|(Tuesday - November 16, 2021) -
As the sun rose on a clear and crisp Saturday morning, November 13,
2021, Richard J. Celello passed peacefully to eternal life
surrounded by his daughters and, the love of his life, his wife of
51 years. Born in Chicago, Illinois on August 13, 1948, to Dorothy
(Roberts) and Joseph Celello, Rich lived nearly his entire life in
Iron Mountain where he was a force for justice as an attorney and
Graduating from high school in 1966, Rich went on to graduate from Michigan State University in 1970 and Marquette University Law School in 1974. Returning to Iron Mountain, he began a storied legal career. He first joined the law firm of Brouillette and Brouillette. He was appointed Iron Mountain City Attorney then won his race for Prosecuting Attorney. Shortly thereafter, he was approached by the County Board, to become Dickinson County’s first full time Prosecuting Attorney and Friend of the Court. In 1978, he was appointed to the District Court Bench by Governor William Milliken and then was elected to serve a full six-year term. He resigned from the District Court Judgeship in 1983 to start the law firm of Mouw & Celello - which remains one of the largest law firms in the Upper Peninsula - with his longtime partner, John Mouw. For 17 years, he tried cases in virtually every county in the Upper Peninsula and Northern Wisconsin.
In 2000, he was appointed to the Circuit Court bench by Governor John Engler and subsequently elected to three six-year terms. In this role, he presided over criminal proceedings and a wide range of civil cases, conducted jury and bench trials, and wrote opinions in hundreds of cases, including many that were heard and upheld by Appellate and State Supreme Courts.
He understood and took seriously that in every professional interaction he had, he was meeting someone on what was likely the worst day of their lives. He treated every client, every opposing counsel, and as a judge, every person who came before his bench with decency and fairness. He strove to see the basic humanity in every single person he met. In doing so, it was not uncommon for him to receive Christmas cards from some of those individuals in the county jail.
He retired in 2017 from the bench, and spent his time away from “Nonno’s Castle,” as his grandchildren called the Dickinson County Courthouse, playing golf at Pine Grove Country Club in the summer and Arizona in the winter, and traveling to De Pere and Madison, Wisconsin to be with his daughters and their families, including his four grandchildren, who he loved dearly, and who loved to refer to him first as “Nonno” and then, simply, “Richard”.
Nobody will remember Richard Celello for his spotless shirts, precision putting, or disciplined diet. What they will remember is his infectious laugh, keen sense of fairness, and thoughtful, curious probing of personal, political, and global issues. That, and his continual inability to stop merging proper nouns like Two Men and a Truck and Five Guys Burgers into Two and a Half Guys Burgers.
His intellect, commitment to fairness and justice, and curiosity about the world made him an effective attorney and judge. But more importantly, they made him a devoted dad, committed husband, and cherished friend, brother, uncle and grandpa. (Sadly, none of his virtues could salvage his golf game, but his ability to laugh at himself made him a welcome member of any foursome.) He is survived by his beloved wife of 51 years, Kristi (Johnson) Celello; his daughters Erin Celello and her husband Aaron Olver and Lindsey and her husbandTommy Cianflone; grandchildren Zeke and Max Olver, and Lorenzo and Lidia Cianflone; his siblings Maryanne and husband Mike Zambon, Scott and his wife Shelly Celello, Nancy Santini, Michael and his wife Andrea Celello, and sister-in-law Lisa Celello, along with a large, close-knit family full of nieces, nephews, great-nieces, and great-nephews. He is also survived by brothers-in-law John McCabe, Paul McCabe and his wife Tara and their children, and sister-in-law Karen Johnson.
His infectious, squinty-eyed laugh, big hugs, renditions of “On Top of Smokey” around a bonfire, and dubious Catch Phrase skills will leave an unfillable hole at every family gathering. To say he will be missed is the world’s greatest understatement, though we take solace in the fact that there’s a rocking reunion happening somewhere right now with his parents, Joe and Dorothy, his brothers David and Mark, and his nephew, Marc, along with other beloved friends and relatives who have gone ahead of him to (thankfully, because if anyone could take a wrong turn on the way to heaven it would be Rich who was directionally challenged) show him the way home to eternal life.
A funeral mass will be held on Friday, November 19th, at eleven o’clock AM at St. Mary and St. Joseph Catholic Church. Due to Covid-19, the family requests masks be worn during the mass. A celebration of life will be held at a later date, to be announced, when hopefully we can gather more safely together in Rich’s honor.
In lieu of flowers, the family requests donations be made to the Dickinson County Hospital Foundation, where Rich received the most outstanding care toward the end of his life. They would especially like to recognize and thank Dr. Troy Ahlstrom and his DCHS team, who, in addition to their medical expertise, showered Rich and his family with extraordinary kindness and compassion toward the end of his journey. The family would also like to acknowledge their long time and dear friends along with Nettie Santoni, who kept Rich actively involved in every Packer game watched together.
Condolences may be expressed to the family of Richard J. Celello online at:
The family has entrusted the Erickson-Rochon and Nash Funeral Home of Iron Mountain with the arrangements.