Richard Engelke

CHS janitor Richard Engelke’s unconventional journey through life


Michael Melinger

CHS maintenance worker Richard Engelke

Richmond Engelke, Richard for short, is a janitor at CHS. You may have passed by him before in the school hallways, but chances are, you didn’t give him much thought. However, in addition to being a janitor, he is also a self-published author.

Before Engelke began writing, he owned a video store called “Hollywood and Vine,” named after two famous streets in California. Even though he worked at a video store, he still wrote many things like gift certificates and short stories based off of movie titles. He’d also write the blurbs on the backs of DVD boxes to describe movies.

He would soon find that these small acts of writing would develop into a lifelong passion, thanks to one of his customers.

“A lady who came into my store, her name was Nancy Gleason; she was the head of writing at UMSL… one day she walked into me in the year, probably 1995, and goes, ‘You know, you can write a book,’” Engelke said.

Engelke’s first response wasn’t an eager one. “I said, ‘You’re crazy’,” said Engelke, chuckling as he recalled the memory.

“[Gleason] goes, ‘No… your short stories are so good.’ So she had me write some short stories and took them to one of her classes.” Two years later, Engelke had written his first book.

“It’s horrible, it’s not well-written, but it was a start,” he says. “Today, I have a copy of the book, and I want to rewrite it. The whole book.”

Engelke later wrote “Proof of Perfection”, a story following the investigation of a blonde woman’s strange death. This book would cause him to be recognized by John Lutz, an award-winning American mystery writer.

“He read my book, and he wrote what they call a blurb… he wrote a statement about me. And I was quite in shock… And he talked to me, and he says: ‘Just keep writing. You’ve got a good story… I like your style… As you keep writing, you’ll hone your skills, you’ll become better at what you do.’”

Through all of this, I’ve learned to talk in complete sentences, I know how to structure sentences [and] when to use ‘can’t’ and ‘cannot’.

— Richard Engelke

Engelke took Lutz’s advice and continued writing. He soon found it to benefit him in a number of ways. With no college degree and only a high school diploma, he discovered that writing gave him academic gains.

“Through all of this, I’ve learned to talk in complete sentences, I know how to structure sentences [and] when to use ‘can’t’ and ‘cannot’,” says Engelke. “If you listen to what people say to you, and once you begin writing, you’ll find yourself talking in complete sentences [and] you know where the punctuation marks go.”

A few of Engelke’s other books include “Santa Muerte: (Saint of Death)”, “Circle of Life”, and “Raising the Kingdom”. “Raising the Kingdom” is part of a three book series, similar to “Proof of Perfection”. He sticks to no specific genre but instead chooses to write what’s on his mind.

Engelke also takes an unorthodox approach to the way he picks the covers to his books. For one of his trilogies, he uses the same cover for each book. “It was just a crazy idea. And I talked it over with a couple of my friends who know me well enough and they actually went, ‘That’s very clever.’ It is unconventional and very clever.”

Engelke self-publishes all of his books through Amazon. “Book companies own you, body and soul… I’m unconventional. I don’t want you to touch my work, that’s my art. That’s why I self-publish… I’m very stubborn and bull-headed,” he explains. “You’re the creator… It’s not [the publisher’s] child. All they’re doing is taking it and printing it… [When you self-publish,] you’re taking the power away from the people with the power.”

So next time you see him in the halls, wave him a hello, or maybe talk to him and get to know who he is. You will be surprised by how many of those who might seem unassuming to us have a much more interesting story to tell than we thought.