Richard W. Wilcke, former executive vice-president of the Maryland Horse Breeders Association (MHBA), founding executive director of the Maryland Million Ltd. as well as founding editor of Mid-Atlantic Thoroughbred, died on April 18, 2023, at Shelbyville Hospital in Kentucky. A resident of Pleasureville, Ky., he was 79.
Described as “a true polymath, with a prodigious career and countless lifetime pursuits,” Wilcke came to Maryland in April 1986 to oversee the launch of the Maryland Million and remained until September 1995.
“Rich was a great multitasker. He was able to manage many projects at once. He came to Maryland and took on Jim McKay’s challenge to start a Breeders’ Cup-type program for Maryland horses,” said Cricket Goodall, current executive director of the MHBA and the Maryland Million Ltd., “He loved a challenge and his fingerprints are all over what we are doing here with our new Maryland Horse Library & Education Center and a permanent home for the MHBA.”
Maryland was fortunate to have his leadership for nearly a decade. In addition to the emergence of the Maryland Million program, and his foresight of expanding the Maryland Horse magazine to encompass the region while highlighting Maryland, in the form of Mid-Atlantic Thoroughbred, Wilcke also started the Maryland Horse Breeders Association’s charitable arm, now the Maryland Horse Foundation.
“Rich was one of my most influential mentors,” says Barrie Reightler, director of publications for the MHBA, “ but more importantly, he was a true visionary. He recognized industry trends, and that Maryland was at the center of the hub of Mid-Atlantic racing when he created Mid-Atlantic Thoroughbred”.
Born in Albany, N.Y., to Dr. Burton and June Wilcke, Rich attended the Albany Academy, where he met Janny Nyquist, a student at the Albany Academy for Girls. Rich and Janny married in December of 1966 and had five children. In 1968, Rich graduated from Kansas State University with a degree in agriculture.
While at KSU, Wilcke competed in rodeo and on the livestock judging team. He served briefly in the Marine Corps Forces Reserve, spent several years in broadcasting, and worked as the director of information for the Kansas Livestock Association. He acted as CEO of a national business association in Washington, D.C., before coming to Maryland.
In 1995, he moved to Kentucky to join the University of Louisville College of Business faculty, later becoming the director of the Equine Industry Program, and remained at UofL until his retirement in 2014.
Over the decades since leaving Maryland, Wilcke would readily share memories and thoughts when asked about significant milestones, such as anniversaries of the creation of the Maryland Bred Race Fund and the Maryland Horse Breeders Association.
Rich was known for his innumerable interests and passions. “In addition to his lifelong involvement in the equine industry, he was a bibliophile and lover of ideas. He enjoyed reading, writing, and collecting books. He derived endless joy from the peace and beauty of his farm,” it was stated in his obituary. Over the past few months, Rich donated numerous volumes of his books to the Maryland Horse Library & Education Center, a dream he had decades ago for the Maryland Horse Breeders Association that he sadly never had the chance to visit.
To those who knew him, Rich was a devoted and supportive husband, brother, father, grandfather, and friend. He was preceded in death by his sons William and Benjamin Wilcke and is survived by his wife Janny, his daughters Ardith, Caroline, and Madlen, eight grandchildren, one great-granddaughter, and countless family members and friends.