BOISE — After spending more than 17 years as an advocate for Idaho's disabled community, Fred Riggers remains a memorable face at the Idaho State Capitol. 

Riggers, who died in 2016 at 73 years old, fought many years for equal rights of people with disabilities. Now, almost three years later, he still leaves his mark on the community. 

"It's really nice to be able to remember him at this day for the special person that he still is," Idaho Lt. Gov. Janice McGeachin said.

Dozens of people, agencies and the Consortium for Idahoans with Disabilities, or CID, gathered in the Capitol's first-floor rotunda on Tuesday to honor Riggers and all that he accomplished for people with disabilities, as well as present this year's Marilyn Sword Award.

McGeachin read an official proclamation signed by Gov. Brad Little certifying that Tuesday's Disability Awareness Day be recognized as "Fred Riggers Disability Awareness Day."  

"To say this is an honor is quite the understatement," said Lynda Riggers Wolters, Riggers's daughter.

Riggers Wolters spoke to a crowd of people about the lasting impact her father left on those who met him and the history of how he got involved in politics. 

FRED'S STORY 

Fred Riggers grew up farming in Nezperce, a small-community in North Idaho. 

"Life was good, it was easy and it was fun," Riggers Wolters said.

But when Fred was 56 years old his failing vision had led him to become legally blind. Fred couldn't farm or drive anymore, and he became angry and depressed, Riggers Wolters said.

His family eventually moved to Boise, where Fred took up classes to learn how to navigate with a cane and fill his coffee cup. 

"That wasn't enough for my dad," Riggers Wolters said. "He was restless and needed more than drinking coffee."

That restlessness and drive to educate, Riggers Wolters said, is what led Fred to the Capitol, where he spent most of his days at legislative hearings and debates, dressed in his farmer jeans, plaid shirts, suspenders and work boots.

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"When he lost his sight, he became a great man," Riggers Wolters said. "Coming to the Capitol was a calling he didn't know that he had." 

Eventually, he began speaking to lawmakers on issues most important to him, which first included water rights and farming — topics he was familiar with. 

"This appealed to him, standing up in front of important people and speaking his mind," Riggers Wolters said. "He found out he was good at it — he had the right demeanor and attitude for those long, grueling hours of sitting and waiting his turn to be heard and then making his two minutes count." 

After several years, Fred traded his farmer jeans and boots for a dress shirt, bow tie and slacks. 

"Dad now looked the part," Riggers Wolters said. "He was dressed for success and took his opinions with him everywhere." 

If a person spent any time at the Legislature, they knew Fred. He greeted everyone he met with a smile, holding his white cane in one hand and sporting his dark glasses, according to Riggers Wolters. 

"I quickly learned from him that he was a very important person in this body. I knew he was one that was going to hold me accountable," said McGeachin, a former state representative. 

Fred graced the halls of the state Capitol for nearly 17 years, advocating and making a difference for disabled people in Idaho. 

"He would take his knowledge of the community of the disabled people and pass it along to the legislators, helping them better understand the need for health care and social services," Riggers Wolters said. 

Fred served as an advocate for the Library for the Blind as an appointee in Washington, D.C. 

"Fred Riggers was a somebody in his own way," Riggers Wolters said. "He spent countless hours over 17 years in these halls as a regular citizen, making friends and influencing people."  

At Tuesday's event, the CID also awarded Steve Graci, executive director of the Idaho Federation of Families for Children's Mental Health, the 2019 Marilyn Sword Award. Graci for many years has served an advocate for human and civil rights. 

"Why I'm getting it is still a question mark in my mind, given this room full of people that all deserve it," Graci said. "To receive this honor was totally unexpected." 

Savannah Cardon is the Caldwell reporter for the Idaho Press. Follow her on Twitter, @savannahlcardon, or reach her at 208-465-8172.

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