Richard “Rick” Howard Rigg was born January 6, 1945 in Abington Township, Pennsylvania to Marcia Muriel Armstrong Strohm and Howard Evart Strohm. He died peacefully in his sleep at his home in Driggs, Idaho on July 17, 2020.
After the death of his father at the Battle of Anzio during World War II, his mother remarried, and Richard was adopted by his stepfather Dominic Rigg. Due to his stepfather’s military career, Rick lived in a variety of places during his childhood; Pennsylvania, Florida, Alaska and Okinawa, Japan. He graduated from Kubasaki American High School, Okinawa, Japan. His time on Okinawa had a lasting influence throughout his life. Not only did he retain an interest in Japanese culture, he was taught to SCUBA dive by Navy divers and later used that skill to explore caves.
Rick graduated from Pennsylvania State University with a bachelor’s degree in Aerospace Engineering. Except for a brief period at Boeing, Rick worked in nuclear engineering research at Bettis Atomic Power Laboratory in Pennsylvania, the Naval Reactor Facility at the Idaho National Laboratory and in the late 1970s, he started working for Argonne National Laboratory – West in Idaho Falls, ID. He found his niche in designing, manufacturing and testing remotely operated equipment in harsh environments and creating new tools for performing remote operations. Rick always enjoyed discussing and sharing his ideas with many people. He was known for sharing his experiences with others and was a mentor for many new engineers. He would also share sage life advice such as “It is better to have plenty of vacation than to make a lot of money.”
While his professional career was that of an engineer, his life was defined by his passion; caving. His engineering talent was reflected in his caving experience where he was constantly having creative ideas to modify and improve caving and camping equipment. He began caving in 1962 and continued throughout his life until health issues began to take its toll. He participated in expeditions in Thailand, Honduras, Mexico, and Guatemala. Exploration of notable caves in the United States included Great Expectations in Big Horn County, Wyoming, Lechuguilla Cave in Carlsbad Caverns National Park, and Butler Cave in Virginia.
Rick had an impact on local caving and the caving community in eastern Idaho. Because of the lack of experienced cavers in the area, he recruited his whitewater paddling and climbing friends to explore Fossil Mountain Ice Cave and to look for new caves in the region. New passages dug into Ice Cave eventually led to the connection of the Wind Cave and Ice Cave complex in Darby Canyon. He led a team that resulted in the discovery Columbine Crawl which held the distinction of being deepest cave in the US until the discovery and exploration of Lechugilla Cave. Rick patiently mentored people new to caving, trained others in cave surveying techniques and was actively involved in training regional search and rescue personnel in cave and high-angle rescue and recovery techniques.
Rick was an early pioneer in cave diving and inspired others to pursue underwater cave exploration. He applied his SCUBA-diving skills learned on Okinawa to early exploration of Butler Cave in Virginia, Tytoona Cave in Pennsylvania and elsewhere where it was necessary to dive through water-filled passages in order to continue exploring those caves.
While caving dominated his life, Rick also enjoyed skiing, biking, whitewater canoeing in closed-deck canoes (C1s) that he made himself, and SCUBA diving in tropical waters that are both warm and clear.
Rick’s legacy is to inspire others to pursue their passion, mentor others and to make sure your job has generous vacation benefits so you may realize your dreams throughout your life.
Rick was survived by his wife, Daphne Stoner; his brother Thomas (Sheila Courville) Rigg; and numerous nieces and nephews. He was preceded in death by his mother, his father, his stepfather and his brother, Robert Charles Rigg.
A private gathering will be held later.
In lieu of flowers or other remembrances, please consider a donation in his memory to: The National Speleological Society, 6001 Pulaski Pike, Huntsville, AL 35810-1122 USA. https://caves.org/donate/