STILLWATER, Okla. —
From Toronto to Houston and Miami to Portland, friends and family of Richard Dermer flew into Stillwater last weekend to remember “The Big Kahuna” in a celebration of his life.
A standing room-only crowd gathered in the Oklahoma State University ConocoPhillips Alumni Center to honor the founder of The Hideaway pizza restaurant. Although Dermer passed away at age 74 on March 14, his family decided to schedule a memorial service for the first day of summer so the far-flung people who loved him could arrange to attend – and tell stories.
Dermer was known for “just a quick story.” An English major at Oklahoma State University, he appreciated the craft of a storyteller and shared his love of books. When asked in an oral history project in 2009 about what he would most like to be remembered for, he replied “The fact that I helped so many students get their educations. That's as good as any.”
Former employee Beth Baxter Nielsen said Dermer trained generations that “they could do hard things and have fun doing it.” Dermer helped hundreds of OSU students work their way through college. He would check their semester grade report cards and offered free food while working. Many employees children also worked at The Hideaway when they came to OSU.
Dermer's philosophy was always to “work hard and play hard.” Serious hobbies included originating the North American Open Chess Tournament in Stillwater and serving as past president of the American Kitefliers Association.
Toni Melton, the first female Hideaway employee, said Richard wasn't afraid to get his hands dirty and could be seen washing dishes often. She said doing this job allowed him to see what patrons were throwing away and he could work on improving the menu from what was left behind. Chess enthusiast Tom Braunlich said Dermer was always thinking about ways to improve and be more efficient – similar to winning a chess game in small incremental advantages.
Dermer’s love of play extended to all kinds of games with an obsession for kites which he shared with thousands of schoolchildren worldwide.
The Hideaway General Manager David Sanders said the family has established a new scholarship fund for OSU students studying hotel and restaurant management. Donations may be sent to: Fund #27-97550, OSU Foundation, 400 S. Monroe, Stillwater, OK 74076.
A book about Dermer's life and philosophy is under development to be published under the direction of RoadRunner Press editor Jeanne Devlin. Last weekend was spent interviewing but if you have a favorite Big Kahuna story to help create a lasting tribute to Dermer, then share your tales by emailing email@example.com.
Elizabeth Keys writes for the Stillwater News Press. “And, Still the Waters Run” tells stories about people and events in the area. Share your news by emailing activities, photos or ideas to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Sales of tie-dyed Hideaway T-shirts will benefit an OSU scholarship fund in honor of Richard Dermer. To order, contact Janie Harris at email@example.com. Specify number requested, sizes, shipping and phone information. T-shirts are $25 and $3 for shipping and handling, add $1 per shirt after the first shirt ordered.