Dr. Joel R. Dickinson


Memorial service


St. Luke's Episcopal Church

Ada, Oklahoma

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Dr. Joel R. Dickinson, 82, flew west on April 30, 2019, after a hard-fought struggle with a short illness a mere 83 days after the passing of his beloved Ruth, his wife for nearly 54 years. We are consoled with the knowledge that they are together again in everlasting peace with their Savior.
Born March 8, 1937, in Omaha, Nebraska, the eldest of three children of Vivian Rollf and Lawrence Dickinson, Joel spent childhood summers exploring the American West with his family. These travels left an indelible impression on Joel, instituting in him a love of history and a deep patriotism for America.
A staunch belief in conservative values and a morality born of fair play charted Joel's personal course in life. He demonstrated his integrity early on - losing his high school senior year Homecoming king election by one vote (his own!) - because he believed it was not honorable to vote for oneself. These qualities were manifested in his professional and personal relationships and were a key part of his view of the world.
Joel prided himself on being a lifelong learner. In 1955, he graduated from Westside High School, lettering in varsity football and track and earning a scholarship to attend Carleton College in Minnesota, from which he graduated with a bachelor's degree in government and international relations. Next, Joel earned a master's degree in government from the University of Arizona in 1964 and his doctorate in political science and public administration in 1974 from the University of Missouri. His dissertation is a 720-page hand-typed volume on the creation of Redwood National Park as a case study in conservation politics.
An avid reader, Joel studied almost every biography of the American presidents and devoured nearly every western or detective novel ever published. In later years, he enjoyed studying religion and exploring his faith with his friends at St. Luke's Church.
Joel met Ruth in 1965 while they were both teachers at Millikin University and married shortly thereafter. More than once, she said he was "the most interesting and fun person she had ever met." When Joel committed to Ruth, a widow, he also committed to raising her two daughters as his own. They would later add two more children, a son and another daughter, and the mix became six.
Joel modeled his love of the West and penchant for history with his children, spending vacations traversing the American states, visiting monuments both man-made and of God's creation. These were opportunities for him to showcase his talents with trivia, geography and his near-photographic memory. He could tell you what was written on any random roadside historic marker before you had a chance to read it.
And passing through any town, Joel would rhetorically ask which American icon called it his boyhood home. Need the elevation of North Platte, Nebraska? Or the population of Rock Springs, Kentucky? Joel just knew these things.
He especially treasured his family home in Roscoe, Montana, enjoying gatherings there with friends and family during the summer months and spending most autumns there with Ruth. Nestled in the midst of Nature's grandeur, this ranch at the foot of the Absaroka-Beartooth mountains was the base for many adventures - even one hike that resulted in our song, "Joel Got Lost on the Mountain!"
Dr. Dickinson's robust professional career included teaching and administrative positions at Millikin University (Decatur, Illinois), University of Missouri (Columbia), Fort Hays State University (Hays, Kansas) Northern Michigan University (Marquette), University of South Alabama (Mobile), University of Alaska Southeast (Juneau), East Central Oklahoma State University (Ada) and Lamar University (Beaumont, Texas) and culminated as vice president of Unity College (Unity, Maine).
Following his retirement from higher education, he continued to focus on helping others match their passion with their career as an employment counselor in Houston and Oklahoma City and worked as a financial advisor with Ruth in Ada.
Further, Joel volunteered for many worthwhile service organizations, including the Rotary Club, community theater and his church homes.
Growing up in Omaha influenced Joel's staunch Midwestern values and conservative politics, instilling in him a lifelong loyalty, bordering on rabid, to Nebraska football.
As an adult, Joel curated a variety of hobbies, including hiking, camping, community theater, orienteering, tennis, marathon running, choir, puzzle-solving, lay reading at church, pheasant hunting and skunking everyone, always, in Trivial Pursuit. His flyover-country roots and sense of honor may have been why his favorite sport was golf: the only one where you keep your own score.
Though he was blind in one eye due to a boyhood accident, he still shot skeet better than most, and he even earned his private pilot's license. He would later buy his own light plane and fly it - with 13-year-old Joel S. as co-pilot - on a monthlong journey from Alaska all the way to Alabama, and then later to Oklahoma.
He is survived by his children, Kristin, Erica, Joel and Alison, and their spouses; grandchildren Cadence, Sierra, Logan, Benjamin, Joshua, Karina, and Kiran; great-granddaughter, Rori; brother, Stephen, and sister, Julie; and many extended family members who still lovingly refer to him as "El Viejo."
With his gift of humor and good sportsmanship, he was the focus of many songs and stories which left us in stitches over the decades and will bring us all joy in memories for years to come.
One family story keenly illustrates his sense of humor: Mark (newly minted as son-in-law) was attempting to retrieve expensive shotgun shells from the bottom of an icy pond after a duck hunt gone wrong. Though Joel was in the canoe to "help," he mischievously dropped the soggy shells back over the side into the water as fast as Mark brought them up from the bottom of "Shotshell Pond."
We are grateful we were able to enjoy Joel's quick and witty nature. We will miss his perfectly seasoned popcorn and his teasing - both the wisecracks and the mild insults. If you knew him, you will too, for those were some of the surest evidence he gave of his warmth and friendship. Time, as it will, mellowed Joel. Quicker would he tell us that he would miss us, that he loved us and that we should take care. These were the words he used quietly, closely but without reservation, with a firm warm handshake or hug and a slightly moist eye.
For us, his family, friends, neighbors and fellows he has left behind for the moment, we will miss him terribly, remember him fondly and go forth tomorrow into a world just a little less light-hearted. For Joel, but one adventure remains, in reunion and alongside his loving Ruth.
A memorial service will be held at 3 p.m. Sunday at St. Luke's Episcopal Church, Ada.
Published on May 24, 2019
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