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Richard “Buzz” O. Kwapil ’60, 73, passed at his home surrounded by his family on April 18, 2012. His older sister, Carmel, bestowed the nickname before he was five years old for his always "buzzing around." Yearbooks, friends, and family embraced the name.
Buzz passed away after almost 20 years of marriage to his wonderful wife, Nancy Edwards Kwapil, whom he married on January 2, 1993. In 1992, Buzz asked each of Nancy’s three adult children, Kathi, John and Jim for her hand in marriage, explaining he’d been diagnosed with cancer in 1990 and wasn’t sure how long he had to live, but wanted to spend the rest of his few years with their mom, if "the kids" approved. Nancy’s children happily agreed and joined Corinne (Cori) and niece Elena to become a blended Kwapil family spanning Reno, Houston, Denver and Johannesburg, South Africa.
Buzz frequently commented how blessed he was to have had two wonderful beautiful wives and such a large loving family to whom he became a father.
Buzz’s first "sweetheart" was Leah Rae Larson, whom he married in 1962 and who passed away on 1991. Buzz and Leah were blessed when Corinne Marie Kwapil arrived on May 14, 1969. The couple were predeceased by two stillborn sons in 1970 and 1971. Buzz’s niece, Elena, arrived to the Kwapil home in 1979 after his sister, Carmel K. Bannick, passed away from cancer. Buzz and Leah raised Elena as their second daughter.
A lawyer, world traveler, philanthropist, devout Catholic and bon vivant, Buzz fought non-Hodgkins lymphoma for more than two decades, becoming what he called a "poster boy" for his Reno oncologists and Stanford experimental treatment programs. What finally defeated him was the late effect of radiation on his heart and lungs after a treatment in July 2011 for a tumor near his heart. Regarding his prognosis-defying ordeal with cancer, Buzz declared, "when the going gets tough, the tough get going."
Often referring to himself as "just a country lawyer," Buzz was a member of the Woodburn and Wedge law firm in Reno, Nevada from 1963 until his retirement in 2005. From its establishment in 1994, he served as Chairman and President of the Leonette Foundation, a philanthropy that supports innovative medical and assistance programs for needy seniors and deprived children who fall through the cracks of government assistance programs in Northern Nevada.
Buzz’s philanthropy and personal altruism extended far beyond his foundation work. In so many different ways he generously helped friends and family in times of dire need. One of his favorites quotes, "do unto others as you would have other people do unto you," was indeed how he tried to live each day. One of his friends for 50 years noted to him recently, "it has been a certainty that there was no way we could out-give you."
At Reno High School where he graduated in 1956, Buzz recounted that some of his teachers thought him a "lazy student." For his junior year, his parents finally sent Buzz away to a Jesuit boarding school, St. Robert Bellerman, in San Jose, "a game changer in my life."
Already in love with Leah, he was a self-proclaimed "chiseler" who in his first months at Bellerman devised a way to visit her after receiving a letter from his father proclaiming he would miss Buzz at an upcoming duck hunt. Plotting his escape, Buzz decided to tell the stern President of the school that this was an important family tradition where men hunted and women folk cooked together. Academic leadership took pity on Buzz, allowing him a cash advance to take a bus toward Reno.
Upon Buzz’s unexpected arrival back to Reno, his parents dutifully welcomed him, he saw Leah, and took part in the duck hunt. Thereafter his parents insisted on driving him back to school, where Buzz said, "I should have known something was up." The headmaster later told Buzz that he’d never received more of a tongue-lashing than from Buzz’s mother for allowing him to leave campus.
Buzz graduated with a BSC from University of Santa Clara in 1960 and a law degree from the University of California Hastings College of Law in 1963 where he served on the Law Review. For the last 30 years of his law practice, Buzz served as attorney for the Catholic Diocese of Reno-Las Vegas, encompassing the entire state.
In 2005, Pope Benedict conferred on Buzz a special Papal Award, Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice, a rare token of recognition for a life of exemplary service to the Catholic Church and the public. The esteemed award acknowledges Papal gratitude and respect for him and his dignified commitment to the Christian ideals of faith, justice and charity.
Buzz was also a Knight of the Order of the Holy Sepulchre, having received the highest rank of Knight of the Grand Cross. Membership is considered one of the highest honors conferred upon clergy and laity alike. Selection occurs because of meritorious service to the Church, to the community and to one’s fellow man. Since 1963, Buzz was also a member of Reno Prospectors’ Club.
At the end of a walk in Bath, England in 2008, Buzz found inspiration in an old tombstone: "Here lies Fred. He’s dead. Enough said."
Before embarking on a new (successful) round of cancer treatment three years ago, he told family he wanted his own epitaph to read: "Here lies Buzz. He was . . . "
And so it shall be done. Buzz wants others to fill in the rest, mentioning a few unprintable words some might choose, his humor intact through his last days.
Aunt Frances, the senior member of the Kwapil family whose ancestors arrived to Iowa from Bohemia in 1883, noted, "Buzz had a strong family sense. He put himself out to get the family together."
Another family member said Buzz was . . . "a toasted marshmallow, a little crusty on the outside and sometimes on fire, but all warm and mushy on the inside, and full of goodness."
The family thanks friends, clergy, doctors, and nurses (especially Stacia, Trent, Melissa, Karl-R) at St. Mary’s Hospital, and the amazing Cynthia and Tracy at BrightStar for the loving care and support provided in the past month.
Buzz is survived by his widow, Nancy, their children – daughters Corinne Kwapil-Golden (husband Kenny, Reno) known as "little Cori Kwapil," Elena (Nena) Bannick Ross (husband, Ben, Reno) and Kathi Walther Bouma (husband Richard, Johannesburg); sons, John Walther (wife Kay, Houston), Jim Walther (wife Lisa, Denver); grandchildren, Alex, Nicholis, Richard (Buzz’s namesake), Hunter, Maeleigh (Reno, Idaho), Brittany, Lyndsay, Ben, Lance, Sean, Spencer, (Reno), Jack, Juliana, Karinne (Denver), Mary Claire, John (Chicago and Houston), Adam (wife Eleanor, London), William (wife Laura, London), and great grand daughter Emmie (London); niece, Elizabeth Bannick Sullivan (husband Dave, Atlanta), nephew Nick Bannick (wife Teresa, Houston); and Buzz’s aunt, Frances Kwapil (Seattle), and other dear friends whom Buzz considered members of his extended family.