Gary Riekes, founder of the Riekes Center for Human Enhancement in Menlo Park, died March 24, a little more than a week shy of his 70th birthday.
He was known widely as someone who fostered a compassionate community that believed in the powerful potential of every person and dedicated his life to helping people achieve their goals. He received a local Jefferson Award for Public Service, was inducted into the Menlo School Athletic Hall of Fame, and impacted many lives for the better, according to an obituary compiled by Riekes Center staff and his family.
An initial celebration of his life for the Riekes Center community has been scheduled via Zoom on Thursday, April 1, at 6:30 p.m. People are invited to attend to gather, laugh and share celebrity impressions, something Riekes loved. Access the Zoom link here.
Riekes was born April 4, 1951, in Omaha, Nebraska, to parents Dorothy and Max, who were a classical violinist and a former college football player, respectively. He quickly followed in their footsteps. By age 10, he played as a professional musician on the saxophone, clarinet and singing with a pop, ragtime and swing group. He later joined the Omaha Symphony Orchestra, where he played oboe and English horn.
He went on to attend Stanford University, where he played in the symphony, ran track and played on the football team as a wide receiver.
In college, he sustained an injury that led him to spend the next decade or so developing his own physical rehabilitation, when the specialties of sports medicine and therapy were still developing. During that time, he created student programs and managed multidisciplinary training facilities, at times offering a recording studio, cutting-edge gym equipment and landscaping projects. During those years, he worked to develop and refine his mentoring curriculum that later became the foundation of the Riekes Center.
Riekes also worked as a professional football coach. He coached the New York Knights in the World Football League and was a coaching consultant for Menlo School, Woodside High School and Sequoia High School.
The Riekes Center, which Riekes founded in 1996, is now located at 3455 Edison Way, and has served more than 100,000 alumni since Riekes first began mentoring people in 1974. It continues to serve about 7,000 people annually.
"What Gary created was really special," said Brian Tetrud, a young man who was mentored by Riekes and worked for him for about seven years.
Riekes had "a way of being 100% present in his conversations" and helping youth tackle their core problems and goals, he said.
Many teens and children, some of whom came from disadvantaged or difficult family circumstances, found tools to develop their athletic or musical passions at the Riekes Center that they otherwise might not have the resources to access, he said.
For some, he added, "Gary was the father they never had."
"He had the resources to get them away from these bad situations and put them in a more nurturing environment," Tetrud said. "I think that really turned around the lives of just hundreds, if not thousands of kids."
He added that even though he wasn't disadvantaged as a youth, he was a bit lost. Riekes encouraged him to pursue music and athletics, which, he said, "changed my life."
To this day, he said, he plays a violin that belonged to Riekes' mom.
Others shared similar kind words about Riekes.
"Gary was always the nicest guy. So energetic and generous," said Brady Gallagher, who participated in programs at the Riekes Center.
"He had a way of making everyone feel important and special," said Laura Stein, former human resources director at the Riekes Center. "He built an empire of love and kindness. It's so heartbreaking to see him gone."
Riekes is survived by his sister, nephews, and the staff and students he worked with closely.
Additional celebrations of his life and legacy will be held in the future. People are invited to email [email protected] to sign up for updates.