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By Pat Foran, Editor
The Progressive Railroading family lost one of its own last month. Richard Zemencik, former owner and associate publisher of this magazine, and a railroader for more than 50 years, died June 3.
Rich began his railroad career at Pittsburgh & Lake Erie Railroad Co. (P&LE) as a court reporter/stenographer in the engineering, MOW, bridge and building, and C&S departments. He served as assistant chief clerk, chief clerk and administrative assistant. Rich rose through the ranks, serving as valuations engineer, assistant estimator, chief estimator, and supervisor of budgets and controls. In 1985, he left P&LE to join Progressive Railroading as eastern sales manager.
In 1989, Rich and Ron Mitchell purchased the magazine from co-founder Frank Richter. In 1995, they sold it to Trade Press Publishing Corp. Rich remained with the magazine for the next dozen years as associate publisher. He served on an array of rail industry association boards during his career, including a stint as president and chairman of the Railway Systems Suppliers Inc. in 1997. After retiring from Progressive Railroading in 2007, Rich and his wife Nancy moved from Pittsburgh to Pinehurst, North Carolina.
Rich, of course, never really retired. During the next decade, he served as vice president of sales and marketing for All Railroad Services Corp., and kept in close contact with — and looked out for — his many friends. He also looked out for others. In 2009, he launched the Shirts for Wounded Soldiers program, through which he asked his many friends and associates in the industry to donate golf shirts, t-shirts, caps and other promotional items. Rich then distributed them to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Washington, D.C., and the Fisher House and Wounded Warrior Facility/Army Community Services in Fort Bragg, North Carolina.
I met Rich when I started here in 1996. He was a font of industry knowledge. And he let me lean on him. Always.
We didn’t see each other as often after he left the magazine, but when we did, we didn’t miss a beat. Or he didn’t, anyway. Rich never failed to ask me about my son, who had muscular dystrophy. He never failed to ask me how my wife and I were really doing. He knew I loved baseball and never failed to insert America’s Pastime into the conversation. He slipped it into our final interaction, a May email exchange:
Hope all is well with you and your family...What I need from you is your home mailing address. I have an article on Babe Ruth that I want to send over. RICHIE
From the article that came days later in a carefully taped (and stuffed) envelope, I learned The Babe made his professional debut in Fayetteville, North Carolina. He hit one out of the park, of course. Just as Rich did during his time here.
“Rich was a loving, hard-working man who loved life, his family and friends,” as his brief obituary reads. “He and his wife, Nancy, were married for over 52 years. He will be sorely missed.”
In our August issue, we’ll publish a memorial tribute to Rich.
Donations in his honor can be made to Shriners Hospitals for Children.Our thoughts are with Nancy and the Zemencik family.