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Accident victim loved playing ball, serving the Lord

May 23, 2008|By ERIN JULIUS

HAGERSTOWN -- Clifford Rice was on his way to play softball -- something he still loved doing at age 72 -- when the van in which he and five other men were riding ran into the path of a tractor-trailer on Wednesday morning.

Rice died in that crash on Md. 66 east of Hagerstown.

The other occupants of the 2003 Chevrolet Custom van were injured, as was the driver of the tractor-trailer, Trooper 1st Class Michael Ford said Wednesday.

Although baseball and softball played a big role in Rice's life, religion also was very important to him, his wife said Thursday.

"His greatest pleasure was serving the Lord," said Ann Rice, noting that he went on mission trips to Mexico, where he helped build churches.

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"He was a Christian who enjoyed serving the Lord through mission work," she said of her husband of 29 years.

They recently had been attending LIFE House Church Bethel on Wilson Boulevard, she said.

The couple met in church, Ann Rice said. Clifford Rice coached her son's Little League team, and he later adopted him, she said.

In his younger days, Rice played in the 4-H Fast Pitch Softball League, and later was president of Superior Little League, according to information in his obituary.

He managed teams in Valley Little League and Smithsburg Little Sluggers, and was involved for years with the Washington County Church Softball League.

He managed and played Washington County Senior Softball, then was a manager and player in the Montgomery County Senior Recreation Leagues.

Rice and the other men in the car were members of the Road Runners, a senior league softball team. On Wednesday morning, they were on their way to Olney, Md., for a softball tournament.

Rice is survived by three sons, Jeff, Tom and Rodney and their wives; six grandchildren; and two great-grandchildren, Ann Rice said.

Family members were expected to arrive from Washington state and Florida by Thursday night, she said.

Ann Rice said she and her husband did not waste time arguing. The two often talked about how thankful they were for every day together, she said.

"We had 29 years of wonderful happiness," she said.

Some Maryland State Police troopers, whom she described as "very kind," went to Rice's workplace Wednesday morning to tell her about the accident, she said.

Clifford Rice was one of seven siblings, his sister, Luella Eckstine, said Thursday morning.

He graduated from Hagerstown High School in 1954.

He retired from the U.S. Post Office in Hagerstown in 2001 after 43 years. He most often worked at the window, helping customers, Eckstine said.

"He really was a wonderful person," she said. "Very moral."

Clifford Rice was somewhat quiet, but had a sense of humor and teased his siblings a lot, said Eckstine, who is an employee of The Herald-Mail Co.

His wife also talked about Clifford Rice's sense of humor. As family members were finding old pictures Thursday, they noticed he was wearing goofy hats in many of them, she said.

"He was fun-loving," she said.

Two of the six men injured in the accident were released from Washington County Hospital's emergency room, a hospital spokeswoman said Thursday. They are Dennis Kendle, 65, of Hagerstown, who was a passenger in the van, and the driver of the tractor-trailer, Vernon Holt Jr., 42, of Dundalk, Md.

The driver of the van, Robin Poffenberger, 72, of Hagerstown, and passenger Gary Gruber, 63, of Clear Spring, both were listed in serious condition Thursday, the hospital spokeswoman said.

Two men were flown to the University of Maryland Shock Trauma Center in Baltimore after the crash. Jack Finniff, 63, of Hagerstown, and Gardner Stewart, 64, of Harpers Ferry, W.Va., were both listed in critical condition Thursday evening.

Fire and emergency medical services personnel from Community Rescue Service, Smithsburg, Boonsboro, Funkstown, Mount Aetna and the Washington County Division of Fire and Emergency Medical Services responded to the scene, along with members of the Maryland State Police Crash Team and the State Highway Administration.

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