GALLAGHER: Investment pro enjoyed his ‘hitch’ in Sioux City. SIOUX CITY | Rich Crawford stuck a sign on his suitcase 44 years ago and hitchhiked 241 miles from Belle Plaine, Iowa, to the destination listed on the placard: “S-U-E City. “I spelled the name of Sioux City incorrectly,” Crawford says with a laugh. “Blind people can be notoriously bad spellers. We don’t see the words. Crawford was a couple of years removed from his graduation at Wartburg College, where he’d wrestled two seasons for the Knights. He was working as an assistant director for the Community Action Agency serving Benton, Poweshiek, Iowa and Tama counties when he learned of an opening in the director’s post at the Woodbury County Action Agency in June 1973. He packed his suitcase and hit the highway, literally, lugging a suitcase bearing a Sioux City misspelling. “I got here,” Crawford says with a smile on Thursday from his desk inside the United Center. “And how blessed I’ve been! Rich Crawford, who turns 66 this month, retires on Monday, putting the wraps on 41 years in the investment business, the last six of which he’s spent as senior vice president with The Crawford, Holzrichter & Morrison Group Private Wealth Management, which represents Robert W. Baird & Company. (His firm will be carried forward by his longtime business partners Dan Holzrichter and Jay Morrison.) Crawford, the youngest Community Action Agency director in the state at the time, served the Woodbury County organization for three years before starting in the brokerage trade. He suffers from retinitis pigmentosa, which he spells for me. He says the cells in his retinas died. “It’s like having paint spots on a mirror,” he explains. “My sight kept fading over time. I had a premature case, which means I was young. I became legally blind at age 10. I see zero now. My life is black, it has been for a long time. Crawford attended the Iowa School for the Blind in Vinton, Iowa, from fifth grade through ninth grade. He graduated from Grinnell High and wrestled for the Tigers at 127 pounds, earning a berth in the 1968 state tournament. His moxie caught the eye of the Grinnell College wrestling coach, Dick Walker, who asked him to come to Wartburg when he (Walker) became coach at the college in Waverly. “I never lost a match because I was blind,” Crawford says. “I lost matches because a better wrestler beat me. Crawford says he won the majority of his high school matches in the closing minute of the third period. He’d simply wear out an otherwise superior opponent. He made up for a lack of vision by working harder in the wrestling room, conditioning himself for a full-length match. “It probably helped that I couldn’t see the clock,” he says. In some ways, that’s how Crawford succeeded in business. He worked tirelessly while calling on prospects, never letting blindness become an impediment. He hitchhiked dozens of blocks to and from work in Sioux City for decades and never had a bad experience. He often called on people who offered him rides and worked to gain their trust. In years past, he’d hitchhike from Sioux City to Wayne, Nebraska, for example, to go door-to-door drumming up investors. He’d do the same, going as far east as Holstein, Iowa. “I had a CB radio years ago when they were very popular and I remember using the CB to say, ‘Breaker 1-9: It looks like there’s a blind man hitchhiking near Kmart (on Gordon Drive). And soon enough, there would be someone who would come along and pick me up. Crawford, who earned degrees in business and education in three years at Wartburg, must have been a quick study. He hired a secretary in the late 1970s to read stock reports to him. He then put advancements in technology to use and, for years, has done most of his business in Braille. He listens to email and gets everything else off his computer in Braille. “It takes foresight in his business, not eyesight,” he says, noting how his client base now covers 26 states and four generations. “My first talking calculator cost $650,” he says, using his arms to describe its massive size. Now, those units cost $10 and can almost fit in one’s pocket. “In retirement, I hope to learn to use an iPhone,” he says. The father of three grown children may also spend more time traveling with his wife of 34 years, Sara. He also plans to volunteer with the Score business group while aiding other organizations he couldn’t serve as he tended to his own business needs. He may also speak to civic groups and high school and college classes, depending on who might want to hear about the man who, without sight, found his way across the state to a city he misspelled. “I’ve been so blessed,” he says with a smile from his desk. “Sioux City has been so good to me. Sioux City has been good to blind people. I look forward to sharing that with others.