Inducted: November 18, 2014
Phil Richards was born in Dresden, Ontario on October 18th, 1947 to Bill and Helen Richards, and lived on a farm in Camden Township near Dresden. He attended the Irish Public School (S.S. #6), just north of Dresden, and attended Dresden High School, following which he attended the Western Ontario Agricultural School in Ridgetown.
Phil served as Assistant Dean at Ridgetown College for the 1967/68 school year, under Dean Harold “Pop” Wilson. Eight days after the completion of the school year, “Pop” passed away of a heart attack, therefore, Phil was the last Assistant Dean serving under Dean Harold “Pop” Wilson.
He graduated from Western Ontario Agricultural School in 1967 and joined his father and brother, Ken on the family farm. The farming operation comprised of wheat, corn, soybeans, hogs and cattle. Over the years, the farming operation was expanded and modernized to become a cash crop operation growing processing tomatoes, processing peas, sugar beets, wheat, soybeans and field corn. Today, the farming operation includes a son Mark, brother Ken and nephew Mike.
He married Janet Argue from Chatham in 1969 and they have five children, Mark (Kris Kearney), Dan (Samantha Horton), Joe (Jennifer Holman), Cathy (Jeff deLaat), and Kim Richards. They also have 7 grandchildren.
Phil was very involved in several farm organizations and associations such as serving as President of the Kent Federation of Agriculture, serving on the Farm Debt Review Panel, and in the Farm Family Advisory Program. He was appointed to the Ontario Crop Insurance Board and also served on the Interim Board of Agri-Corp as Chair of the Crop Insurance Committee. Phil was a member of the Fund Raising Committee for the Rudy H. Brown Rural Development Centre at the University of Guelph, Ridgetown Campus.
After serving approximately 20 years on District One of the Ontario Processing Vegetable Growers, he then was elected to the Board of Directors of the Ontario Processing Vegetable Growers where he served as Vice-Chair, Chair, then Past Chair. Phil also serves on the Ontario Agri-Food Technologies Board of Directors, representing the Ontario Processing Vegetable Growers.
In 1994, Phil received the Kent Federation of Agriculture Meritorious Service Award and in 2009, he was awarded the Chatham-Kent Chamber of Commerce Agriculturalist of the Year, both awards shared with his wife, Janet.
In the community, Phil serves on the Board of Directors of the North Kent Mutual Insurance Company, and was President for 3 years. He belongs to the Rotary Club of Dresden where he served as President twice and was awarded a Paul Harris Fellowship in 1998 for his voluntary work in the community. He was also part of the Chatham-Kent Committee of Adjustment Citizen Panel from 2000-2009.
Regardless which Committee or Board position Phil serves in, his objective is to ensure the decisions made are fair to all concerned and will benefit all concerned and will build goodwill.
He is described as one who values science based, critical and independent thinkers and does not believe what is said without the proof of research.
A farm neighbour said that Phil is a straight shooter and a mover and shaker on the Vegetable Board. He always tries to do the right thing.
Janet Richards was born Janet Argue in 1946 in Winnipeg to Robert Argue and Patricia Armstrong and travelled to Chatham at a young age with her mother. She attended McKeough Public School, Tecumseh Secondary School and then graduated from Chatham Collegiate Institute. In 1968 she graduated from the Public General Hospital School of Nursing.
In 1969, Janet married Phil Richards whom she met at a church young people’s group.
As a busy farm wife and mother, and involved in a large and growing agricultural operation, Janet made time for community service. Her interest included 4-H club leader for 15 years, and was an active Women’s Institute member with Molly Creek, and later with the Kent Bridge W.I.
Janet became the W.I.’s representative to the Kent Farm Safety Association (KFSA). She served as the Secretary/Treasurer in the beginning and has been credited by long time Health and Safety Consultant Ron Jones, as the motivational strength that guided the organization through the years.
Janet knew that farm safety in Ontario had a terrible record dating back to the late 1950’s, and in the late 1970’s, 17 children had died in one year in one neighbouring county. The KFSA took their mandate seriously but programming and direction was limited. The goal was obvious that injuries and death had to be reduced.
Brian King (a current Chatham-Kent Councillor) was a member and chair of KFSA for over 12 years and witnessed the improvement that came as Janet became more vocal about what had to be done.
Janet wrote letters requesting financial support. Core funding was received from Kent County Council/Chatham-Kent. The organization
finally had a positive bank balance. As well, provincial grant applications were written. The biggest grant received was $70,000 from the Trillium Foundation to be used for fire safety. Janet believed that farm safety had to reverse its course from being reactive to proactive for prevention.
A working relationship was developed with the local media. Harold Smith of Radio Station CFCO AM in Chatham supported the idea for more commercials and public awareness spots speaking about farm safety, which resulted in a great partnership. Greater awareness about farm dangers, and especially serious injuries to children were better explained, and raised the attention on this subject to a much higher consciousness. What might have been ignored in the past, was no longer acceptable.
New sponsors, donations and new representatives from Ridgetown College (RCAT), now the University of Guelph Ridgetown Campus, brought new members to the board. With better organization skills and co-ordination, there was a sense of coming of age as a group. SMV (slow moving vehicle) signs were sourced and the partnerships with Chatham-Kent got the signs in the strategic locations. This signalled that more projects would increase new methods for public education of safety rules. The old school of learning by hard knocks was being replaced by more professional hands on demonstrations.
The most prominent of these was the creation of the Chatham-Kent Farm Safety Kids’ Day in 1991. Children (ages 6 – 12) were invited to attend to learn about up to 8 different types of hazards, those being -- Fire safety and alarms; Fire extinguishers; Safety near grain bins; Safety near gravity box wagons; Safety near deep creeks; Lawnmower safety; Sun safety; and Bicycle Safety.
Trained volunteers explained the consequences of not doing things the right way. Janet served for more than 20 years as co-ordinator of this program.
Ridgetown College and eventually the University of Guelph Ridgetown Campus, was the sight of this yearly July event. Fire Departments from Orford, Highgate and Merlin assisted over the years. Experienced volunteers identified, demonstrated and explained the serious consequences that could result from being complacent about dangerous situations.
Provincially, Janet served for Kent, Essex, Lambton, and Middlesex County regional leadership roles and chaired the Ontario Farm Safety Association for several terms.
In her community, Janet was also involved with the Women’s Development Day, the Hunger Coalition, the Good Food Box, the
Community Kitchen in Dresden, she is a past volunteer with the Palliative Care Visiting Program, was a member of the Kent District Health Council and today is on the Board of Chatham-Kent Family Health Team. Janet is also a Rotary Paul Harris Fellow.
Janet’s message through the years has been to state the hard truth. “None of us are born with common sense. The message has to be told and continually repeated that farm safety for kids is one of our greatest challenges. Only when we get to virtually zero incidents, can we feel that we are accomplishing our purpose. That being said, we can and must do our best to lower the statistics.”
The name of Janet Richards will always be synonymous with farm safety in Chatham-Kent.
As previously mentioned, Janet shared the KFA Meritorious Award in 1994, and the Chatham-Kent Chamber of Commerce Agriculturalist of the Year Award in 2009, with her husband, Phil.