Wishing Rick Kettler Well In His Retirement

Rick KettlerSeptember 29 is Rick Kettler’s last day at The Wagner Companies.

Rick joined Wagner in 1999 as Chief Operations Officer (COO). He became president of the company in 2009.

I have had the pleasure of working with Rick since he arrived and I will miss him.

Here’s a story I shared at his retirement reception earlier this week.

Many of you may not realize that Rick had a life before coming to Wagner. He grew up in St. Louis and went to a small catholic college in South Bend, Indiana. I think it’s called Notre Dame.

Fighting Irish

 They do play football at Notre Dame and Rick is a big fan. The team had an amazing season during his senior year. They won every game but lost to USC in late November 1970. But, the bowl games had been set before that loss. They were set to play #1 Texas in the Cotton Bowl on New Year’s Day. 

None of you are aware that Rick played a role in that win over Texas.

Here’s the story.

With the loss to USC, Notre Dame president Father Hesburgh started to worry that they might lose to Texas. He had a brainstorm. If he could get Pope Paul VI to visit South Bend to bless the footballs, the Cotton Bowl would be theirs.

It turns out that the Pope was a big fan of the Fighting Irish and he agreed to the visit with one condition. His visit was to remain a secret as he didn’t want BU to find out.

The deal was set. In mid-December of 1970, Pope Paul VI flew from Rome to Chicago’s Drake Hotel.

Who would pick up the Holy Father? Why, Rick Kettler, of course.

Rick would take one of the Notre Dame limos, drive to Chicago, pick up the Pope, and return him to South Bend.

Of course, Rick said “Yes.” The next morning, Rick arrives at the Drake’s back door at 6 a.m.

pope-paul-viThe Pope comes out — in full Pope regalia — and jumps into the back of the limo.

Rick says, “Good morning your holiness” starts the car, and heads south on Lake Shore Drive.

All is going along on schedule but as they get to Gary, Indiana, traffic slows to a crawl.

The Pope is fine at first but starts to get a bit more animated as they make minimal progress. “Andiamo! Avanti!” he would say. But this all fell on deaf ears as Rick did not speak Italian.

An hour later, the Pope has had it and motions for Rick to pull over and stop. Once the car comes to a stop, the Pope opens his door and jumps out. He then opens Rick’s door, yanks him out of the car, and tosses him into the back seat. With that, the Pope gets behind the wheel, slams the door, and pushes the pedal to the floor. Soon, the limo is up to 70 mph — on the shoulder.

Within a few miles, a state trooper appears and pulls the limo over.

The Indiana State Trooper approches the car, sees the Pope in the driver’s seat and Rick in the back — smiling. He stops dead in his tracks, returns to his cruiser, and radioes the station.

“Sarge”, he said, “I’ve got a problem here. I’ve pulled over someone big.”

The sergeant asks, “Did you pull over the mayor?”

“No, this is bigger than the mayor”

“Did you pull over the governor?”

“No, he’s bigger than the governor.”

“Don’t tell me you’ve pulled over the President?”

“Nope. He’s bigger than the President.”

“Wait a minute. No one is bigger than the President of the United States. Who is it you’ve got there?”

“Well Sarge, I don’t know who he is but the Pope’s his chauffer.”

And that’s sort of how I see Rick. In our hearts, he is bigger than the Pope.

I’ve admired his leadership, work ethic, and integrity. It has been an honor to work with him these past 18 years.

Budgets and profitability are no longer of concern. He will now focus on his wife Karen, his sons, daughters-in-law, and grandchildren.

He may even find some time to catch a few Notre Dame games.


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