On Monday evening, Rich Loughery was unanimously elected to succeed Val DiGiorgio as Chairman of the Republican Committee of Chester County. Several weeks ago, Rick, who is in his final year as Chester County’s Recorder of Deeds, spoke with VISTA Today about growing up in Phoenixville, witnessing and contributing to the borough’s renaissance, and developing an interest for acting and theatre.
He also discussed the important lessons he learned from working a variety of jobs as a youngster, attending West Chester University, his work for the Republican Committee of Chester County, and his favorite accomplishments in his current position of Recorder of Deeds.
Where were you born and where did you grow up, Rick?
I was born the oldest of three children and the only boy in 1984 in Phoenixville. My family lived in Phoenixville until I was in 5th grade and then we moved to Schuylkill Township, not too far outside the borough.
What did your parents do?
My mom has been a stay-at-home mom for most of my life. My dad is an executive at a pharmaceutical company.
What do you remember about growing up there?
I went to Holy Family School on 3rd Avenue in Phoenixville. In the early 90s, we weren’t allowed to go downtown by yourself. It was desolate and a lousy place for a kid to go at the time.
Phoenixville’s boom happened around 2006-2007. I am very fortunate to be able to say that I was there to witness and even played a small part in helping turn Phoenixville around.
When did you realize Phoenixville was turning around?
I graduated from West Chester University in 2006 and moved back to Phoenixville. When my friends and I started going downtown to the bars and restaurants – there were about two at the time – it was just beginning to pick up.
There was an influx of people, which was so different from when I was little. All of a sudden, people were going downtown, and restaurants and shops began opening. You could see the resurgence happening little by little. It was a gradual process.
Did you play any sports growing up?
I played a lot of sports in grade school – football, baseball, basketball. I began acting in high school and won a few awards for that. I went to West Chester University on a Theatre Scholarship.
I was good at football, but I ended my football career in high school to focus on acting.
What got you into acting?
A few of my friends and I decided to audition for a play my sophomore year of high school. It turns out I had a knack for it. I was able to understand the text and conceptualize it for the audience.
What skills did you take away from your acting experience that you use today?
I learned how to relate to and connect with an audience. I also learned how to channel emotions in a constructive way, leading the audience where I want their thoughts to go.
In high school, I wanted to become the next Elvis Presley and star in Hollywood movies. When I got to college, however, it was not a career that I seriously wanted to pursue. I realized it was just a hobby at that point. I decided to make a transition into politics.
I still enjoy seeing shows. I am happy the Uptown! Theatre came to West Chester.
What was your first job?
My first job was in grade school manning the phones at the rectory of St. Ann’s Parish in Phoenixville. I continued that into high school. Through high school, I bagged groceries at Acme, and I mowed lawns on the weekends. I made pizza at a local pizzeria. I was always working. My parents instilled a strong work ethic in me early on in life.
My dad did not have a college degree. He went right out of high school to his current company. He started at the bottom of his current company and worked his way to the top. He went to night school and years later earned his bachelor’s degree. He set an excellent example for my sisters and I by always working hard.
My father wanted my mom to stay home and take care of us so that we’d always have that influence in our daily lives. She was always there to make sure we did our homework, take care of us when we were sick and pick us up from practice.
What lessons did you take from those jobs that stick with you today?
Sometimes you have a good boss, and sometimes you don’t. You have to work some undesirable jobs to understand what it means to start at the bottom and work your way up. I always wanted to remember where I came from and have that appreciation.
What kind of music were you listening to in high school and college?
I have a very eclectic music taste, which I get from my parents, especially my mom. I have always loved going to live concerts. My first concert was Aerosmith with my mom when I was fifteen.
I’ve seen Imagine Dragons, Eminem, Kenny Chesney, Britney Spears, Justin Timberlake, Jay-Z, One Republic, Fleetwood Mac, Beyoncé, Mumford & Sons just to name a few. I love some oldies too, especially Elvis Presley and Frank Sinatra.
Did you have a favorite concert experience?
My most recent concert was Mumford & Sons, who I have seen three times now and is one of the best live bands. Jay-Z & Justin Timberlake put on an incredible joint stadium tour a few years ago. I’d also add Fleetwood Mac and my boyhood crush, Britney Spears, to that list.
You went to West Chester on a theater scholarship, did you look at other schools?
I did. Like many other kids who grew up here in Chester County, I initially discarded the idea of going to West Chester University as an option because I thought the school was too close to home.
I was looking at schools in New York because of my interest in acting. My parents and I visited NYU and Wagner, as well as a few other schools up there. I graduated high school in 2002, and my mom was a little hesitant about sending me to New York after the events of September 11th the year before. I looked at Shippensburg and Penn State as well.
I did not originally visit West Chester, but I applied to the University because of their theater scholarship. When I got the scholarship, I took a tour of the school and fell in love with the campus.
What drew you to West Chester?
The campus’ Ivy League feel and the small town atmosphere felt like what a college campus should be. I loved the fact that I was close enough to home, as well as the city of Philadelphia.
Looking back, was WCU the right choice for you?
Absolutely! I’ve gone there three times now! I received my undergraduate, masters, and doctoral degrees from the University.
Looking back over your career, who give you your big breaks?
I worked for the Republican Committee of Chester County in 2007 when Terence Farrell was elected Commissioner for the first time. I worked very closely with Terence and Carol Aichele, who was another Commissioner at the time, to make sure they were elected.
We had a tough Republican primary that year, and a difficult general election, due to the unpopularity of President Bush and the Iraq War. The Party brand was not great. We had to really push our candidates at the local level. After we won the race, Commissioner Farrell asked me to come run his office at the county. I worked for him for four years during his first term.
Commissioner Farrell encouraged me to run for Recorder of Deeds in 2011.
What did Terence Farrell see in you?
I think he saw my ability to take a goal and bring it to fruition. Because we were on a campaign, he saw something in me who could take his ideas and put them into action. Later, he saw my commitment to understanding how county government operates and how to get the ball rolling on a critical project.
Terence is the reason I went for my master’s and doctoral degrees because as part of the requirement of working for him, he insisted that I continue my education. Terence encouraged every member of his staff to continue their education, and the other two individuals that succeeded me in his office went back to school as well.
I went back to West Chester for my masters under State Representative Duane Milne, who was at the time was running the public administration program. After finishing my Masters, I joined the advisory board that was developing West Chester’s Doctoral program. When the Doctoral program began in 2015, I enrolled as a candidate, and I was in the program’s first graduating class in 2017.
Who else helped you along the way?
My parents created an incredible support structure for me. They helped me endure struggles personally and professionally. I’m fortunate to have that. My parents told me that they would pay for my undergraduate degree and anything after that was on me. Graduating from college with no debt is almost unheard of today, so that was a really big deal for me and I very much appreciate the sacrifice they made.
I attended the master’s program from 2008-2010, during the Great Recession, so it was a perfect time to graduate as everyone was looking for a leg-up professionally.
My dad’s philosophy was that he wanted his children to be better off than he was, and in a lot of ways, he has succeeded. I’m an elected official with my doctorate. My sister, who just turned thirty, is a very successful dentist and just had her first child. My youngest sister who is twenty-three years-old is a world-traveler. She’s interning for a marketing firm in Philadelphia, and she’s currently in Australia.
What is your favorite accomplishment as Recorder of Deeds?
After two terms as the county’s Recorder of Deeds, I’m most proud of my outreach efforts to our veterans community. The Recorder of Deeds is legally mandated to record the military discharge for veterans residing in Chester County. After I was sworn into my first term in 2012, I realized that we had a lot of veterans coming into the office to record their discharge papers. So, I decided to open a program to honor their service. Each time a veteran records their discharge with my office, we provide them with a photo ID honoring their service to our country and connecting them with discounts to businesses located across the county. It’s a small way to say thank you, but it has been the most rewarding part of serving in elected office. My staff and I travel across the county attending events to meet more veterans, hear their stories and recognize their service.
On top of that, I’m proud that my office has saved more than $21 million dollars during my tenure and that the office is self-sufficient; we operate based on fees, not tax dollars, enabling us to send funds back to the County Commissioners so they can fund other initiatives like veterans programs and emergency services. I have an incredible staff that works very hard and keep my office running efficiently. I do not plan to run for a third term, so looking back on the past eight years is bittersweet.
Looking forward to the new year, what are your opportunities and challenges?
I walked into the Chester County Republican Party headquarters 17 years ago as a college freshman, and I fell in love with our county party. People like Terence Farrell and the things they’ve done for this county. I want to continue that work. To me, it’s important to show our local voters what the local Republican party stands for. Understanding what our candidates have done and will do for this county is very important.
I think the tribalization and vitriol of politics is detrimental to us in Chester County. What happens in DC, doesn’t always directly impact what’s going on locally; but our courthouse, local municipal governments, and school districts do have a substantial everyday impact on our lives. These are the conversations we need to be having. It should always be about what’s going on in the borough hall, the school district, or the township building.
How are you going to make that happen?
I need to make sure the focus is on our candidates, the issues, and their ideas. I think my relationships here in the county, coupled with my experience running local races, will significantly benefit our Republican candidates in the future.
I was elected Chairman of the Pennsylvania Young Republicans in February 2017, and I have an incredible group of individuals who continually work hard to elect good, qualified Republicans around the state. At the time, the organization was defunct, and since becoming Chair, my team and I quadrupled the number of chapters across the state. In 2018, we helped elect numerous candidates including 27 young republicans to office across Pennsylvania.
Rebuilding that organization and focusing on engaging young voters has been a focus on mine, and I’d like to bring that back to the Chester County party as well. We need to refocus and retool the party on grassroots efforts to energize our committee. It’s a big job!
What role do you see coalition-building having as GOP Chair?
There are many coalitions within the party that need to come together for us to be successful in 2019. Within the ranks, there are many different ideas on how to move forward, and it will be essential to harness those ideas together.
It’s not just your typical coalitions of veterans or senior citizens, it’s also various coalitions of ideas. You have to make sure everyone comes together to row in the same direction and support the Republican candidates.
Finally, Rick, what’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?
My mom always repeated a saying that she heard from her mom, which was, “You catch more flies with honey than vinegar.”
I always have people tell me that I’m too nice to work in politics. My response will always be, don’t mistake my kindness for weakness. You get more things done when you can reach out to people you’ve created relationships with, despite what side of the aisle you find yourself on.
We, as people, have a lot of common interests and shared goals. It’s important to work together to solve the issues in front of us and move forward together. There’s a real sense of community in this county that’s lacking in other areas. Chester County is an extraordinary place to live, work and raise a family, and I’d like to keep it that way.
Publisher’s Note: Laura Wagoner contributed to this profile.