Obituary: Richard Otto Wahlgren, Town Stawalt

Richard Otto Wahlgren was born to Carl and Eleanor Wahlgren in Rockford, Illinois, on October 28, 1933. He passed away peacefully on January 29, 2020, at the UCLA Medical Center surrounded by his family.

He was a cherished son in a close-knit Swedish immigrant family of four brothers. His father’s pursuit of the American dream led them from Sweden, instilling in the family a deep appreciation for their heritage and solid Lutheran values.

When he was 7, Richard took on a struggling paper route and built it into a thriving business with help from older brother Gordon.  Over the years, Richard grew his business until he had a newspaper stand with every major employer, manufacturer, and in government offices, grocery stores, residential and commercial business.

When he was only 16, he was able to purchase a car for his father with money from his route.  He bought a second car, so the teams of boys who worked for him could take turns getting warm, while they sorted the huge stacks of papers before distribution. He also opened a soda fountain account for them nearby.

A year later, he was offered a partnership in the newspaper, but instead married his high school sweetheart, Patricia Eastman, and then enlisted in the U.S. Air Force.

After about 10 years of service, and the birth of his son Rick, he left the Air Force and moved to California, settling in Santa Monica, near his wife’s family.

Richard worked full-time at Sears while attending community college to get a business degree. His years as a paperboy, interactions with business and government leaders in his community had created a passionate interest in banking, real estate and the stock market.

Richard was given his first opportunity in banking by a woman who recognized his potential, and he never forgot her impact on his life, and took the lead in promoting female leadership roles in the banking business.

He started in Savings & Loans and was one of a small group of professionals who helped create the loan processing standards for both commercial and residential loan processing and approval—and led a group to write the manuals possibly still used nationally today.

Richard went into banking at the First Federal Bank in Santa Monica. He was instrumental in the bank’s rapid growth and helped take it public in the 1980s.

He would spend the next 30 years in the banking business. Richard was an expert witness for the banking and financial sector and called upon to investigate complex financial transactions. He occasionally worked closely with the FBI to unravel questionable activity in banking and financial markets.

He retired from First Federal Bank in Santa Monica where he was President of Seaside Bank and Senior VP of First Federal Bank and Chief Loan Officer. He oversaw significant commercial and residential developments at a time when many deals were closed with a handshake. He worked closely with small businesses, real estate developers, and builders in Pacific Palisades and financed many of the developments in the Village.

After leaving First Federal, he started Wahlgren Real Estate & Financial with his son, Richard C. and his daughter, Michelle. They worked together as commercial and residential mortgage brokers.

Richard was always very proud of his children’s many accomplishments. They closed the mortgage business in 1996, and he focused on his real estate investments and stock portfolios.

He was a member of the Bel Air Country Club, served as the president of the Optimists Club, and was a member of the Palisades American Legion. He was a member of California Yacht Club and the Windjammer Yacht Club where he often enjoyed sailing with his son Rick at the Wednesday regattas.

Richard loved to play golf with his son Rick. He loved to run, swim, bike, ski, play tennis and he especially loved to hike with his daughter Michelle in the local mountains.

He loved to dance, and also played five instruments: French horn, coronet, tuba, piano and organ.

He helped to start the Santa Monica Boys Club. His daughter, Michelle, asked him why girls were not included in this club. In response, it became the Boys and Girls Club.

Richard had uncompromising business ethics and always treated others with respect and honesty. He was the calm in the room, able to gain the respect and cooperation of others, even in the most uncompromising situations.

He was an avid reader who read six newspapers daily. He loved to work in his garden and enjoyed a glass of wine at the end of the day.

He loved spending time with his family at his house in the Palisades Highlands. He was eager to attend his children’s and grandchildren’s educational and athletic activities and programs.

Richard was a quiet, humble man who met life with an honest heart and a passion to make a difference.

He is survived by his wife Helen, children Richard (Gina) and Michelle (Jan), stepchildren Leif Wilson (Jennifer), Kristin Wilson Hicks (Dawson); brothers David (Lonnie) and Dennis (Jeanie), and sister-in-law Linda Wahlgren: grandchildren Christopher, Erica, Jennifer, Liam, Finn, Jesse, Wyatt and Cody. Also, many nieces and nephews, including Matt, Jenn, Ryun, Egon, Kari, Chad, Leah, Brett, Karl and Glenn.

His absence is deeply felt, but his impact and memories live on in the hearts of those who knew him.

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