Rachel Blood and Breanna Ostermann sat at a booth in laughing and reminiscing over a bowl of soup.
The actuality of their friends’ death was still unreal as they shared stories that were so tangible it was as if the events had unrolled a night earlier and Richard Grande was about to join them at the table.
Grande, 20, a 2010 graduate, .
'Most Genuine Person I Have Ever Met'
It would only be when Blood and Ostermann scrolled to Grande’s name in their phones to send a text or give a call that they would realize his death, they said.
Grande is well remembered for his distinct laugh. A “Richard Grande laugh.” One that cannot be described except by some for its comparison to Elmo. It was infectious, his friends said, and they can remember it clearly.
“One that I can close my eyes and just hear but I will never be able to explain it. His smile could light up a room, literally,” said Courtney Pal, who met Grande in middle school. “I will definitely miss hearing his laugh and seeing that smile around town.”
His friends described him as genuine, handsome, hardworking, care-free, outgoing, caring, loving, confident, selfless, warmhearted, full of life, competitive, strong, passionate, all-American, intelligent, vibrant, optimistic, a brother, a goofball, a dare devil, happy and in love with himself.
“He was the most genuine person I have ever met. He was never afraid to be himself, he just stood out. He just had something about him that commanded your attention,” said Ron Stephensen, who was relay partners with Grande on Lacey Township High School’s track team from 2007-08.
One of Stephensen’s fondest memories of Grande was when he was learning how to throw a javelin, he said. Grande attempted to throw it and hit himself in the back of the head.
“I remember we all, including Rich, laughed for a long time. I will never forget it,” said Stephensen, adding that he is “blessed” to have known Grande and is a better person for his influence.
Jason England, coach of the track team, said Grande was the leader of the group who took the throwing program to the highest level. Grande was a four-year letter winner, captain in his senior year, receiving countless medals.
It was the bond that the team shared from all the hard work and time they committed that made the experience “incredible,” he said.
“I will always remember him for his work ethic, competitiveness, eagerness to help others, and infectious laugh. He was truly a special person who was full of life and will never be forgotten by everyone who knew him,” England said.
People were impressed by Grande, who had all of his dreams at his fingertips, and aspired to be as good of a person as he was, Anthony Caputo said. Caputo met Grande at hockey practice when he was 12 years old. Since then they’d grown to become brothers.
One of Caputo’s fondest memories of Grande was when they were hanging out in a friend’s backyard and a skunk scurried past them.
“So being the cowboy he was his eyes lit up and we screamed "SKUNK" and sprinted after it,” he said. “We got too close because we both got sprayed but it is a memory and moment I wouldn't trade for anything and now every time I smell a skunk I will think of him and that night.”
Grande’s friends also called him “memorable.”
Osterman and Blood reflected on the time they hung out and simply danced—“the cha-cha slide to the full extent”—for hours.
Recently he took on a self-proclaimed nickname—Wrangler Nash—where he would undertook a new personality and talked with a country accent.
“We feel so lucky to know him,” Blood said. “We got to know him as Rich and Wrangler Nash.”
But it wasn’t all fun and games with Grande, they said.
'Richard Taught Me How To Love'
Osterman said she had been bullied in high school and Grande was always there to protect her and put a stop to it. He would walk with her through the hallways.
He loved his family and his girlfriend Melanie Anderson more than anything, they said.
“Him and Mel were inseparable. They were the cutest thing. They were that couple you just knew were going to get married,” Blood said.
Anderson said she and Grande spent every day possible together. She went to all his hockey games and they traveled to Disney World.
“I’ve never met anyone like him that could be friends with every group of people and never say a bad word about anyone,” she said.
Grande and Anderson dated for three years and every day they spent together was one she will never forget, she said.
“Every single day of those three years will be the best three years of my life. From Richard’s big grin and goofy dancing, not a day will go by that I don’t think of him and love him,” she said.
As a 20-year-old, Grande lived and accomplished more than most do in a lifetime, she said.
“Richard taught me how to love. We both loved each other so much and although we sometimes had out differences everyone knew that we still loved each other more than anything and would do anything for each other,” she said.
Now, Grande is Anderson’s guardian angel, she said.
“My heart is broken but I know he would want me to smile and live for him,” she said.
Grande’s funeral was attended by hundreds and lasted approximately seven hours, Blood said. Afterwards, many gathered for a get-together in his memory and raised more than $500 for a scholarship fund.
Since the death, everyone—friends and family—have stuck together, Blood said.
“It’s everyone’s first friend. We didn’t know what to do,” she said.
Matthew Uveges, Grande’s good friend, was honored to be a pallbearer, his mother Ruth Uveges said.
“He called it the greatest moment at the worst time of his life,” she said.
Matthew Uveges remembers their last conversation, as they agreed that they were long passed the point of best friends and considered each other brothers.
“He taught me to always appreciate my life and never sweat the little things. He taught me it was better to be happy and walk around with a smile on your face, even when something is bothering because no matter what, things would always get better. He taught me that it’s ok to just be yourself and ignore what people have to say negatively about it. He taught me how to be a better man, and live a better life,” Uveges said.
“I'll remember how loved he made me feel, and I'll remember that I have a brother up in heaven waiting for me.”