FORT SMITH, Ark. – Richard Udouj, a former president of Riverside Furniture Corp. and past president of the American Furniture Manufacturers Assn., died on Oct. 4 in Fort Smith, Ark., where he lived his entire life. He was 84.
After attending St. Anne’s Academy in Fort Smith and the University of Arkansas, he graduated from Creighton University in Omaha, where he also was a member of the Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity.
He then took a position at Riverside Furniture, which was founded by his uncles in 1946. After many years of service, he became president of the company. He retired from the company in 1990 but was active in the industry for years later as a consultant.
Udouj also was a director of Arkansas Best Co., an executive director of the Home Furnishings Council and president of the American Furniture Manufacturers Assn. He also was first president of the American Furniture Hall of Fame, president of the Manufacturers Executive Assn. in Fort Smith and a wood advisor specialist at Winrock International.
In addition, he was elected to the Arkansas Furniture Hall of Fame and received the International Home Furnishings Representatives Assn. Pillar of the Industry Award. He also was nominated twice for the American Home Furnishings Hall of Fame.
Earlier in his life, he was chosen as an Outstanding Young Man of Fort Smith in 1967 and was one of five recipients of the Outstanding Young Man of Arkansas award in 1969. He also was a charter board member of Leadership Fort Smith and served on the Fort Smith Chamber of Commerce Board and served on the U.S. Marshals Museum Development Board. He also was a founding member of the Hardwood Tree Museum and acting president of the Fort Smith Art Center for 10 years.
He also was very involved at Mercy Hospital, where he sat on the board of trustees, served as president of the board of advisors and also was involved in the Trinity Junior High Fund Drive for Endowments and was on the nominating committee for president of Trinity Educational Trust.
Udouj attained the Life Scout position in the Boy Scouts of America and also supported his sons’ involvement in the Boy Scouts. He became a den organizer for local packs, served as president of the Westark Area Council Boy Scouts of America and was chair of the fund drive for Rogers Scout Reservation and received the St. George Award, Phoenix Order of the Arrow, Ad Altare Dei Award and the Silver Beaver Award.
Howard J “Buddy” Spradlin, former CEO of Riverside, said he knew Udouj for more than 60 years and worked for him for half that time.
“He was a delightful guy to work for,” said Spradlin. “There is no doubt that he improved my life and the life of my family. When you know someone 60 years and work for him for 30 and still love him, that is a pretty good indication of what type of man he was. He was a remarkable person.”
Riverside President and CEO Fred Henjes said he, too, was grateful to have known and worked for Udouj.
“Thirty-one years ago, Dick took a chance in hiring me to the Baltimore, Washington sales territory with no industry experience,” he said. “While we only worked together a little over a year, I look back fondly at the time we spent together and remain extremely appreciative for the opportunity. Dick was an industry icon and was among the most visible and popular executives I’ve ever seen around.
“Dick was responsible for making Riverside a national player in the case goods category and will be sorely missed,” he added.
Also grateful to Udouj was Scott Ostrander, now president and managing partner of Austin Group Furniture. He started working for the company around 1987 as a product engineer.
“Dick was a very important part of my career,” Ostrander said, noting that he stayed in touch with him even after he left Riverside. “I owe him a huge amount gratitude for the opportunities and experience he gave me during the first 15 years of my experience. He will be truly missed.”
Udouj is survived by his wife of 61 years, Mary Youmans Udouj; a brother and a sister; four children; nine grandchildren; two step-grandchildren; and one great-grandchild.
A rosary service will be said at 6 p.m., Oct. 8, at St. Boniface Catholic Church, and a funeral service will be held 1 p.m., Oct. 9, at Christ the King Catholic Church in Fort Smith. A private graveside service will follow under the direction of Edwards Funeral Home.
In lieu of flowers, memorial contributions may be made to Christ the King School Scholarship Fund, Mercy Hospital or the Boy Scouts of America.