John R. Rabich
March 16, 1929 – March 5, 2019
When you see the first picture, you may wonder why John is wearing earmuffs on his head in what is obviously a bright summer day. He loved the photo because he is at the top of his career at Western Auto, combining two loves: love of racing and photography. So you’re looking at one happy camper, his baseball cap on backwards, capturing advertising and PR photos at the drag races at Heartland Park in Topeka. The earmuffs then come down to protect the ears from the thunder of engines when he stands on the track wall.
John learned photography early on at about age 10 in Oklahoma. His mother taught him how to take and develop his own pictures. He took a picture of his dog, Bottles, and his friend holding his pet chicken. He also took a picture of three men lounging about on a porch in their overalls and worn cowboy hats. They were not amused, and John took off. But he got a terrific photo.
In Kansas City, he signed on at Calvin Industries as a gofer, and learned all about commercial films, film splicing, editing and processing film. He picked up lithograph skills at a school annual publisher, and learned how to sharpen his skills and become better and faster.
In 1953 he landed at Western Auto because of his lithography skills and became a studio photographer for the advertising department, learning large format camera techniques, lighting and something called “swings and tilts.” He became an expert in developing films and correcting problems, innovating a new process to insert images onto film without cutting and pasting. His boss, Orville Crane, came to depend on John to help problem solve and manage the work load. He worked for Western Auto for 45 years. He was laid off at age 70 because Western Auto was bought and merged with a new company in Virginia.
John was an only child, son of Elmer Rabich and Ethel Riley. The depression was hard on the small family in Kansas City. The job and house was lost, and the small family split apart when John and his mother moved to Oklahoma to live with Grandma Riley. When John was in his teens, his mother died of breast cancer. He returned to Kansas City to live with his father. He and a friend decided to try racing midgets, where it was rumored you could make a living. And he loved dirt track racing in the quick small cars. He said racing was the most fun a man could have alone.
In 1948, he found another love and married Bonnie and her little girl Marcia. Eventually, Philip Michael (Mike) and Patrick arrived. His three children, as well as Patrick’s wife, Roxanne, survive him. Without any effort at all, he then accrued six grand children and nine great-grand children. All but one survives him, mostly in Texas.
His children sometimes missed him when growing up because he often worked weekends and long hours. He loved having a family but was determined to provide them a better life. He kept horses and bought a pony for Patrick. He moved to Lake Tapawingo in Blue Springs, where they lived on the water. And when Dad was home, they had fun. He had the fastest boat on the lake and pulled multiple water skiers. Their Basset Hound named Loomer joined in the fun by riding in the boat. As if that wasn’t enough, John bought a cabin on the Lake of the Ozarks for bigger lake fun.
Eventually John and Bonnie came to a parting of the ways. John then found he hadn’t been married enough. Enter unsuspecting Mary Weston, a fellow participant in group therapy. After graduating from group therapy, they married in 1976, and were married 42 ½ years. No children ensued, so Mary became the extra grandma and started making baby quilts. With great sadness, Mary survives him.
They shared a duplex with Mary’s parents for 22 years, and they too became part of the extended family. John and Mary traveled a good bit, going to Europe and Ireland, and several cruses on the Delta Queen steamboat on the rivers of the Midwest and South. John introduced Mary to dirt track open wheel racing and Nascar racing--as spectators. John continued to race after his first marriage, but supporting his family soon ended his racing days. However, his son Mike and his son Shawn later carried on the tradition by racing sprint cars.
John was a man with an acute sense of justice, and he actively supported the civil rights movement in the 1960s. He studied theology and became a Catholic because he thought it the best fit for him. He served on lay councils and read scripture during mass. He participated in Community One, a Catholic church “without walls” that drew from everywhere in the metro. It was kind of “build it yourself” type effort, which John loved.
And that’s about it. A life, an ordinary but extraordinary life of a man of principle, enthusiasm, hard work, and most of all, love. To say we will miss him is a gross understatement.
For John Richard Rabich, the race is run, the flag has waved. And he has won.
KC Pet Project
4400 Raytown Road, Kansas City, MO 64129
3901 Martha Truman Road, Kansas City, MO 64137
- Visitation Sunday, March 10, 2019
- Funeral Service Sunday, March 10, 2019
John R. Rabich
March 7, 2019
My name is Monica.. I am one of many of John's grandkids.. Very blessed to have have him as my grandpa... Sadly I only got to see him a couple times when I moved to Kansas City Missouri last March.. I love him so much and will miss him greatly.. You ran a GREAT race... Monica Cunningham 🙏🙏
March 7, 2019
Papa John with the thousands of words of sorrow that have been running through my mind all the words of grief, the easiest words for me to actually put down here are....THANK YOU! Thank you for one word inparticular..."CLASS"
You alone have tought me the meaning of the word CLASS in many different ways witthout you even knowing. Most imprtantly you were and always will be a man of CLASS. I love you more than you had ever realized.
Gotta go- will be late for CLASS!
(please be my angel)