BURLEY — Richard “Dick” Burleigh Call loved his family, the theater, his students, his friends — and every single day of his life.
Call, 60, died Saturday at his Burley home after a valiant battle with cancer.
After a lifetime spent on the stage, his funeral will be held at the King Fine Arts Center in Burley.
Call taught drama for nearly 30 years, and he coached speech and debate teams for countless students in Texas, Twin Falls and Burley.
He retired from teaching in 2012.
“He was a lot of fun and he got to know the kids on a personal level,” said Corrine Goodheart Benavides, a former Burley student. “He left a lasting impression on people. I felt like he cared about me as a person.”
Benavides’s mother was diagnosed with cancer when she was a junior in high school. Call was always there to ask how she was doing and offer words of encouragement.
And Benavides, who is program director for the Magic Valley School of Performing Arts, credits Call for sparking her interest in theater.
“My passion for the arts started with him,” she said. “He had a wealth of knowledge and should have been teaching at the college level. Through the theater he gave kids the opportunity to be whoever they wanted to be.”
He maintained those friendships long after the students graduated from high school.
John Gochnour, of Eagle, was Call’s student at Burley High School for four years.
“One of things that I appreciated about him was his ability to make students feel important and capable,” Gochnour said.
Call taught him how to have fun in life and enjoy the moment.
“That’s something I carry with me to this day,” Gochnour said.
Regardless of the challenges, Call taught his students to get up when they stumbled and try again, he said. Many of Call’s students saw him as a father figure who helped encourage them during difficult times in their lives.
“He loved everybody and was completely non-judgmental of people,” Call’s son, Richie Call said. “It didn’t matter if they thought differently from him or came from different walks of life, he gave them unconditional love.”
His father, Richie said, had an inexhaustible capacity for love.
“He offered that to so many people — but it was never at the expense of his family,” Richie said. “We never felt like we didn’t get enough attention from him.”
Richie, an assistant professor of acting at the University of Utah, said his mother and father had a special bond.
“We always knew our parents were so in love with one another,” Richie said. But when Richie and his siblings got older they realized how uncommon that love really was.
“He was strong and loving and had such a beautiful heart,” Call’s daughter Aubrey Call, said.
He was also well loved by his other three children, Giselle Call, Brianna Leigh Jones and Anson Call, and his five grandchildren.
Call always allowed them to tag along with him during after school or evening theater rehearsals, and his children grew up on the stage, as he did.
His wife, Sayda Call, said while he was ill, he performed in “Arsenic and Old Lace,” and part of his oncology team from the Huntsman Cancer Institute in Utah came to watch him in the show.
“They’d never seen someone who was so sick have such a good sense of humor,” Sayda said. “He was a comedian, and he made them laugh.”
She and Richard met as teens and were married 38 years.
“It was love at first sight,” she said. “I knew he would be my companion.”
Sayda said a Facebook memory — written by him in a previous year — popped up on her timeline wishing her a happy Valentine’s Day. The way it was worded, she said, made it seem like it was truly a special delivery.
He held out hope to the end that he would get well, and he welcomed students and friends to their home during his last days on hospice so they could say goodbye to him.
“A lot of the time the visitors would get really distraught, and he would end up comforting them,” Richie said.
When people would ask how he was doing he would say, “I’ve got blue skies.”
Call directed hundreds of plays over his career, and he continued to perform and direct while he battled cancer, including directing “Witches” for the Unicorn Children’s Theater in Logan, Utah, in October. The theater was founded by his mother.
His humor also continued to be present during the last days of his life, Richie said.
“Sometimes it seemed like he was saving up energy for his next zinger,” he said.
Even at the end, Benavides said, he was still so full of life.
“A piece of me feels kind of like he’s not gone because he lives on in so many of us,” she said.