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If you were lucky enough to spend time with Badger, it’s possible you heard him say “You can’t get mad at cat for being a cat.” He would frequently insert other animals in this oft-repeated phrase, but I remember him saying it to me mostly with cats as the creature of choice. While trying to piece together the story of his life, I am coming to regard Badger as a bit feline himself. Wise, confident, perched higher than most of us, and prone to near-clinical meandering, trying to write a typical obituary for our dear friend Badger is like trying to herd cats – or in this case, one wonderful but very elusive cat.
That said, this won’t be a typical obituary, which is fitting given that Badger was as far from typical as a soul can get. (And isn’t that why we all loved him so much?) It is with a great deal of love and respect that I say Badger lived his life in a way that would not be deemed normal by most societal standards. Blessedly absent the filter that prevents so many of us from connecting instantly with whomever or whatever is placed before us, he was the most non-judgmental person I've ever met. His capacity for knowledge knew no bounds, and in that knowledge, he lived a life of duality. He proclaimed himself a Buddhist, yet attended The River Church. The great works of literature were as familiar to him as the antics of Calvin and Hobbs. He had significant financial resources, but required very little to get by.
For those who want a traditional obituary for this non-traditional man, I feel your pain. The reality of his duality, though, means there will be holes. Huge holes. Time isn’t returning our calls, the internet isn’t as helpful as would like, and before we bid him a collective so long for now, our friend Badger deserves something in print that records he was here, he was special, and he mattered. So here goes.
The best information available, and with Badger you need to take that with several grains of Kosher salt, indicates he was born on April 7, 1932. Where? We don’t know. To whom? We don’t know that either.
What many of us do know is what Badger himself told us. He said he spent his childhood in Texas. Recently, many of us who loved him have spent hours scouring online birth records in every county in Texas. Dang, if we could score a definitive hit leading us to Badger’s tribe. It’s possible Badger’s tribe wasn’t big into record keeping, it’s possible he was born elsewhere, it’s even possible he was born under a different name. But born he was, and apparently he spent his early years in Texas.
The Great Depression and World War II, he told many who knew him well, were difficult for him and his family, which seems to have included siblings. He and his family, he said, worked in the cotton fields, a backbreaking way to sustain an existence. It’s doubtful his family was land-owning, and more likely they were sharecroppers or migrant farm labors. Again, we just don’t know.
We only know what Badger shared, and what he shared was that life in his family was hard. It was so hard, he told many, that around age 12 or 13, he simply left one day and never looked back. After he left home, he bounced around. Trying to track when and where he bounced is nearly impossible. Badger shared with me once that his ticket out of Texas wasn’t an actual ticket. Instead, he said, he simply hopped a freight car and rode the rails “with hobos” to destinations elsewhere.
Wall Street, Badger has shared with a number of people who were close to him, became an eventual destination. One source who knew him well indicates that Badger said he worked as a stock broker on Wall Street, and that his Wall Street earnings allowed him to pursue his dream of higher education.
I think we can all agree Badger was a life-long learner. However, much of his learning seems to have been of the self-taught variety. According to someone Badger spoke to at length, our favorite vagabond vegetarian claimed he never obtained an undergraduate degree. Still, Badger claimed that a perfect score on the Harvard grad school entrance exam gained him Ivy League admission, and an eventual Ph.D. in romance languages.
For the doubters, Harvard has a degree verification request system. A request has been made, but will take time to process. Peruse the academic paper trail Clarence W. Richey left behind, if your doubts are great, and you may find them lessening.
An excellent starting place is The Journal of Philosophy, Vol. 55. No.26. (Dec. 18, 1958) pp 1144-1148. Here, Clarence W. Richey pontificates “On the Intentional Ambiguity of Heidegger’s Metaphysics.” Check it out if you have a JSTOR account (http://www.jstor.org/discover/10.2307/2022439?uid=3739976&uid=2&uid=4&uid=3739256&sid=21102819512843) You can also read it by visiting a college campus that holds it their collection. Clarence W. Richey web sleuths have also found academic papers by entering his full name on www. scholar.google.com, learning he is frequently still cited in papers on similar topics written today.
At some point, Badger appears to have taught on a University of Wisconsin campus, most likely in the early 1970s. Exactly what campus, what he taught, for how long and the reasons he left won’t be anything we can find out before his service. But the paper trail that God and Google offer seem fairly definitive that before he was called Badger by us here in Walworth County, he was Professor to others. Speaking of which, I have no idea how he got the nickname Badger. Maybe it came from childhood? Maybe it came from his affiliation with the UW system? If anyone has any idea, please share it with the rest of us.
Identifying himself as a lifelong bachelor, Badger does not appear to have ever married or had children. When asked by a friend if he ever did the domestic deal, Badger simply said, “When you don’t partake of the tree, you don’t partake of the fruit.”
Badger’s life was certainly nomadic, and he never seemed to stay in one place long or owned property. I have been told by a reliable source that Badger counted Doris The Wal-Mart Greeter as one of his many local landlords. His eccentricities, and he had many, would have been a challenge for most landlords and roommates - even those who counted themselves as friends. But like a cat, Badger always landed on his feet when he needed to move on.
Before landing in Walworth County, Milwaukee was a place Badger called home for a spell. Once in our neck of the woods, he worked at Cherry-Burrell in Delavan for a time, delivered newspapers, collected cans, and became known by passing motorists as the skinny old guy who walked everywhere. As brilliant he was, Badger never got a driver’s license.
More than once, he told me he was a long-distance runner. When I asked about it, he waved his hand and instructed me “look it up on the computer.” Well, I’ve tried to look it up and come up empty, but Badger running for a miles and miles is absolutely something I can see. Can’t you?
Pretty much, when you pressed Badger for any precise details about his life, his answers were vague and sometimes cryptic. Many of us, myself included, tried and tried to get “facts” and “timelines” from Badger. Wise to not just the great works of literature and moments in history, he was also wise to us and would quickly, and kindly, change the subject or deflect us in a way that ended all further inquiry.
In some ways, it seems wrong to pursue those answers now that he’s gone. If he didn’t want to share them when he could, what right do we have to them today? On the other hand, I think if he were here right now, we could possibly persuade him that a human being who so greatly touched the lives others would naturally illicit this kind of inquiry. Badger himself knew the “who, what, when, where and why” of so many figures in history – particularly those who fascinated him. Surely, at least on an intellectual level, he would have to allow us the same journey.
Almost nine years ago, I was spiritually lost. Badger’s experience, strength, and hope helped me find my way home. I am not alone and there are many others like me who found the compass they needed in this gentle wanderer. When he crossed my path, I am grateful I was willing to look past his unkempt appearance, the tobacco in his beard, and the Hefty sack of aluminum cans he was dragging. I’m glad I was able to do what he seemed to do so effortlessly: Take the human being in front of me as not only a gift from God, but a guide to God.
Sometimes, the best stories never get fully told. They reveal themselves instead in holy vignettes – some little snippet here, a tattered remnant there. They arrive on terms we cannot control, in ways we will never be able to entirely explain, and always leave us wanting to know more. Badger was one of the best stories I’ve ever met.
Memorials may be made to the RIVER CHURCH, Alano Club of Walworth Co. or the Unitarian Church of