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Yuma's charitable racer, Dick Rautenberg, dies
Dick Rautenberg, the Yuma Sun’s 2009 Citizen of the Year, died from prostate cancer Saturday. He was in his mid-70s.
“We are going to miss him, but Dick was so sick towards the end that it was time,” said his wife, Kathy Blohm, who just celebrated her two-year wedding anniversary with Rautenberg on Friday.
“He was starting to suffer. It was time for him to go. Now we will remember him. He had a wonderful sense of humor. He was the kindest person I’ve ever known. Just about every day we laughed, until he got really sick.”
Rautenberg was a prominent fixture in the Yuma community, known for his generosity when others were in need.
“He loved to help people,” Blohm said. “Somebody else is going to have to step up and take over for him.”
In 2009, Rautenberg learned a program created by the Knights of Columbus to serve spaghetti dinners to the underprivileged would be cancelled due to lack of funding. He decided to save the program by immediately donating $1,000, which provided enough funding to continue the dinners for another 23 weeks.
“Those people just needed somebody to give them a hand,” Rautenberg told the Yuma Sun at the time.
“I’ve been poor, and jobless and broke, but I’ve never known what it’s like to be hungry. It feels good knowing people won’t be going hungry, especially since it’s spaghetti because I love spaghetti.”
According to Eugene and Donna Beyer, who nominated Rautenberg for citizen of the year in 2009, “this gentle giant comes through in emergencies, in times of crisis and in times of need. Dick Rautenberg has served Yuma County forever. He’s a wonderful friend to us all.”
Another well-known story of Rautenberg’s renowned charity, as told by Yuma resident Pat Kilduff, involved a family who was stranded on the side of Interstate 8 one day as they watched their car and all their belongings burn in an accidental fire.
“They were on their way from somewhere in Texas to San Diego,” Kilduff wrote.
“When Dick came over and asked the father what they were going to do, he said he didn’t
know. So, Dick pulls out his wallet and gives the father $500.”
Rautenberg then gave each of the children $50 and drove the family into Yuma and bought them dinner, provided them a hotel room, and bought them breakfast the next morning.
Rautenberg, who owned Dick’s 25-hour Towing and Auto Salvage in Yuma for about 50 years, even provided the family with a car containing a full tank of gas so they could get to San Diego.
“He’s definitely got a soft spot for kids, we all know that, but this was about more than just kids,” Kilduff wrote. “It was just Dick being Dick.”
Dick often donated cars from his salvage yard to area law enforcement agencies and fire departments when they needed them for emergency training, Blohm said.
In 2010, he donated a vintage red 1948 four-door Chrysler Imperial, complete with red lights and two sirens, to the Yuma Fire Department.
“This will make a good car for them to use in parades and at other special events in the city,” Rautenberg said at the time. “It won’t take much to get it ready. It runs right now.”
Rautenberg, a native of Newark, N.J., who moved to Yuma when he was 13, had a passion for cars.
“Dick always loved cars,” Blohm said, noting that while Rautenberg was attending Yuma Union High School in the early 1950s, “he was one of about three guys that had a car. Dick wasn’t a big man, and he didn’t fit into the football team or the basketball team, so he got cars to attract women. He always had a real nice car.”
Rautenberg’s love for cars extended out onto the race track. During his racing career, Rautenberg won 508 dirt track races and 11 season championships.
In 2007, Rautenberg was inducted into the Arizona Motorsports Hall of Fame during a special ceremony at the “Sands Chevrolet Hall of Fame Classic” at Manzanita Speedway in Phoenix.
“I’m extremely honored, and just as surprised,” Rautenberg said in 2007.
“All the years we raced, I just never, ever thought that I’d be in the hall of fame, or even have a chance to be in the hall. But I guess when you look back at it and see how many races we won, I guess that qualifies us to be in the hall of fame.”
At the time, Rautenberg joked he had not “run into anybody who can tell me someone they know who has won 508 dirt track races. And until we meet that guy, I’m going to go ahead and brag about it.”
Rautenberg leaves behind his daughter Seneca, two stepsons, six grandchildren and one great-grandson. He was preceded in death by his son Kent.
A viewing will be held for Rautenberg Friday at Johnson Mortuary, 1415 S. 1st Ave, with a funeral the following day. The times for both services are currently pending. For more information, call 782-4384.
Chris McDaniel can be reached at email@example.com or 539-6849.