Richard H. Dermer, 74, died March 14 at Integris Baptist Medical Center in Oklahoma City after a brief illness. Always fond of a good story, joke or anecdote, it is fitting that he took his leave of this world on Pi(e) day 3.14. It really is the ultimate ATW!
Born June 19, 1939, in Stillwater to Vern and Otis Dermer, he was a lifelong Stillwater resident, graduating from Stillwater High School in 1957 and Oklahoma State University with a degree in English in 1962, where he was a member of Tau Kappa Epsilon Fraternity. He met his future wife, Marti Johnston, while in high school and they married on Dec. 18, 1959, while both were attending OSU. They have two sons, Rick and Craig Dermer.
Richard discovered pizza on an extended East Coast trip with friends. Upon returning to Stillwater, a tiny new pizza restaurant had opened on Third Avenue across from the Episcopal Church, and he got a job at the new Campus Hideaway. Two years later, as a sophomore at OSU, he borrowed the money to buy the restaurant and began building it into what it has become today, The Hideaway. He was proud of the fact it took only two years to pay off that loan.
While taking MBA classes at OSU, he developed his theory that if you treat your employees well and served a great pizza, the rest would follow. He took the idea to heart and as well as being the owner of The Hideaway, Richard became a mentor, role model, inspiration, surrogate father, employer and friend to thousands of OSU students (including his two sons Rick and Craig!) who worked with him at The Hideaway. He refused to hire freshmen, insisting that they become grounded in college and their studies before taking on a job. He even asked to see their grades to make sure they were not neglecting their studies and allowed them time off to study for exams.
In 1980, Richard took a leap of faith and moved the restaurant across the street to its current location and later expanded all the way to the corner of University where the Campus Drugstore had been, next to the Campus Theater and eventually took over that space to make it like it is today. He loved his employees, and together with Marti, created an atmosphere for them that was like a home away from home. For many of the employees, Richard was like a surrogate parent, providing advice and an ear to bounce ideas off of as well as providing a sense of order and discipline and humor. He loved having them join him and Marti at the rented cabin at Lake Carl Blackwell to blow off steam, swim, sail, play horseshoes and volleyball, or relax with a book. Fourth of July parties at the cabin were a great tradition and there was no bigger kid enjoying the fireworks then Dermer himself.
Richard was always an avid game player. He was a life member of the U.S. Chess Federation where he was well-known as a 1,700-player. After the restaurant would close, people stayed to play strategy and board games in the back rooms, or visited the Dermer’s home for many an all-night RISK session. He loved to play chess with anyone at the restaurant, where a board was kept waiting. He helped one of his managers develop the board game Pente, while working for him at The Hideaway. This made Richard a uniquely qualified director of regional and national tournaments.
Later, he and Marti discovered the joys of kite flying and his passion for this new hobby was as boundless as the skies. He became an active member of the AKA (American Kitefliers Association) and served in various positions, including president for three years. The Dermers traveled the country and the world as ambassadors for kite flying, teaching kite-making seminars at festivals and schools around Stillwater and Oklahoma. Friends who married often found themselves the proud owners of mini-kites Richard made from their wedding reception napkins! The walls of the restaurant in Stillwater are decorated with many of the kites they collected on their travels, and Richard even asked Marti to bring AKA membership forms to the intensive care unit during his last week, as he was actively trying to sign up members among the medical staff.
Richard Dermer was truly “The Big Kahuna.” He loved to laugh and quote poetry, limericks and A. A. Milne. He loved to tell stories to anyone too, whether it was his grandchildren or someone who had never flown a kite, his storytelling held their rapt attention and was pure magic. A big man with a bigger heart, he co-chaired the Stillwater United Way fund drive with his wife Marti, and loaned employees money when needed. He was proud of the fact that most of those loans were repaid. He had great faith in his employees, whom he thought of as his extended family. Visits from former employees were always a treat, especially meeting their children, many of whom eventually came to OSU and worked for him later as legacy employees!
Richard is survived by his wife, Martha (Marti) Dermer, of the home; son Rick, his wife Susan and children Stephanie and Catherine, of Stillwater; son Craig and his wife Teresa Hill, and children Marty Kei and Silas, of Portland, Ore.; chosen daughter Cathy Gabrel, of Stillwater and chosen granddaughter Elizabeth Haynes, of Oklahoma City; sisters Vern Allen Ospavat (Naamen) of Norman; Kan., and Kay Bradley (Bob) of Stillwater; and brother-in-law W.B. (Corky) Johnston (Marilyn) of Blountville, Tenn., and the family cat “Dude” (He never met a cat he couldn’t pet).
The family plans a celebration of his life to be held from 2-5 p.m. at the OSU Alumni Center on June 21. In lieu of flowers, at his request, the family wishes donations to be made in Richard’s honor to the American Kitefliers Association, P.O. Box 22365, Portland, OR, 97269, or to the Stillwater United Way.