Richard Garner Jr. was beloved amongst his peers in the Madison Fire Department for his dedication to his brothers and sisters in the department and for his generosity in the community working with local youth whether he was on duty or off.
“Rick was a big guy but he had an even larger personality. He was a gentle giant, especially with kids in the community. He always wanted to give back. He always was a good role model for those within the community,” says firefighter David Guthrie, Garner’s good friend and ambulance paramedic partner at station 10. “He always wanted to lend a hand whether it be volunteering with Sable Flames [non-profit organization of Black firefighters] or [Fire Fighters] Local 311 or participating in motorcycle rides to help other people out.”
Garner died tragically on Easter morning in 2018 – just four days before his 30th birthday – shortly after finishing a 48-hour shift on the job. Guthrie has been organizing the Annual Richard Garner Memorial Ride, an effort to keep Garner’s legacy alive for many years in the future, every year since.
“Rick would show up for anything to help somebody out. That’s the type of person that Rick was. He would do anything for anyone whether he knew you for five minutes, five months or five years … he always was there to help you out,” Guthrie says. “This ride is about raising money for scholarships but also remembering the great man that Rick was.”
This year’s Annual Richard Garner Memorial Ride will be held Saturday, Sept. 10, 10 a.m. and take participants through western Dane and Sauk counties. Money raised at the event goes directly to the Richard Garner Memorial Fund. Guthrie says that for the past two years the event has been pretty low-key during the pandemic.
“We didn’t do a ride in 2020 and we haven’t done much fundraising the last two years,” he says. “We thought it would be kind of selfish of ourselves to keep asking for money when a lot of people are kind of down and out.
“2022 is a big year, obviously, because it’s the 5th anniversary. Rick’s mom and sister are coming to town all the way from California. So that should be pretty cool. They’re going to see how everything works,” he adds. “They’re gonna be a lot of the people there that have been here supporting the scholarship funds all these years. “
Garner loved riding his Harley motorcycle … that was one of the main reasons the memorial ride was started in his honor.
“We will start with registration at Harley Davidson Madison. We’re gonna do about a 100-110-mile ride going through Rock County, Monticello, Oregon, Blanchardville, New Glarus and meet at Wisconsin Brewing,” Guthrie says.
At Wisconsin Brewing Company. the fundraiser will have live music, BBQ, food carts, a bouncy house for kids, face painting, balloon artists and silent auction items.
‘So we’re hoping for a big turnout, obviously, to be able to raise some more money for scholarships, but most importantly, just to continue to show support to Rick’s family,” Guthrie says. “They’ve been kind of viewing this from afar every year. The first year we shot a live video and we sent it to them, but they haven’t been able to participate in person yet. So we’re really excited for them to be able to come out and do so.
“Before the ride, all of the previous scholarship recipients are going to come out and they’re going to meet Rick’s mom and sister and they’re going to kind of tell their story about what the scholarship has been able to do for them and share their stories about how Rick’s legacy lives on with them,” Guthrie adds.
One of those scholarship recipients is Emmanuel “Manny” Mielke.
“Manny is an amazing story and he has worked very hard. He’s a testament to Rick’s legacy,” Guthrie says. “I think it’s important that we keep telling Rick’s story and we’re getting people excited about what we have going on here at the Rick Gardner Fund.”
Mielke, a native of Sun Prairie, has been working at Fire Station 3 on Williamson Street on Madison’s near east side.
“The scholarship has definitely helped me. If you’re someone who’s trying to get into the fire service, I think it’s beneficial to get support from firefighters as well. Otherwise, it can be challenging,” Mielke tells Madison365. “The experience has been great because I’ve had these guys that are always constantly checking in on me even before I got hired with Madison. I have always had this continuous support.
“So now I get to work with a lot of these gentlemen that have been supporting me along my journey,” Mielke who is just 21 years old, having graduated high school in 2019. “They definitely helped make my dream become reality much sooner than I anticipated with their support.”
Mielke officially started with the Madison Police Department in February.
“It’s been going really well so far. I’ve been in the field now since May. My crew has been treating me pretty well. No complaints,” Mielke smiles. “It’s just been a lot of fun. I’ve enjoyed it. It feels like I’ve been there a lot longer than I have. I haven’t really been there for any time at all compared to many others. It’s just like a really small snippet of what’s going to hopefully be a long 30-year career … because that’s the end goal.”
Mielke adds that he is “really pumped” to meet Rick Garner Jr.’s family at the 5th Annual Richard Garner Memorial Ride.
Guthrie says he’s looking forward to the family meeting all of the past scholarship winners, too, to see the positive impact Garner has had on their young lives.
“We’ve been able to raise a lot of money to give out $2,500 per person, two scholarships per year. We’ve given out 10. So far, we raised about $70,000 in really just three years of fundraising,” Guthrie says.
“Beyond the money, it’s the relationships that these scholarship recipients build not only with us here in the fire department but also at MATC,” Guthrie adds. “And with the scholarship, we set them up with a mentor, as well. So when they’re going through classes, that they’re having difficulties or they have interviews coming up, we can help them put together their interview portfolio.
“We don’t want to just give them a check and say, ‘See you later.’ This is a relationship that we’re going to build not only through their schooling but also in their career because that’s the end goal,” he adds.
Even if you can’t make it to the 5th Annual Richard Garner Memorial Ride, donations to the Scholarship Fund are always welcome.
“We really appreciate all of the donations for the fund. There’s a link on our Local 311 website or the ride itself. You can follow us on our Facebook page as well on Fire Fighters Local 311,” Guthrie says. “We’ve been blessed. The support that we have for this event really talks about who Rick was as a person. We get donations coming in from not only all over the state but all over the country … people who have met Rick and he impacted their lives. Not only do they give a donation, but it usually comes with a colorful story about Rick.”