Updated: Aug 21, 2020
I got to know Rick Marsh nearly eight years ago when our paths crossed at Curt’s Cafe.
Rick was one of the original members of a group of men that provided support and mentorship to our students at Curt’s. Over the years, I have sat on the Curt’s Board, on which Rick is currently president, and have gotten to know him as an upbeat, glass-half-full leader and cheerleader for all things related to Evanston youth.
I finally had the opportunity to have a long conversation with Rick about his personal journey, and all the ways he has embraced mentorship as a pathway to connection and success for all those with whom he comes in contact.
LD: Rick, tell me about your background.
RM: I was born and raised in New York City. Born in the Bronx and spent my formative years in Queens. A typical suburban childhood. Little league baseball, community centers, mentors and then, the bug of basketball, shaped my early years.
High School basketball defined my future as I grew as a player and was awarded NYC -All City & All-American honors. I accepted a full basketball scholarship to the University of Nebraska. I spent two years there but homesickness led me back to NYC and to Manhattan College. MC was a haven for New York City former high school players that left for greener pastures but wanted to come home. My teammates were old-school NYC players and Madison Square Garden was our proving ground against some of the top teams in the country.
I graduated with a Bachelor’s Degree in Business Management and was drafted by the Golden State Warriors in the NBA.
LD: Have you ever failed at something and had to pick yourself up?
RM: I had a lifelong dream of playing in the NBA. I was fortunate enough to reach that dream when I played for the Golden State Warriors. I played in the NBA for a season with them and started in over 50 games. The next season, the NBA reduced the team rosters to 11 from 12 players, due to the gas crisis, and I was cut. First time I was ever cut in my life. First time someone ever told me, 'we have to let you go." I had to pick myself up from that. This was a lifelong dream, and I attained it. Then you sit down in the office with the coach and he says “We have to let you go. You proved that you can play in the NBA but the numbers are the numbers.”
Many a player has had a hard time with the end of a dream.
I had to make some decisions on the next stage of my life.
I had to come back home from California, so I said, "I'm just gonna drive back home by myself and take my time and get my mindset back."
So I drove my 280Z from the Bay Area to New York City and it took me five days. By the time I got back home, I knew that I needed to give my basketball career another shot. I didn’t want to look myself in the mirror in 10 years and say, "you could have tried again."
And so, I did. I played in the Eastern League, which was a far cry from the NBA, but a semi-pro type league. I was a substitute teacher by day at a high school in New Jersey and I was staying in shape. My agent set me up with the Boston Celtics. I played for them throughout the summer, pre-season camp and through the exhibition season. I even played a few games during the regular season and then I was cut again.
I remember being on the bus when we were coming from a game in which I didn’t play at all and I saw the handwriting on the wall. I thought about going overseas to play, and then I said, "let me just start a business career now while alumni folks still know me and can support my next life phase."
So, I had to work my way through that scenario of ending a lifelong dream that I actually attained but then lost, and had to figure out how to move forward.
Rick Marsh: Golden State Warrior
LD: How did your professional life evolve?
RM: After basketball, I began my corporate sales career with Champion International, a forest products company. I was assigned to a plant in Waukegan. I sold corrugated containers, boxes. From the NBA, to the Eastern League and to a short stint with the Boston Celtics, to then, selling boxes, was humbling.
I was good, though. It was time to move on with my life. In that same year, I married my wife Holly and we settled in the Midwest. Holly is from NYC but grew up in Bermuda. We purchased a house and settled in Evanston with our 3 month old son, Ryan. That was 36 years ago.
My career grew and for the next 32 years, I worked for the DuPont Company, Packaging Graphics Division. After a variety of DuPont sales and management roles, I retired in 2016. My last job responsibility was managing a global corporate accounts sales team.
LD: Do you have a mantra or guiding life principles?
RM: One of the benefits I had growing up was, I always had mentors who looked out for me and gave me the right words, the right thoughts, and were helpful in a sincere way. I know these guys until this day and I’m still connected to them.
My mantra is all about youth development, giving back, and being a mentor. I’ve been a member of FAAM, the Fellowship of Afro-American Men Youth Basketball Organization, as a coach, mentor, and as president over the past 36 years. FAAM was a big part of keeping my family here in Evanston. The relationships that have been built over my 36 years of coaching and mentoring are invaluable. I’m still called “Coach” by many of my junior high school former players. Some of them are well into their 40’s. Pretty special.
With FAAM you’ve got 6th, 7th and 8th graders at a time in their lives where they need community, they need mentors, they need people that can give them the right words, the right counsel. So here I am in retirement, and my focus and mission is fully around youth development. Hence, my involvement with Curt’s Cafe, FAAM, the Evanston Recreation Board, and now also, the Citizen Police Review Commission. With the Commission, I’d like to define how our young people can better interact with the police.
LD: Talk about your involvement with Curt’s Cafe.
RM: I've been in involved with Curt’s Café, initially as a mentor, then a Board member, and for the past three-and-a-half years, as Board President. Through restaurant and life-skills training, our mission is to improve outcomes for young adults living in at-risk situations. During my tenure as Board President, our goals have included diversifying our board team and having an Evanston police officer as a member. Meeting those particular goals were important to better defining the needs of our students.
LD: Tell me about a kid you connected with through FAAM?
RM: I had this young man, Tray Martin, on our FAAM team. He’s developed into our son and has been a part of our family since he was 11 years old. In FAAM, you coach and mentor a lot of kids through the years. Some just stick to you, and he was one. He had some family issues and we became a surrogate family for him. I would invite him over as a youngster and he would hang out with us during family gatherings, holidays, and after FAAM games. He played basketball at ETHS and on senior night, my wife and I were there filling in as his parents. Tray is 47 now and he’s been family all these years. Heck, we are godparents to his 21-year-old daughter.