WWII vet celebrates his 94th birthday by becoming event's oldest-ever rider
By James Reddick | The Oregonian | Published: August 11, 2014
PORTLAND, Ore. - Richard Klover remembers when, at the height of The Great Depression, his grandparents in a small town south of Chicago gave him a bicycle. It had wooden rims and was so tall he needed a boost to mount it, but the bike was enough to cover his newspaper route.
Fast forward 85 years, and Klover is still at it.
On Sunday, his 94th birthday, he became the oldest rider to ever cycle the Providence Bridge Pedal, organizers said.
In its 19th year, the event allows cyclists to enjoy views of the city from its many bridges, with seven of 10 at least partially closed. Riders choose from a variety of lengths, from the 36-mile "Fremont Express" to the three-mile kids route. With nearly 18,000 participants this year, most cyclists took in the scenery at a leisurely pace.
In the crowds of cyclists zipping over the river, Klover's group in particular stood out. Four generations of the family rode, or, in the case of his two great-granddaughters, rolled along in a trailer.
Klover's shirt announced: "I'm 94 today and my kids still can't keep up with me."
Halfway across the Marquam Bridge, his family and Providence representatives surprised him with a table of cupcakes.
"I don't see what the big deal is," he said sheepishly as riders stopped to take pictures.
Even at his age, for Klover this is business as usual.
"My life has been a series of short stories," he said. "It just keeps rolling on."
Also known as "Big Red" for his formerly fiery hair and 6-foot-4-inch frame, Klover was "built to fight tigers."
He was returning from a basketball game in his junior year at Millikin University in Decatur, Illinois, when news began to spread that the Japanese had bombed Pearl Harbor. Three days later -- December 10, 1941 -- Klover hitchhiked down to St. Louis to a recruitment center. By the end of the day, he was enlisted in the Navy.
The war was Klover's first of many adventures.
He flew a dive-bomber alongside "Butch" O'Hare, the legendary pilot and namesake of Chicago's main airport; he survived a kamikaze and torpedo attack on two separate aircraft carriers; and he saw from above the explosion at Hiroshima that ended the war.
In the nearly 70 years since then, Klover hasn't slowed down. After working his way up to a general manager position at Madewell in Portland, he retired at 58.
Since then, he's been known for his innumerable projects and his semi-nomadic lifestyle with his second wife, Louise. First, he built a ranch on 40 acres near Mount Adams in Washington. Surrounded by national forest, it was an oasis in the wild.
But Klover got restless and moved on to his next project-- remodeling an old school bus. He put in mahogany floors, antique furniture, a kitchen and living area. After three years of work, he and Louise took off, traipsing across North America and eventually settling down in an RV park on the Sea of Cortez in Mexico.
"After being somewhere for 10 years, people know what you're going to do tomorrow, and that's no fun," he said. "We've moved to get a different look on life, to learn and to build things."
According to his family, even with an arthritic knee, Klover has hardly slowed down. In October, he and Louise bought a house in Bend. Already, he has built a garage and is working on landscaping the front of the property.
In the middle of the winter, his son-in-law Garo Wright said, he was out every day digging trenches with a pick-axe to put an electricity line to two outbuildings on the property.
"He's invincible," Wright said. "He just never stops."
Klover thanks his grandfather for passing on an outlook on life that has sustained him. When the two worked together on odd jobs during the depression years, he learned the power of putting his brain to use.
"A solution is there if you just think about it," his grandfather taught him. "And it has been that way for me all my life."
After doing an abridged version of the ride -- from Portland State University to the Marquam Bridge and then back over the Burnside Bridge -- the family celebrated at the finish line.
"I could've kept riding," Klover joked.
"If they have it on my birthday next year, I might be back."