest, caring individuals I've met," Weiss said.
In lieu of flowers, memorials may be donated to muscular dystrophy research through Chief Logan Forest Tall Cedars, 817 Jade Ave., Altoona, PA 16602, or the Shriners Hospitals for Children, Jaffa Shrine Center, P.O. Box 1984, Altoona, PA 16603.
Funeral services will take place at 10 a.m. today at the First United Methodist Church, 801 Allegheny St., Hollidaysburg.
Mirror Staff Writer Russ O'Reilly is at 946-7435.