Hardy Rickbeil becomes a centenarian todayWORTHINGTON — It’s a rare occasion when Hardy Rickbeil takes the elevator at The Meadows senior complex where he lives or in any other building. He prefers the stairs and demonstrates for a visitor how he makes the most of both the ascent and descent, taking each step deliberately to stretch and hone his muscles.
By: Beth Rickers, Worthington Daily Globe
WORTHINGTON — It’s a rare occasion when Hardy Rickbeil takes the elevator at The Meadows senior complex where he lives or in any other building. He prefers the stairs and demonstrates for a visitor how he makes the most of both the ascent and descent, taking each step deliberately to stretch and hone his muscles.
It’s just one example of how Hardy continually exercises — body, mind and soul — and perhaps the secret behind his longevity. Today Hardy celebrates his 100th birthday.
“I’m living much longer than I expected,” he reflected. “I expected to live 10 years longer than my dad, and he died at 66, so here I am, 24 years longer than I expected.”
Born June 21, 1908, in Loma, N.D., he was christened Frederick Hardy Rickbeil — Hardy being his mother’s maiden name.
“If you look at a map, you’ll see the name of Loma, but all that’s left there today is an elevator, and where I was born is a beautiful wheat field,” he said about his birthplace.
Hardy’s father, F. S. Rickbeil, was already in the hardware business in North Dakota, but found a better opportunity in Worthington and moved his family here in June 1920.
“I was so excited, coming from North Dakota, to see Lake Okabena,” recalled Hardy. “The first thing Dad did was get a boat at the boathouse, and then there was the swimming. I was 11, 12 years old, so I was the right age to be excited about anything. Dad’s store was just a block or two from the lake.”
Throughout his growing-up years, Hardy helped out at the store and particularly recalls going out with one of the employees to put up lightning rods on barns. After graduating from high school, he attended the University of Minnesota, but he was only there a short time before he was summoned home.
“I wanted to be a coach, wanted to go to the University of Illinois … but my dad’s health failed, after being at the university for five quarters,” Hardy explained. “He had a disastrous fire, had to rebuild, and he didn’t sleep nights. He had a nervous breakdown. Dad needed me in the store.
“I was not happy about that, but it was a real opportunity. I had the opportunity to dig right into the community as a businessman with the Chamber of Commerce — back then, it was called the Commercial Club — and I became a Mason and a member of Kiwanis. … My dad kept pushing me to do more and more. He was there for about an hour each day. He tried different managers, but they never seemed to work out.”
Eventually a young woman, Bethel Knapp, caught his eye. Being the same age, Hardy and Bethel had grown up together, and their friendship blossomed into a romance. They were married Nov. 22, 1931, and had two children, Richard “Dick” Rickbeil and Dianne Rickbeil Frerichs. Hardy and Bethel boasted 11 grandchildren, and with a couple of recent additions to the family, there are now 16 great-grandchildren.
After Hardy’s father died in 1958, he incorporated the business and became chairman of the board. Officers included employees Ray Ager, Mike Christensen and Frank Schuster, along with son Dick and wife Bethel.
It was a revolutionary time in the hardware and appliance industry, and Rickbeil’s was able to capitalize. Under Hardy’s supervision, the business expanded significantly, encompassing 40,000 square feet of display and storage space in downtown Worthington. There was a hardware store, furniture store, Early American and traditional furniture store, marine store, radio and television repair shop and warehouse and delivery services. A staff of more than 40 served 23,000 accounts, and 10 trucks handled delivery and service calls.
In addition to his community activities, Hardy also became involved in state and national associations such as the Minnesota Retail Federation and National Retail Hardware Association. When he was elected to the presidency of the NRHA, Hardy’s biography in a 1970 issue of Home Furnishings Market Digest described his business thusly: Everything about Rickbeil’s emphasizes merchandising skill. The imaginative spirit of the owners gives special attention to maintaining well-trailed personnel who feel important and responsible in their own areas of activity. This personnel aim is accomplished through a variety of incentives such as profit sharing, reimbursement for courses taken for job improvement, constructive criticism committees, department promotional letters, individual and department recognition and other morale builders. Hardy is a firm believer in competitive free enterprise and believes “You can learn from competing … Understand rivalry, and you understand America.”
“At one time, I thought we should expand into surrounding communities,” Hardy noted, “but when we talked about it, we decided we were satisfied doing what we were doing and that we should stay here and take care of our customers. … The secret was we went all out as a consultant to our suppliers. We were an aggressive small business.”
Through all his years in business, Hardy never thought of himself as the person in charge.
“I was always the coach,” he emphasized. “I never wanted to be the boss.”
The Rickbeils traveled extensively as part of Hardy’s business associations, and they started visiting Arizona regularly in 1962. After retirement, they moved there in 1980. When Bethel’s health began to fail, they returned to Worthington.
“We thought the wise thing to do was come back here, and I’m so glad we did,” Hardy said.
Bethel became a resident of a care facility and Hardy moved into The Meadows. He visited Bethel faithfully every day until she died in 2003, after more than 70 years of marriage.
Upon returning to Worthington, Hardy delved back into community activities. He’s been a counselor with SCORE — a nonprofit association dedicated to entrepreneurial education and the formation, growth and success of small businesses nationwide — since 1978, and continues to carry his SCORE business card. In addition to longtime associations with numerous other organizations, he is particularly passionate about the American Institute of Economic Research and enthusiastically promotes the Rule of 72 — a simplified way to determine how long an investment will take to double — to ensure financial security for families.
“This is my real mission,” he said. “I get monthly reports from the American Institute of Economic Research, and it’s my goal now, not just for my family, but for every family. … My effort is to try to get every child by the time they are 6 years old to have an IRA because of what compound interest does.”
An avid reader, Hardy clips out articles of interest and has an extensive filing system —his apartment is filled to the brim with boxes and binders of information. He also clips and shares articles with other people.
“It’s typical of men my age I know around the country,” he said. “If we’re lucky enough to live long enough, we use every space we have to save things.”
And if Hardy isn’t attending a meeting or socializing with his fellow residents at The Meadows, you might just find him walking the grounds around the facility, picking up trash and getting more exercise.
“That’s my relaxation,” he said. “These cumulus clouds are fantastic. It’s almost heaven on earth, so why be in a hurry to die?
“I just say all the time: relax, be calm, let go and live by the Golden Rule — do unto others as you would have them do unto you,” Hardy stressed. “That’s all you need. … I have just what I need.”