Richard Francis Reifers, 95 Executive and inventor

Surrounded by family, Richard Francis Reifers died of natural causes on February 22nd after arriving at Norwalk Hospital earlier that day. He’d recently celebrated his 95th birthday on January 12th with his family in New Canaan where they’ve lived since 1957.

Born in 1919 at home in Lafayette, Indiana to parents Ann Schaack and John Reifers, he was the fourth of their five children. John and his brothers owned and operated Reifers Furniture store in Lafayette and later, Indianapolis.

While at Purdue, following two years of ROTC in Field Artillery, he was drafted in September 1941 into the 45th Division FA, Army Air Corp at Scott Field, Illinois. Trained as an Aviation Cadet in Radio Communications, Codes and Ciphers, and Base Intelligence, he later served as Base Signal Officer, Cryptographic Officer, Squadron Special Investigator and Flight Intelligence Officer. His active military role ended in 1946 but he remained in the reserves as a Captain in the Air Force until 1958.

In 1948 he received a B.A. in Industrial Design from the Institute of Design of the Illinois Institute of Technology. Buckminster Fuller, who designed the geodesic dome for the New York World’s Fair, was his mentor and became a lifelong friend. Dick began his career as chief packaging designer for two firms in Chicago: W.C. Ritchie, maker of custom packaging for pharmaceutical & cosmetics, and Self-Locking Carton Company.

On a blind date, he met Elizabeth Diane Goulet, a sportswear buyer for Charles A. Stevens in Chicago. Despite his wearing the same suit (his best suit, mistakenly hoping to impress her) on their first three dates, they were married in 1950. She had interpreted his finally switching to a different suit on their fourth date as a positive sign of his interest, incorrectly assuming he’d finally bought a new suit to woo her (but it was actually one he already owned, his second best suit).

Following a buyout of the Self-Locking Carton Company to Diamond International Corp., a diversified lumber, paper, packaging, printing, molded pulp products and machinery company headquartered in New York City in 1957. He moved East with Diamond, later becoming corporate Vice President in 1962 in charge of product design and development as well as package development. In 1967 he became a Group Vice President. By 1977, he was in charge of several divisions in the U.S., Canada and Europe: Fiber Products, Automation, Manchester Machine, Calmar, Diamond Automation Divisions as well as all European Operations.

While at Diamond he co-invented the one-piece molded pulp egg carton combined with a simple lid and button lock which was later also used in Styrofoam and clear plastic. His design remains unrivaled and is easily found in stores today. His name is on over 100 patents for Diamond throughout the world. After retirement, he independently pursued a child-resistant cap he designed with modifications by Robert Mileti which they hoped might be produced working together with Alcan’s pharmaceutical division, later Amcor.  He never lost his optimism in his creativity and problem-solving abilities.

An Indiana gardener at heart, he frequently rode a tractor around the woods on his property overseeing projects, such as planting 2,400 daffodils. He was especially dedicated to the town’s ‘mail garden’, the now-popular mailbox drive-through located off Pine Street across from the former Post Office building which was the result of his initiative and design after seeing a friend fall in the winter outside the Post Office while trying to mail a letter at the old outdoor mailboxes. Collaboration ultimately resulted in six drive-thru height mailboxes being installed in the newly-created site which began in 1992 with help from the postmasters, the Department of Public Works, the Police Department, the Lions Club, the Chamber of Commerce and especially George Valchar, author of My Connecticut Garden who selected and maintained the plantings for over 14 years before turning it over to the Garden Center in 2007.

Taking up golf later in life, he won the Senior club championship four times (1985, 1995, 2000 & 2001) at The Country Club of New Canaan. His late brothers James and Robert both played golf, with Bob once designing a golf putter, and his grandnephew Kyle is currently a pro golfer competing on the Nationwide Tour. Over a span of more than 40 years, Dick also enjoyed frequent poker games at The Poker Club with an informal group of friends in town. Both he and his late wife were founding members of both the Lake Club and the New Canaan Dance Club.

In 1992-3, he served as President of the Senior Men’s Club and was very active in its programs including securing speakers for the club’s weekly membership meetings. He later organized the club’s now established annual Past Presidents Luncheon. More recently, he was a volunteer on the Police Commission’s Traffic Calming Committee as well.

He was active in St. Aloysius Church for many years including the prison ministry which the Knights of Malta still manage. He joined the church’s weekly Bible Study Group for several years.

As chief of his sons’ Indian Guides tribe, he marched with them in the Memorial Parade carrying uniquely carved and painted 10-foot totem poles made from blocks of Styrofoam. His 25+ foot teepee remained in the woods one winter until lighting the campfire inside awakened the hunger of hibernating mosquitoes!

Besides his parents, he was also predeceased by his brothers James Reifers and Robert J. Reifers of Indiana and his sister Edna Reifers Sullivan of California.

Dick is survived by his sister Corinne Reifers MacDonald of West Lafayette, IN; his five children: Meriane Reifers Martin of Fayetteville, NY; Beth Marie Reifers of New Canaan (formerly New York City); Mark J. Reifers (Carolyn) of Wilton, CT; Collette Reifers Huidekoper (Hank) of Wilton, CT ; and John G. Reifers of El Paso, TX (Becky). He is also survived by his six grandchildren: Elizabeth Reifers Martin, Melissa and Steven Reifers, Henry and Christie Huidekoper, and Andrew Reifers.

A memorial mass of Christian burial will be held on Saturday, March 15th, at 10:30 am at St. Aloysius Church, 21 Cherry Street, New Canaan, CT 06840, followed by a reception immediately afterwards. Interment will be private.

In lieu of flowers, memorial contributions may be made to Getabout, Inc. (a van service for senior & special needs residents) P.O. Box 224, New Canaan, CT 06840 or St. Aloysius Youth Ministry, 40 Maple Street, New Canaan, CT 06840,

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—by the family