Ernie Blankenship, Jim Duckwall, Dale Martin and Richard Blankenship prepare for a Friday night broadcast in 2010 for the Hillsboro Indians versus the McClain Tigers at Richards Memorial Field. (HCP photo by Rory Ryan)
Ernie Blankenship, Jim Duckwall, Dale Martin and Richard Blankenship prepare for a Friday night broadcast in 2010 for the Hillsboro Indians versus the McClain Tigers at Richards Memorial Field. (HCP photo by Rory Ryan)
When you leave a high school football game on a crisp autumn Friday night in Hillsboro, Ohio and find yourself in South Bend, Indiana before sunup the next day, you kind of get to know the people with whom you are traveling.

That’s exactly how I met Richard Blankenship 30 years ago.

It was during one of the Blankenship Family’s famous (or infamous, if you prefer) road trips to a Notre Dame football game during the great era of Coach Lou Holtz.

To the best of my memory, I rode in a Chevy conversion van with Richard; his brother and my boss, Ernie; Ernie’s son, Smoke; a co-worker from Rotary Forms Press, Lewis Goins, and a man named John Smith, who I have not seen since that weekend in the mid-1980s.

After arriving early on a Saturday college football game day in South Bend, I realized the 50-degree temperatures in Hillsboro from the previous evening were off by 20 degrees or so. I wasn’t prepared for South Bend in October. I also didn’t own a credit card, and I left home with about 50 bucks in cash.

We all stopped at the campus bookstore, and I was hoping to find a cheap sweatshirt to put on underneath my windbreaker. In a campus bookstore – even in the 1980s – cheap was $75 or more. I didn’t have it.

Richard did. He slipped out of the store, waited for me, handed me a sweatshirt and said something like “Put this on under your jacket and shut up.”

That was Richard. Blunt. Direct. Subtle as an anvil. And more caring for his fellow man than he would ever want anyone to know.

“If you were a friend of Richard, you knew it,” said Cincinnati attorney and family friend Tom Tepe. “He could be hard-headed, and he spoke his mind, which wasn’t easily changed.

“He loved his church, his family, his country and his farm. He was proud of his students’ accomplishments. He loved teaching and coaching. He was my friend, and I will miss him.”

A few years ago, the Archbishop of Cincinnati, the Most Rev. Dennis M. Schnurr presided over a Farm Mass at Richard Blankenship’s home in Highland County. Rev. Schnurr was one of three American archbishops who received a pallium, a symbol of his ministry as a shepherd, from the pope at St. Peter’s Basilica, courtesy of Pope Benedict XVI.

Richard was understandably honored.

While I knew Richard’s brother, Ernie, a lot longer from working with him for a decade, I always admired and respected Richard as well. As each year’s telethon for the Highland County Society for Children and Adults approaches this month, I think of Richard and Ernie.

Several years ago, when my daughters, Caitlin and Meghan, were very young, Richard arranged for one of his more famous students, Olympian Amanda Borden, to sign a few autographs at a telethon in the 1990s. When I mentioned to Richard that my daughters were fans of Amanda, he had her sign messages for them. He wanted to make that happen, and I will always be grateful.

Richard was always behind the scenes at the telethons and other fundraisers. He shied away from the cameras and microphones. But he always came through with a number of “anonymous” donations to this worthy cause.

The last time I saw Richard was at Wanda’s Restaurant in Hillsboro a few years ago. He had instructed Wanda to leave my breakfast tab with him, as I learned after he left. That was classic Richard. Always paying it forward. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if Richard Blankenship invented the phrase “pay it forward.” He made a lifetime of it.

Our friend Leslie Ramsey shared this today on the Turner Funeral Home website (www.turnerfuneralhomes.cc) about Richard’s passing: “Being a graduate of the Hillsboro High School class of 1960, the Blankenship boys were well known for the sports activities they were all involved with. They were players with integrity and a deep sense of fair play, and it wasn't surprising to read of your Dad's commitment to the schools and students he was associated with throughout the years. We pray the many shared good memories you all have of him will help you achieve peace and comfort as he is now playing on God's team.”

Well, Leslie, I cannot say it any better than that.

Godspeed, Richard Blankenship. You will always be remembered for your occasionally gruff, yet always affable, kindness. Rest assured, you will be missed by many.

A Mass of Christian Burial will be celebrated at 2:30 p.m. Friday, March 10 for Richard at St. Mary Catholic Church in Hillsboro. Father Mike Paraniuk will be the celebrant. Burial, with military honors presented by the Highland County Veterans Honor Guard, will follow in St. Mary Catholic Cemetery. Friends may call on Friday from noon-2 p.m. at the Turner & Son Funeral Home in Hillsboro. Memorials may be made to the Hospice of Cincinnati, P.O. Box 633597, Cincinnati, Ohio 45263-3597.

Condolences may be sent to the family by visiting www.turnerfuneralhomes.cc.

Rory Ryan is publisher and owner of The Highland County Press.