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Lives They Lived: Remembering a generous life

A devoted father. A problem solver. A Renaissance man.

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Rick Plunkett
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A devoted father. A problem solver. A Renaissance man.

Those are just some of the words used by friends and family when reflecting on Rick Plunkett's life. But perhaps the most fitting word to use when remembering Plunkett is "generosity." Throughout his life, Plunkett put his intellectual smarts to work with the goal of making the world a better place for all. And while battling bile duct cancer, the Rochester man kept a bucket full of buttons with the word "generosity" on it. He would hand the buttons out to nurses, doctors and visitors as a show of thanks.

"He was just a wonderful, compassionate, loving husband. I hit the jackpot when I married him, and I am to this day forever grateful," said Plunkett's wife, Carol Christenson.

Plunkett died Nov. 2 of bile duct cancer. A celebration of life service was held Nov. 11 at Holy Spirit Catholic Church in Rochester.

Passionate about solving problems

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Plunkett grew up in Rochester, graduating from Mayo High School. A charismatic man with passion for taking on challenges, Plunkett became a leader among his peers. At the University of Minnesota, he served as president of the Minnesota Public Interest Research Group. As a first-year law student, he founded the Minnesota Justice Foundation. That organization got law clerks at big firms to set aside 1 percent of their summer income to help fund clerkships at legal services, which provide help to low-income individuals.

Plunkett's brother-in-law Mike Christenson attended law school with the Rochester man and marveled at his passion for solving problems.

"To understand Rick fully, you have to understand the intellectual firepower he possessed. A lot of lawyers get that firepower out of adrenaline or fear of failure or anger, and that gives us a bad name. His fierceness was born out of something different," he said. "If he could concentrate on a problem long enough, he felt confident that he could resolve it."

After graduating from the University of Minnesota Law School with honors in 1984, Plunkett practiced law for five years. Then he returned to Rochester to help with the family business. For several years, he oversaw the family's cable business in Fairmont. He also helped with the family's banking and real estate business.

Always putting his children first

While Plunkett was always juggling several projects at once, his three children agree that their dad always made them feel like a priority. He drove the children to school every day, coached their sports teams and helped with science fair projects.

"We never had the feeling of being second to his work. We were always first. And he was able to manage that while doing all these incredible, intricate, time-consuming projects that would be for anyone else all-consuming. But not for our Dad," said his daughter Katie Plunkett.

Alex Plunkett recalled how his father always put 100 percent of his effort into things — even if it was something as basic as coaching a fourth-grade football team. His dad videotaped every game looking for ways to help the players improve. And on those occasions where the football team needed somewhere to practice, Rick Plunkett used a spray marker to draw lines for a field in the family's backyard. Alex said all that work wasn't about winning. It was simply about his dad making sure he had done everything he could to enable the kids to succeed.

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"I don't think we won a game, though. It was the one thing he couldn't do," Alex recalled with a laugh.

Rick Plunkett also refused to take "no" for an answer. He successfully led a fight to get pop and sugary snacks out of Rochester Public Schools' buildings.

When he wasn't using his intellect to tackle life's challenges, Rick Plunkett relished being in the outdoors soaking up nature. He loved spending time in Minnesota's Boundary Waters Canoe Area. He also had a spiritual side, helping with the Rochester Mediation Center.

In December of 2013, Plunkett was diagnosed with bile duct cancer. He underwent radiation, chemotherapy and liver transplant surgery. In October of 2015, he got terrible news. The cancer he had fought so hard against had returned. He later entered hospice and spent his final days at home with his friends and family. His son, Luke, recalled coming out of his room after a long, exhausting night spent helping his Dad. A caregiver was fiddling with one of his father's tubes. When his Dad spotted him, he burst into a giant grin.

"That is all he wanted was to be able to see his kids," Luke said.

Family and friends say Plunkett never lost his sense of gratitude. Two months after his liver transplant surgery, Plunkett wrote this and posted it to his website: "I am deeply grateful for the love and support of so many friends, and my wonderful family. I often feel as if I live in paradise. Each day is a blessing."

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