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Philanthropist Dick Post: Sunshine spread from inside out

STORY BY MICHELLE GENZ (Week of November 21, 2013)
Photo: Dick and Helen Post.

Richard G. Post was on the golf course one day and in the hospital the next, his wife of 57 years, Helen Post, said last week after acute leukemia claimed Post’s life Nov. 10. “He was only sick a couple of months,” she said.

The death of one of Vero’s most admired philanthropists seemed all the harder to grasp for his astonishing fitness. At 85, Helen said, Dick Post was as strong as a 60-year-old, regularly playing golf and tennis with a passion. “He had incredible strength and agility. He was very, very active until the very last.”

As powerful as his swing was, it was the soft spot in his heart that many remember, from the recipients of his largesse at various Vero non-profits, to the college kids waiting on his table.

No young person meant more than to him than his eight grandchildren. Helen Post said each of them, age 7 to 24, called to say goodbye. “They’re devastated,” said Helen. “He adored his grandchildren, and he couldn’t see enough of them.”

She scheduled his memorial service – Dec. 7 – around their school schedules.

 “Dick Post was one of my favorite patrons,” said Riverside Theatre’s Allen Cornell. “He always came to the theater with an infectious enthusiasm for everything we did.”

Helen Post knew she wanted to marry Dick from the moment she saw him. “I was so brazen,” she said. “I spotted him and said, ‘That’s the man I’m going to marry.’ I didn’t even know what his name was.”

 It was 63 years ago, in 1950, that Helen asked Dick – a college boy – to her senior dance at high school. “We dated that whole summer; then I went off to college. We picked up again two years later.”

They raised their children in Essex Fells, NJ, and owned various farms over the years. The man who would eventually own his own investment firm loved driving a tractor, his family said. He also tended beehives.

Post was a man with a disposition so sunny his tan seemed to emanate from the inside out.  If he couldn’t dote on his grandchildren, he searched for stand-ins.

“If he saw a young person waiting tables, he’d talk to him. ‘Where are you going to school, what are you going to do?’ He’d come back and say to me, ‘Isn’t that great? Look at that kid. He’s trying so hard.’ And I’d say, ‘You talk to everybody. I can’t enjoy my dinner,’“ Helen said with a laugh. “He’d know all about them by the end of the evening.  And he’d slip them a little money before he left – he had such a soft spot.”

Sadly, Post knew the perils of such optimism, that not all lives run their course. The Posts lost a young son, John, to leukemia at age 5. Then in the summer of 2008, they lost their grown son Robert at 49, when a hit-and-run boater smashing into his Boston Whale, killing him. Robert was married with two sons.

“He was the light of Dick’s life,” said Helen. “I don’t think he ever got over it.”

In his sons’ honor, Dick, along with Helen, endowed a scholarship through Community Church that has awarded more than $100,000 to some 50 graduating high school seniors.

The Posts’ grief drove them to another decision: to create a space within Indian River Medical Center where people could find sanctuary to gather their thoughts in shattering times.

The notion was born of the moment when a doctor at Sloan-Kettering had to tell them that their little boy would not survive. Gently, she steered them out of the sterile spaces of the hospital to the peace of the cancer center’s chapel. “We never forgot that,” said Helen Post. “We thought it was such a better setting.”

The Post Chapel, built at the entrance to Indian River Medical Center in 1996, was entirely the Posts’ design. They went together to the studio of Paul Pickel, Vero’s nationally-renowned stain glass maker, to choose the designs for the stained glass. “We wanted them to tell a story of youth and maturity.”

In 2003, the Posts were named Philanthropists of the Year by the local chapter of the Association of Fundraising Professionals.

It was at the opening of Quail Valley River Club 11 years ago that Ron and Patty Rennick were first introduced to the Posts.

“He was one of the nicest people we have ever known,” says Patty. “He had that unique gift of always making everyone feel special.”

Post’s mother held the world’s record in the 220-yard dash in 1927 and 1928, and pregnant with Dick, she turned down a trip to the Olympics.

Dick was not a runner, but he had played tennis and golf since his youth. At 85, he still played golf four days a week, sometimes five. “He couldn’t wait to have lunch with his golf buddies and play.”

He also loved to dance, Helen said, though beyond that fateful date senior year, she usually sat out his spins on the dance floor. “That wasn’t my passion. But I used to love to watch him dance. He was so much better.”

Dr. Michaela Scott was one of his favorite dance partners. “He couldn’t wait to dance with her,” Helen said. Scott also tended to him in his last days. “She was wonderful,” said Helen.

It wasn’t his dance card but his thank-you cards that Patty Rennick remembers. “He never failed to thank you for the smallest kindness and wrote eloquent thank-you notes from his heart.  He didn’t mind showing his emotions.  He let people know that he loved them.”

That included his wife.

With Dick still up north working, Helen Post came alone to Vero to choose a temporary place for them to live. She chose an island neighborhood not for its beauty, but for its bus stop. Said the former schoolteacher of 17 years, “I thought, if the school bus is stopping there must be a lot of children here. We wanted to be in a place that had families.”

She bought a canal-front home there and the couple never left. “He often said, ‘You know, you really did a good job. This is just really so delightful here.’ We’d sit out on the patio and watch the sun set and have our little drink. He was really very happy here.”

With a graduate degree in banking from Rutgers, Post got his start in business working in purchasing and personnel for a large wholesale leather company. After rising to top management, he joined Textron, Inc., a synthetic yarns company that went on to diversify into everything from helicopters to aerospace. Then he moved to Panelgraphic Corp., a company involved with the scientific instrument industry. Meanwhile, Post served on the boards of several small cap companies.

Veering into banking, he joined New Jersey Bank, which, two mergers later, is now a part of PNC. Eventually, he formed his own financial investment group.

While in New Jersey, he chaired the board of one of the largest United Way organizations in the state, and headed up his county’s chapter of the American Cancer Society.

Helen Post says her husband was “literally the wind beneath my wings.”

Setting aside metaphors, she made one point emphatically.

“I know he’s my husband,” said Helen, “but he’s irreplaceable.”

The service for Dick Post will be held Dec. 7 at 1 p.m.  at Community Church.