IN studying the history of this great territory of the Middle West, one is struck with the fact that its prestige, its wealth, its advantages are due to the achievements of men who began life with nothing but good health, the clothes they wore, and an unbounded faith in God and the future.
Such a one was David L. Rike. With no inherited income, no college education, no foreign travel, no influential friends, nothing extraneous to push him forward in his career, he eventually succeeded by his own efforts in earning all these except the college education; that, it being too late to take for himself, he helped give to others. Mr. Rike was so plain a man, so quiet and unassuming, with uncommunicative manner. stooped shoulders, and air of gravity, that few realized the depth of determination, height of ideals and breadth of interests which he represented. A short biographical sketch will reveal these qualities.
His father a farmer, he had the bringing up that has produced so many successful men; the early rising, the hard work, out-of-door life and plain fare. At seventeen he received some little schooling at a private academy, at Xenia, working for his board and tuition; this being practically, except a few terms at a country school, the whole of his education.
In the spring of the following year, (1846) he took a clerkship in the store of D. and E. Millen, in that town. At the removal of his father's family to Dayton in 1850, David left his situation in Xenia and entered the employ of Valentine Winters, at a salary of $125 a year. Three years later he went into business for himself, associated with two other young men, the firm name being known as Prugh, Joyce and Rike. This was the beginning of what, through some changes of personnel, is now known as the Rike Dry Goods Company. In 1867 Mr. R. I. Cummin and Mr. S. E. Kumler came into the firm. For twenty-eight years this triple partnership remained unbroken. Unbroken also the faith of the business world in the honorable standing of the company. With Mr. Rike, being a merchant was not merely an occupation,---a "gain-living," as the French say. He loved the details of buying, selecting, selling. When he was a child he kept store in a fence corner on the farm, with shelves of his own contriving and a stock of selected stones, grasses, and leaves. He made up his mind to his career years before he came to it, and was never attracted by any other occupation.
The compelling power of David Rike's life was religion, that type of religion which set the New England strain of temperament, and permeates the best of our American institutions to-day. In 1843 the community in and around the village of Beavertown was swept by a wave of religious fervor. A "protracted meeting" was held in the "Old Stone Meeting House," and scores of people, young and old, men, women and children gave themselves to God, during its continuance.
Rev. W. J. Shuey writes:
"The very atmosphere seemed charged with spiritual power. All hearts were moved, and every child of God, young or old, became a missionary. It was in the midst of these surroundings that David L. Rike surrendered his whole being to the power and service of his divine Savior, and became a member of the United Brethren Church."
The religious life thus begun was a lasting possession. It is said that he never questioned matters of faith, never went backward, never needed "nursing," never avoided duty. Only two short weeks before his death he attended prayer-meeting, the last time on earth, and there testified emphatically to the life-long value of the prayer-meeting in the nurture of his personal faith. Early in life he took his place among the leaders of his church in gospel work, and was to the end of his life a faithful disciple and servant.
In 1855 Mr. Rike met, at a church conference, a young lady in whom he took an immediate interest. This was Miss Salome Kumler, daughter of Bishop Henry Kumler, of the United Brethren Church. She taught in a little red brick school-house on a turnpike in Preble county. Mr. Rike, always fond of driving in the part of the country associated with his boyhood, now found an added attraction. He used to drive out and bring her to Dayton with him. They were married; she only eighteen, he thirty-one. That was the beginning of a wedded life of forty years, to which there were born five children.
Mr. Shuey, always an intimate friend, writes:
"The home life of this family was at once beautiful, affectionate, true, and good. The two, with their dear children, journeyed together in the purest devotion and love, exhibiting to the world and the church, a Christian household of the most intelligent, refined, and exhalted type. To Mr. Rike this home was the dearest spot on earth."
We have spoken of the intensity of Mr. Rike's religious life and his practical service to it. One of the charter members of the First United Brethren Church, he acted as treasurer, trustee, superintendent of Sabbath school, and class-leader in turn until the end of his life. While in the first capacity, the funds of the church being often overdrawn by tens and hundreds of dollars, the debt was quietly canceled at the end of the year in a way that only the treasurer could explain.
Not only in the local organization but in the church at large was Mr. Rike a serviceable supporter. For twenty-two years he was trustee of the printing establishment of the United Brethren Church. The General Conference of 1885 placed him, with two other laymen, on the church commission for the revision of the Confession of Faith, and the amendment of the Constitution of the Church. In 1893 he took his place as lay representative of the Miami Conference. Union Biblical Seminary and Otterbein University both owe much to his influence upon the Board of Trustees. He was President of both boards, giving not only his personal advice, but large financial aid to each. Otterbein University was David Rike's special love and care. Interested both in the church and in education, this filled the measure of each enthusiasm. The present and the future of the United Brethren Church he felt depended largely upon the support of this institution, and having been, in his own youth, deprived of educational advantages, he gave to it his undivided and affectionate service. Thus loyalty to his church developed into generous aid to the growth and culture of young men and women.
Mr. Shuey writes:
"Mr. Rike regarded Otterbein as essential to the life and growth of our church, many times being heard to say that he had no further work to do if the University failed. Having given many thousands to its support, he seemed willing to pour out his last dollar for its salvation. We all know the agony of his soul when the fate of this institution hung in the balance. * * * When the board gathered at Westerville to determine the life or death of the school, and its safety was at last assured, Mr. Rike wept like a child, and gave honor to God for the deliverance."
Otterbein was not the only educational establishment which he assisted,---it was the dearest only. From east to west he helped build churches and support missionaries; in his own city, scarcely a charity that did not profit by his generosity. When Mr. Rike responded to a private demand, it is said that he did it in such a way as to make the applicant comfortable, giving a larger sum always than was asked. While not in thorough accord with the purposes of the Young Men's Christian Association, he did contribute to its support. His jealous devotion to his own denomination made him distrust any organization that appeared to attract young men to it rather than to the church. This feeling he expressed with frankness.
In regard to Mr. Rike's business principles Mr. Shuey writes:
"His fortune came by legitimate, painstaking toil, He was not a speculator. Contented with reasonable profits, no man in the community can say the David L. Rike ever wilfully over-reached or deceived a customer. He allowed no clerk to misrepresent his goods. His word was par with gold."
The best illustration of Mr. Rike's conscientious spirit in the discharge of obligations, is the arrangement made by him with his two younger partners, when the business became a stock company. The firm had been known for twenty-five years as D. L. Rike & Company, Mr. Rike being the owmer of half the capital, the other two, of one fourth each.
Mr. S. E. Kumler, one of the partners, has explained it thus:
"In 1892 it was proposed to form a stock company, the three to own the preferred stock, in proportion to the capital invested, and the common stock to be divided equally; the stock company to be named The Rike Dry Goods Company. It will illustrate Mr. Rike's keen business perception, and at the same time show how he wished to give his young partners an advantage, to say that he figured the stock company business out in a few hours, he to have six per cent. on his surplus capital, after which the profits were to be divided equally between the three. He said that if the business paid but six per cent, The Rike Dry Goods Company would be simply and only the D. L. Rike and Company, with another added name; but if it paid more than six per cent, the common stock, which represented the energy of the men, and which was divided equally, would prove an incentive to the younger men of less capital, and advantageous to the business. He lived long enough to see that it paid him to lose."
We now come to some traits of Mr. Rike's character which will be a surprise to many who thought they knew him well. This grave, silent man was the kind of a child-lover that makes himself of one and the same age with the younger members of his family circle. He was the most welcome addition to any family party. The Rikes and Kumlers are noted for their family parties, for years twenty-five members of the clan meeting once a month at one house or another, to have a happy evening. Of that company, "Uncle Dave" was the oldest in years, and the youngest in spirit. He took part in all the games with the zest of those a third of his age; even playing charades, and dancing in a Virginia reel. He liked a good story, told jokes and enjoyed his own as much as anybody.
The only family enjoyment at which he drew the line for himself was the yearly camping trip. Mr. Rike did not enjoy "roughing it." He liked the comforts of his own home and the interests of "the store." Happy in their enjoyment he bade the Kumler-Rike kindred a warm farewell, as they departed each July for the Michigan woods, and took his own pleasure quietly at home.
Not caring to live in a tent, he did enjoy the country, and drove frequently with his wife on the roads around Dayton. One who often accompanied them, and sat on the front seat of the carriage with Mr. Rike, tells us that his love of our Miami valley was unbounded. He was continually calling attention to a mass of clouds, to a freshly plowed field, or to a symmetrical tree. Like Dr. Holmes, he loved trees, and knew individual ones about the country which gave him special pleasure. The autumn foliage filled him with joy. He wanted never to miss the fall coloring. Ten days before his death, in October, 1895, he drove out to the country for the last time; speaking then of the red maples and the beauty of it all. It was during this drive that he astonished those who accompanied him with his wide knowledge of the people round about, pointing out farm after farm, telling who lived there, and of the family connections, the history of the ground, whether it was obtained by Government grant or by private purchase. He not only knew them, but they knew him. Probably no one in Dayton had a wider acquaintance.
Mr. Rike was not a public man in any sense of the word. The only times he ever spoke in public were at church conferences or meetings. There his voice was often heard, but not at length. What was said was said briefly and to the point, accompanied always by habitual gestures that will be remembered by all the church people. Never quite at his ease in beginning, he soon found with his left hand, his watch-fob; having which to shake and turn through his fingers, steam came up to order and the things he wanted to say, got said.
The impression must not be given that because Mr. Rike lacked in oratory he lacked in public spirit. Any meeting with large interests as its cause found him always on the spot. He was a voluminous reader of newspapers. No question of politics, national or municipal, no theory of education, no item of value to a thinking man escaped him. He had not the college training, but he had the wide information on all public questions that is earned by a diligent and intelligent reading of journals. Besides his official connection with the United Brethren Church, Mr. Rike was director of the Columbia Insurance Company, the Merchant's National Bank, and the Miami Valley Hospital. All benefitted by his counsel.
The pity of it, that a life which meant so much to the community and to friends should come to an end! But the end was like the living that went before it; calm, steadfast and sure.
Mr. Shuey writes:
"Brother Rike died with no neglected duties, no unfinished work to be hastened and imperfectly accomplished in the hour when his strength was gone. His business occupied much of his thoughts; but when he saw that his work was done he gave himself no further concern, and surrendered his long and useful life without a murmur to Him who gave it."
Among the last words spoken to the group about his couch, were these,
"I am just going on before."
The question was put to him, "David, is your hope unshaken?"
The prompt reply was, "It is fixed."
Soon after, he passed into the Valley of the Shadow of Death.
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