Rick Burgei
Rick Burgei
DELPHOS — They say you are the company you keep. This year’s Tri-County Man of the Year Rick Burgei couldn’t agree more.

“I have been fortunate to have been surrounded by people who want to help others my entire life,” Burgei said. “It started with my parents. They were always seeing what they could do for others. My mother would get up at 5 a.m. and get dad off to work and us off to school and then she sewed for people. She never turned anyone away. She’d get up early and stay up late to get everything done. My dad would get off work and then go help someone fix their roof or help with some other problem they had.”

Burgei found his niche with the Delphos Jaycees.

“I fell in love with the Jaycees and their work, especially with children,” Burgei said. “I really liked the Santa visitation. The more I could do for children, the better I felt.”

His mentors include Phil Wiechart, Steve Erb and the many Jaycees he spent time with.

“These guys decided to stick with me and mold me to be a better person,” Burgei recalled.

While with the Jaycees, Burgei helped start three other chapters in the area and started the Jay Teens in Delphos, bringing in the younger generation to carry on the club’s work.

“When I was president in 1983, we had the best year ever,” Burgei said. “We were able to put $130,000-$140,000 back into the community.”

Burgei’s favorite Jaycee activity was always the Santa Visitation. This past Christmas Eve, he marked nearly 40 years helping Santa make his rounds. Since the Jaycees disbanded, the Optimist Club has taken over the program and Burgei made sure they knew he was still very willing to be a part of the action.

When the Relay for Life of Delphos was formed, cancer was already a part of Burgei’s life. His father-in-law, Sonny Merschman, as well as others had been diagnosed with the disease.

“We saw more and more people that were fighting it. Once we found out all these people had it and were opening up about it, we knew we weren’t doctors so we decided the next best thing was to raise money to find a cure,” Burgei said.

His father-in-law also contributed to the effort.

“Sonny never complained and looked for zero sympathy,” Burgei said. “That drove us.”

Burgei, his wife, Barb (Merschman), their two sons, Nathan and Jonathan, and other family members used the family business, Jim’s Restaurant, to start a team and start helping.

“We got the customers involved and they became a part of the team, too,” Burgei said. “They were really the force behind what we did for Relay. They bought the raffle tickets and bake sale items and supported anything we did. For as small as Jim’s Restaurant is, we raised a lot of money for Relay.”

Burgei also offered up himself as a fundraiser on numerous occasion.

“You wouldn’t believe how much you can raise if people want to see you dressed as a cheerleader or see you take a pie in the face,” Burgei said with a laugh. “I never had any reservations about it. If you’re worried about being embarrassed, you’re going to worry all your life. If someone has an idea to make people happy or smile, I’m good with it.”

The restaurant is also a way for Burgei and his family to assist others in just getting through everyday life.

“My wife and two sons are also focused on helping someone else. People always need help,” Burgei said. “You just have to listen. We hear a lot of talk at the restaurant and you learn to listen for the right things.”

In the past year, Burgei, his family and the restaurant customers have raised money for the Children’s Hospital in Columbus and Challenged Adults in Athens, helping them pay for needed supplies for an art program. When his son Jonathan was headed to South America for a mission project, a huge truckload of donated items went with him.

“We had people drop off clothes and toys and just anything and everything,” Burgei said. “We had our van packed so tight I had to drive with my elbows at my side. That’s all the room I had. The people we come in contact with are just so giving. We never do it alone.”

Other activities on Burgei’s list include calling numbers for the annual Canal Days Purse Bingo and the live play-by-play every July 3 for the annual Beyond Expectations softball games.

“I feel so fortunate for the people who have been put in my life and that we are able to help others,” Burgei said. “If more people would just reach out and do for others, the world would be a better place. It always comes back to you in the nicest of ways. I don’t do it for the recognition; nothing good comes from that. You do it and you walk away. There’s always someone to help somewhere.”

Burgei’s nominator had this to say about the Man of the Year:

“Rick is the kind of person who helps without being asked, offers without reservation and gives without expectations. He is a person with a heart of gold who will help anyone and everyone.”

Burgei said helping people can come in many forms. Sometimes the tiniest act can have a big reaction.

“Look for the small miracles, not the parting of the sea,” he said. “Small miracles can happen every day.”