Former Miss Culver City Dies at 81

Vonda Joan Richards March 18, 1938 - September 20, 2019

Vonda Joan Beaird was born March 18, 1938, in Los Angeles, California to Wayne and Katherine (Kay). She was a raven-haired beauty from the start. Opting to drop "Vonda" in favor of "Joan" almost immediately once given the choice, those who loved her knew her as "Joni."

What a force! After surviving a near-fatal automobile accident that should have taken her from us long ago, Joni was reared in a Christian home and served the Lord from a young age, giving her testimony to those who would hear it. She attended Culver City High School and Hollywood Professional School, where she focused on her love of acting and singing.

She was crowned "Miss Culver City" and "Miss La Ballona Valley", among others. At the tender age of 18, she met and married Ed Birk, a serviceman, and entertainer, who along with his twin brother John, performed an incredible acrobatics act in tuxedos, including special performances in Las Vegas with Ella Fitzgerald and the like, on The Ed Sullivan Show, and many more.

While the marriage to Ed didn't last, she was blessed to have two children from the union, Melinda (Mindy) and Brian. Joan continued to hone her craft, traveling around to churches singing. She was once offered a spot on The Tennessee Ernie Ford Show but got her first big break at a casting session when she caught the attention of legendary director Ida Lupino, who wanted to immediately hear her read.

She got the part, playing alongside Efrem Zimbalist and Ed "Kookie" Byrnes as "Kookie's" girlfriend in the television series "77 Sunset Strip." She also played a role in the TV series "Pony Express. "It was another movie role audition that would change her life when she met three-time Olympian Pole Vaulter and two-time gold medalist Bob Richards, who tried his hand at film directing after a history of presenting on television as a spokesperson for "Wheaties," the famous breakfast cereal. It was during a tour of the film studio that the chemistry between them was undeniable.

Twelve years her senior, theirs was an incredible love affair and they married on April 18, 1970. Joan was by Bob's side as they traveled coast to coast and around the globe. They attended countless Olympic Games, U.S. Olympic Committee sponsored events, Hall of Fame inductions, a White House State Dinner, and keynote speeches spanning the decades, both complementing each other in every way. Joan was an accomplished businesswoman and motivational speaker in her own right, encouraging scores of people to carve out their lifelong residual incomes by selling Amway health, beauty, and home care products.

She reached the highest levels of success attainable at the company, with many family members in her downline, which is why you can still find boxes of SA-8 in their laundry cupboards! She sang "Power and the Glory" at the Amway national convention and eventually sold her portion of the business to her parents, setting them up for a comfortable retirement.

Along with Bob, she founded and developed their own multi-level marketing company, "Heart of America", where she paid special attention to her "Heart Cosmetics by Joni" line, branded with a heart over the "i' in Joni, with hearts as distinctly on the packaging as they were a part of her signature.

After a trip to Solvang, California where she first laid eyes on miniature horses, Joan founded Olympian Ranch Miniatures, where she bred and showed World Champion and Grand Champion-winning show ponies. It was unparalleled passion she poured into her beloved "minnies" as beautiful as the woman who doted on them, and she sold them throughout the world during her tenure.

Of all the roles Joan played, it was her role as wife, mother, and grandmother that made her most proud. She was as devoted as they come, fervent in the value of goal setting through sports and achieving a good education. She drove her children all over the country to ice skating practices and track meets (her CB handle was "Sparkle Plenty," no less). That is where you would find her most days, rooting from the stands.

As a dedicated reader (a fan of Mary Higgins Clark and Thomas Harris to name a few), she saw to it that her children were exposed to music, literature, and the arts. She adored her grandchildren and poured as much love on them as she did her children.

Moreover, she was an accomplished cook, often cooking for groups of 10 or more, all clamoring for her special dishes. Joan was a dynamic woman who did everything with just a little bit of extra Joni flair.

The entry foyer of her home includes a life-size miniature horse covered in disco ball glass positioned squarely in the middle-impossible to miss, completely sublime, and a cherished possession of the woman who created it. Even at the age of 81, her hair turned completely grey-a trend she didn't mind starting-she remained a striking beauty with the most intense blue eyes and sparkling smile.

The world loses a little of its luster without her in it and she will be missed by all those who knew and loved her. Joan was preceded in death by her father, Wayne; her mother, Kay; her nephew, Robert Hansley, Jr .; and brother-in-law, Robert Hansley, Sr.

She is survived by her husband, Bob; her children, Mindy and husband, Donny, Brian and wife, Kitrina, Brandon and wife, Tammy Lynn, Tommy and wife, Tonai and Tammy and husband, Eric; her step-children, Carol and husband, Bill, Bobby and wife, Cheryl and Paul and wife, Cindy; her siblings, Wayne and wife, Suzanne, Pam, Natalie and husband, Duane and their families; her grandchildren, Trevor, Macain, Hannah, Amanda, Tori, Cheyenne, Brett, Tucker, Riley, Kendall, Landon, Kalli, Talen and Sterling; 12 great-grandchildren; and her fur babies.

A graveside service was held Tuesday, Sept. 24, at Waco Memorial Park. Thoughts and memories may be shared at

Story courtesy Waco Herald-Tribune.


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