Legacy: Washtenaw County youth summer sports camp is renamed in honor of former Juvenile Court Supervisor Richard Laster


By Frank Weir
Legal News

A celebration of the work of Richard Laster and a renaming of the youth sports camp to which he devoted much of his time was held at Ypsilanti Community High School on Aug. 15.

Laster, who worked for the Washtenaw County Juvenile Court for three decades and was supervisor of the  court when he retired, died June 6 shortly before his 64th birthday. He was a Detroit resident at the time of his death.

Thirty years ago, Laster and Washtenaw County Trial Court Judge Nancy Wheeler came up with the idea to offer free summer sport camps for children ages 8 to 15 who may not otherwise get a chance for this experience because of financial reasons.

The camps, based at Ypsilanti Community High School and funded by Washtenaw County and local sponsors, are run by volunteers including some previous attendees who want to stay involved and teach what they learned.

“Sadly, Rich passed away in June, the week before the start of this year’s camps,” said Juvenile Court Administrator Linda Edwards-Brown. 

“In his honor, the court renamed the camps The Rich Laster Summer Sports Camps.”

Wheeler, who retired in May 2014, and retired Washtenaw County Circuit Court Judge Donald Shelton attended, as did Representative Ronnie Peterson (D-54th District); Washtenaw County District 6 Commissioner Ricky Jefferson; Hon. Carol Kuhnke, Chief Judge of the Washtenaw County Trial Court; and Washtenaw County Trial Court Judge Julia Owdziej, presiding judge of the Juvenile Division.

Shelton, a Jackson native who was a Washtenaw County Trial Court judge for 24 years, served as chief judge of the trial court from 2010-13, and also was presiding judge of the Civil/Criminal and Juvenile divisions, reflected on the important role sports can play in a young person’s life.

“I grew up in a disadvantaged neighborhood. My family had no money and there was no hope for education. I was the first in my extended family to graduate from high school and that was because of sports,” he said.
“Someone reached out to me and said, ‘You can do well with this’ and that changed my life. The lessons I learned in sports, Rich knew—and that is that sports provide practice for life.

“We won’t be pro athletes but we can learn lessons that build self-discipline and honesty among others. Those were the key to my education. It was the only way I was able to go to college and I owe everything to sports and a guy who was a lot like Rich Laster, who said, ‘You can do this.’”

Shelton added he was pleased when Laster and Washtenaw County Probation Supervisor Bill Malcolm approached him about supporting the sports camp.

“Not only did I support it, but I suggested they make it bigger and better than it was and include young women as well,” he said.

“They took the ball and ran with it. Rich approached his position at the juvenile court in a different way. He didn’t have cases assigned to him but got young men and young women who needed guidance. He treated them not as cases—he looked at them as if he were a coach, a life coach, as well as a sports coach.

“He was coaching them for life. He was the essence of what we always have tried to do—make kids lives better than they would otherwise have been and better than what people said they would be.”