Early in the morning on September 16, 2020 the world lost one of its great ones. My dad. It seems so surreal talking about him in the third person as he had a superman-like quality and I almost believed he would be with us forever. My dad’s larger than life character resounded in everything he did. Affectionately known as “Doc” by his friends he was always quick with a joke and loved the quality of deep friendships he acquired through his years of service as a dentist, Kiwanis member, Swimming official, Father, and grandfather. Thinking about my dad’s life I’m amazed at how much he accomplished so effortlessly; and how He enjoyed everything he chose to do. He dedicated his life to service, and serving others.
My dad lived his life by a code, a set of values that he followed and were important to him. He shared and instill these principles in me throughout my life.
Here are some of the principles and qualities my dad lived by:
He believed in always taking the time to enjoy doing the things you love to do, because there might come a time when you won’t be able to do them. Surround yourself with people that you love and never be afraid to tell them how you feel-you Never know when it will be your last time seeing them. Never leave a conversation with bad feelings or you might not get an opportunity to fix it later. If you are right in your convictions… Speak your mind and Never back down. He believed in being self-reliant and taking responsibility for your actions. Always do your best in anything you do so you’ll never have any regrets. Money is only good for one thing… Spending. He believed in being on time and honoring commitments- no matter how small. His word was his bond, if he said “yes “to doing something or being somewhere – it was done. Yes, being on time, being true to your word, holding yourself accountable, and taking responsibility for your actions, mattered greatly to my father. Those are the qualities he shared with us, And In return asked the same respect from us.
Following these principles to him meant you had honor and respect for yourself and for others; And he chose to surround himself with friends that share the same qualities. So now that you all have a sense of my dad’s character please allow me to tell you his story so you get an understanding of what things made him the amazing individual that we all came to respect and love.
My dad was born June 12, 1931. He was born in Muskingum county, Zanesville Ohio to my grandparents Louise and William Hickman. He was an only child. His father left his mother when he was six months old. Consequently, he grew up without a father. He lived with his mother, maternal grandmother and grandfather. They were poor farmers and lived in a wooden farmhouse with no electricity or running water. He had an outhouse for a bathroom and a well for drinking water. He often commented they were so poor that he had to attend the second session of Sunday school because he had to share his dress shoes with his cousin who would go to the class before him. Throughout his life he valued everything he had because growing up if he lost anything, he knew he could not afford to get another one. If you ever saw our garage you would think he was a hoarder; but it was this upbringing of cherishing his belongings that left a lifelong impression on him. He hated getting rid of anything.
While his mother and grandmother were nurturing and loving, His grandfather was a very stern individual, and my dad spent most of his youth steering clear of him, which meant spending most of his time outdoors playing in the woods, fishing, shooting his BB gun and 22 rifle with his cousins and friends.
He attended Pleasant Grove Grade School a single room school house until 8th grade, Roosevelt Jr High and then attended Lash High School where he got good grades and enjoyed being on the swim team. His grandfather never cared much for school and constantly remind my father that they were poor farmers that he would probably never amount to much more. So, my father grew up believing he didn’t have much to offer this world
He was too young for World War II, but, the day after graduation from high school in May of 1950 he enlisted in the Marine Corps believing that was his way out of Zanesville. He went through boot camp at Paris Island South Carolina and on October 2nd 1952 he landed at Korea. He spent 2 tours of duty in Korea training and fighting alongside the Korean Marines. He fought in battles at the Chosen Reservoir and was part of the campaign that pushed the North Koreans to the 38th Parallel. In October 1954 he returned to the United States and was stationed first at Camp Pendleton, and then at El Toro Marine Corps base, where he ran the rifle range and taught Marines how to fire small arms and M1 rifles. He was in the 1st Battalion 5th Marine Division, his highest rank was staff sergeant, a drill instructor, and was decorated with a National Defense medal, a Korean Service medal, a United Nations service medal, and Korean Presidential Unit Citation with 1 oak leaf cluster. He loved being a Marine. The Marine Corp taught him that life is precious, the value of friendship, honor, and fighting for what you believe; in essence it shaped him into the man he became. While in the Marine Corps, he took an IQ test and scored 142. It was then that he realized he was smarter and had more to offer than he was led to believe. He thought about reenlisting into officer’s candidate school but as fate would have it, he met my mother and everything changed.
Sometime in early 1956 he met my mother at Main beach in Laguna. My mother said he use to come into the diner she was working at late at night. He was scruffy, eyes red, with smelly wrinkled clothes; she thought he was homeless. She gave him free food because she felt sorry for him. She didn’t realize he spent most of his free time tanning, body surfing and abalone diving and that’s why he looked so mangy. He thought she like him and was flirting. They began their relationship and were married June 15th 1957 in Las Vegas, Nevada. Shortly after he decided to go to school and become a dentist. Why a dentist I don’t know. What I do know is that he spent 2 years at … Applied for dental school at Loma Linda University and got in. To put himself through school he worked at Kaiser Steel Mill in Fontana laying rebar and building bridges in Riverside County. There were no student loans, no outside help, it was all on him. On weekends he would work at a liquor store for spare money. For fun, he would go through the change in the cash register and search for valuable coins he would collect. This was a hobby he had his whole life.
In 1966, he graduated from Loma Linda University Dental School and he opened up his own practice in Santa Ana California and our family moved to the City of Orange. He also joined the staff at Loma Linda and every Monday afternoon for 40years he would drive to Riverside to teach restorative dentistry to the sophomore class. He never took a paycheck from this; He told me he felt obligated to give back to the school that gave him so much. Also, one day a month he would donate his services fixing teeth for free to people that could not afford dental care. As a dentist, he believed in Saving your teeth at all costs, and being fair about prices. He would often complain about how dentists would overcharge and perform unnecessary procedures to gain more money. He despised this kind of dentistry. My dad was not impressed by money, he gave freely and valued service over selfish needs. In 50 years of dentistry he never missed a day of work for being sick.
In 1966, he joined the Golden city Kiwanis club in Santa Ana on the request of one of his friends; it was one of the greatest times of my dad ‘s life as he enjoyed all the amazing friendships he gathered here throughout his years of membership. My father outlived most of them but some of these Gentlemen were his best friends for life. September, and Labor Day weekend were especially important as he worked the City of Orange International Street Fair for over 30 years. For 3 days and nights he and his friends would raise money for their philanthropic work, probably drink more than he should have, but enjoyed every moment of camaraderie with his friends. Three times a year he would travel to Mexico and donate clothes and food to the various orphanages from Tijuana to Ensenada, and during his time as a Kiwanian he served as president 3 times In 30 years of being an active Kiwanis club member he had perfect attendance, that means Every Wednesday Am at 7:30- he was there.
My brother and I began competitive swimming and my father was involved with us every step of the way. He began officiating swim meets in the early 1980’s a passion he continued for over 40 years including USA Swimming, collegiate, and high school meets. During this time, He was the booster Club president of the Mission Viejo Nadadores for 8 years and was instrumental to the success of the Swim Meet of Champions which still exists today. In 1983 he was asked by the head coach at USC, Peter Deland, to be the Venue Director for swimming, diving, and synchronized swimming at the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles. He also served as a member on the Board of Directors for Southern California Swimming and also as Senior Chairperson. Even though he had accomplished so much, he never looked for glory or personal advancement in working large top-level meets; in fact, his favorite swim meets to officiate were the Red/white meets. He loved these meets especially when his grandchildren would attend and compete. I found it quite ironic as I would be coaching, my dad would be officiating and his grandchildren swimming. I and my grandchildren all had the distinct honor of being disqualified by him as some point in our past. I’ll never forget my dad looking at me, shaking his head, smirking and giggling when he was starting a meet and watching his grandchildren compete.
Outside of all of his commitments, my dad had a great love for the outdoors and sports.
My dad had a deep passion for fishing. And more to be exact fly fishing. He would tie his own flies, built several bamboo fly rods, and would go regularly to the Orange County Fly Fishers meetings to learn more about great places to fish. He fished all over the western United States. For over 40 years, with Special friends he admired and love, he backpacked in the Sierras, and fished in California, Utah, Colorado and New Mexico. For 30+ years every mid-September he would travel to Alaska and spend 7 day’s fly fish for salmon with these same friends. The rest of the year, He spent fantasizing and talking about future trips. I am sure that in Heaven he is spending his time fishing some beautiful river, catching big rainbow trout and releasing them back to the river.
I want to share some extra important facts about my dad that most likely you didn’t know about.
He hated saying,” good bye” and would elect to say,” we’ll see you soon” or “we’ll see you around” or “I’ll see you when I see you”
He was an artist. He sculpted, carved, drew, and made jewelry.
He loved cars and his first and favorite car was a red 1950 Ford convertible. He still owned a 1956 Ford Thunderbird which he drove me to swim practice and every day for 10 years.
He had a 30ft boat that we would take to Catalina and cruise around the Coast.
He built 2 outdoor fish ponds and had over 100 Koi Carp
He liked ice cold beer especially Coors light, but he loved Chivas Regal scotch.
His favorite foods were: abalone, lobster, crab, and oyster’s raw, stewed and Rockefeller.
He learned to scuba dive and in the early 70s would catch his own abalone in Newport and Laguna beach.
He was an avid golfer; he spent many hours at the driving range and playing many world renown courses around California, Arizona, and Hawaii. At one point he was an 8 handicap and one year I personally witnessed him hit a hole-in-one on a random Easter Sunday morning.
He loved jazz, big band music, and could swing dance; he was fortunate to see Benny Goodman, Count Basie, Stan Kenton, Artie Shaw, Dave Brubeck and many others.
Every Friday after school he would take me to 100-year-old soda fountain in Orange (Watsons drugstore) Where we would sit in the same seats at the counter and eat and talk.
When I went to the University of Arizona once every 5/6 weeks, he would drive out to visit me for the weekend. We would spend our time talking, drinking beer, and visiting sites round Tucson.
My dad loved reading especially action/military fiction and nonfiction. He had an extensive library of all the thousands of books he read over his lifetime. He even took a speed-reading course where he learned to read at incredible speeds. I once witnessed him read war and peace in just three days.
His favorite movies were Valdez is coming, Red Sun, Singing in the Rain, and any documentary about War…
Now that you’ve heard the story of my father, I know it sounds like I’m bragging about him… I am. Only because he was so humble about the things he did if I didn’t say something no one would have ever known what kind of a truly selfless man he was. It’s perhaps a miracle that he turned out to be such an amazing fiercely loving father and service oriented person and accomplishing so much in his life; Despite being an only child not having a father, being raised by a callous grandfather and with the ominous belief that he was a poor Farm boy and would not amount to much.
I truly believe that if I could speak for my dad, and you could take something from him today, he would say, life is too short, spend more time doing the things you love. Hug your family tighter and never leave without telling those you love how much you love them. Life is tenuous at best and only God knows how long you’ll be here so spend your time wisely doing things that make you and others happy.
I love you dad… and I’ll see you when I see you.
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