Richard "Rick" DeVore awoke at 5:30 a.m. Sept. 2 in his East Stroudsburg home.
Always having had perfect attendance, never late or taking any sick days, during his 28 years as a Monroe County Transit Authority bus driver, DeVore figured he was an hour late for work, since he was normally there by 4:30 a.m.
He called Walter Quadarella, who supervises MCTA bus routes, to apologize for being late. Quadarella told him to relax and enjoy the day off.
When DeVore asked why Quadarella was giving him a day off, Quadarella asked, "You don't know today is Labor Day, a holiday?"
Through tears, laughter and hugs, DeVore's family and friends shared stories such as this during a viewing and memorial service for him Wednesday at Thomas Funeral Home in Stroudsburg.
"Rick was so devoted to his job that, when holidays rolled around, he'd have a hard time remembering they were holidays and think they were regular work days," said former fellow bus driver Chuck Margretta of Mount Pocono.
Sept. 3, the day after Labor Day, was the fourth anniversary of the death of DeVore's lifelong friend and second wife, Ruth Lang DeVore, from cancer. His son tried waking him that morning, only to discover DeVore, 56, had died in his sleep.
Hundreds of people
Family said the death was unexpected since no one had been aware of any health issues he had.
"Then again, he wasn't the type to let us know if anything was wrong with him because he didn't want us to worry," said tearful stepdaughter Christina Thornton of East Stroudsburg.
What DeVore meant to others in his community was evident by the hundreds of people paying their respects Wednesday. Among them were relatives, friends, former co-workers and former passengers, all of diverse races, ages and walks of life.
Parked across North Fifth Street from the funeral home was DeVore's bus, No. 501, on which he had driven passengers back and forth between Stroudsburg and Middle Smithfield Township. After the memorial service, that bus took some of the mourners to the burial at Sand Hill Cemetery in Bushkill.
DeVore was seen laughing, smiling and hugging loved ones in displayed pictures greeting mourners in the funeral home, with his bus number "501" on a wreath by picture displays in front of the room where they gathered. In some of the pictures taken at Christmastime, the 6-foot-2, 400-pound, naturally bearded DeVore was dressed as Santa Claus, something he did every year on the one holiday he never forgot.
The jolliest person
East Stroudsburg friend Deanna Lasher said he kept her four children, ages 5 to 11, believing in Santa when he brought toys to their home.
"He was Santa to me when I was growing up, and he continued it with my kids," Lasher said. "He always made like he came through the chimney. When I last talked to him, he told me he was going to come earlier this Christmas. I guess now he won't be. I just can't believe he's gone. He was such a good man."
DeVore played Santa while driving and for anyone in the community who asked, be it at Christmas parties for ill and special-needs children or elderly shut-ins and nursing homes.
"One Christmas, my kids finally realized it was Rick playing Santa," Margretta said with a fond smile.
"We sent them upstairs to open the presents he had brought as Santa," he said. "Rick stayed downstairs with us and took off his Santa outfit, but the kids upstairs could still hear him talking to us in his deep, gravelly voice they knew as Santa's voice. They came rushing back downstairs, thinking Santa was still there, and saw it was Rick."
But this never ruined Christmas for Margretta's children or anyone else touched by DeVore's warm, kind, fun-loving spirit, which he shared with others year-round.
"He was probably the jolliest person I ever knew," said MCTA Executive Director Peggy Howarth.
A shy, quiet boy
That jolly character contrasted with the shy, quiet boy from a large East Stroudsburg family, said childhood friend Margretta. The shyness gradually disappeared as DeVore grew older and became more popular.