Argus Leader, April 16: Lawrence Ritz, whose accomplishments as the dean of the accounting profession in Sioux Falls were perhaps only outshone by his community leadership and legendary nonprofit fundraising prowess, died surrounded by his family on April 8. He was 97.
Asked to describe the scope of Ritz’s contributions to those around him, even his best friends and long-standing colleagues struggled to find the words to do Ritz justice.
“A fantastic citizen of our city,” said long-time friend John Timmer. “He was one of the pushers. A doer, not a taker.”
Ritz was born in Madison in 1920. After studying accounting at Nettleton College and serving in the Army Air Corps in World War II, Ritz joined the firm of Henry Scholten and Company in Sioux Falls and married Eileen Uphus, with whom he had two daughters. He became a CPA, and later was a partner in his own accounting firm. After his wife died in 1964, and Ritz married Beryl Birkland-Meyer in 1967, a partnership that lasted until she died in 2007.
Ritz was second to none as a community leader, serving as the president of the Sioux Falls Area Chamber of Commerce and on the board of the Sioux Falls Area Community Foundation, the Great Plains Zoo,, Sioux Falls Area Junior Achievement, among many other organizations, including the South Dakota Hall of Fame, where he was inducted in 1996.
“He usually spoke once and last,” said fellow CPA Greg LaFollette, recalling his experience with Ritz in various meetings. “He had a low voice, a quiet voice, he wasn’t loud. But when he talked, it was an intelligent synthesis of all the conversation would go on, and everyone would look at him and say, ‘That’s right, that is something we should do.’”
Glenn Jorgenson met Ritz 40 years ago and their long friendship gave him a close-up look at how Ritz build a reputation as a low-key but trusted voice in my roles, including as an active member of the Rotary Club, the Elks, and the Knights of Columbus, among many other organizations.
“He had a quiet, confident nature, he had an ability to make you feel comfortable, and his integrity had been well established, he didn’t have to come across strong,” Jorgenson said. “He was interested in people, he was more than interested in what they had to say.”
Ritz was an unstoppable force as a community fundraiser for all manner of organizations and projects, including the United Way, Volunteers of America, the South Dakota Symphony, O’Gorman High School and local colleges.
“He was very careful with his own money, but was extremely generous for any cause that was going on in town,” said Timmer, a fellow CPA and a one-time next door neighbor of Ritz. “When he would call on people for donations for something, they didn’t ask if they should give or not, they’d ask, ‘How much do you expect?’”
Ritz received numerous honors in his life, including the state Hall of Fame induction, the Spirit of Sioux Falls award in 2013, and numerous awards for philanthropy and leadership. He championed the South Dakota Airshow and led the successful effort to raise a statue of his friend, World War II fighter ace and South Dakota governor Joe Foss, which now stands in the lobby of the Sioux Falls Regional Airport terminal.
Ritz’s excellence and leadership in the accounting field and personal encouragement inspired LaFollette to become a CPA.
“He was my personal mentor, but beyond that, there was no question he was the dean of our profession, and there is no such thing obviously, but he was the guy,” sad LaFollette, now a strategic adviser to CPA.com. “He epitomized the profession and everything there was about it.”
Nearly to the end of his days, Ritz stayed active, a lifestyle that put Jorgenson in quite a tongue-in-cheek bind at home.
“He was a problem. You want to hear about the problem he was in my life?’ Jorgenson said, with a chuckle. “He’s 97 and I’m 10 years younger than him, and when my wife would say, ‘do something,’ I would say, ‘I‘m too old,’ and she’d say, ‘Honey, look at Larry.’ I don’t know if I’ll forgive him for that.”
Ritz is survived by his sister, two daughters, a step-son, a step-daughter, five grandchildren, nine great-grandchildren.
Visitation with family present will take place at Miller Funeral Home – Southside Chapel, 7400 S. Minnesota Ave. on Monday from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m., with a prayer service starting at 7 p.m. Funeral mass will begin at 10:30 a.m. on Tuesday at Christ the King Catholic Church, 1501 W. 26th St., with burial to follow at St. Michael Catholic Cemetery.