While the past history of the Eickholt family isn’t well documented, it’s safe to say that the family hasn’t had the best of luck with money.
On July 15, 1945, Richard Eickholt was the seventh child born to Martha and Eugene Eickholt in Sioux City, Iowa. Martha couldn’t read or write, but she was very religious and had an unparalleled love for her kids. However, Eugene left the family when Richard was 1 years old. He sent money, but never came back.
The Eickholts are primarily of German descent and were originally known as the “Von Eickholt” family. The “Von” was dropped as soon as the family entered the United States. The Eickholts lived off the government in a small house. Richard, who would become my dad, got a job in 1957 when he was 12, so that he could have some pocket money.
“I worked in a grocery store doing everything I could,” he said. “He would pay me 75 cents a week, and I’d be satisfied with that.”
Richard was so poor growing up that he said the best Christmas gift he ever got was “a box of Kleenex.” Things were never easy growing up, and it could have been easy to fall into making poor decisions time and time again, but there were two things that Richard had that very few other people did.
“My word was the thing I took the most pride in,” he said. “If you lose your word, it’s hard to ever regain it back. The second thing was I worked harder than most people. I got the job done the right way.”
Richard graduated from Sioux City High in 1963 with an astounding 1.97 GPA. He took some specialized college classes, but never pursued a degree. He went right into the working world, where he thrived. He worked for Midwest Public Power and eventually was promoted to project manager for the company, where he would have a 30-year tenure.
In 1970, Richard bought a gold chain necklace, the first of several he’d come to own. The necklace was a constant in his life, as he matured and dealt with the struggles of his siblings.
Both sets of my grandparents have been dead for a long time and half of my dad’s siblings also have died. The remaining family members live off of government programs and what little money they saved up during their time working. But they have never complained and are always the first to help people.
“It’s just the way Mom would have wanted us to be,” said my aunt, Marlene Eickholt. “Richie (Richard) has always helped me, so if I can pass that along to someone else. That’s just fine by me.”
The gold chain was ever-present except for my father’s biggest hurdle in life: cancer.
On July 28, 2014, my father called me upstairs and delivered the worst news of my life. He told me that he had been diagnosed with the disease, two weeks before I left for college. I was horrified and sick to my stomach. Up to this point in my life, I had never seen my dad without a gold chain. But he took it off and put it around my neck and told me all that it had been through with him.
“Keep the Eickholt name proud and keep your family close.”
My father is in remission now and is happily retired with his wife, Valerie. They love traveling and hope one day to get back to Germany, so that they can trace our roots.
While not much is known about our family’s long-ago journey to the United States, it doesn’t affect how proud I am of my family’s heritage. It’s more than just my love of craft beer, chocolate and pride in my country. It’s about every single morning when I put on that gold chain, I’m reminded of the hundreds of Eickholts who have come before me, my German pride and keeping the “Von Eickholt” name alive.