A longtime newspaper friend of mine recently came back
to his roots in DeKalb to receive a lifetime achievement award
Fred Dickey and I were young Huskies just out of college
in the 1960s when we both owned weekly newspapers, mine in Genoa
and his in Seneca-Marseilles. We got to reconnect and reminisce
about our "early days" when he returned to Northern
Illinois University, where he was honored at an April 21 banquet
as the Donald R. Grubb Distinguished Alumnus of the Year.
After leaving NIU, he took much the same path as I did,
migrating to California for a newspaper job, including becoming
the top editor of the Oakland Tribune, and Sunday editor of the
San Jose Mercury-News, two major dailies in the state. He now
lives in coastal Cardiff by the Sea, a suburb of San Diego. I
know he had a distinguished career, having been nominated for
the Pulitzer Prize three times in his life.
Fred Dickey accepted the Donald R. Grubb Distinguished
Journalism Alumnus of the Year award at a banquet recently at
NIU. With him is Dr. Grubb's widow Ruby. (Provided photo)
A 1957 DeKalb High School graduate, he is past president
of the American Association of Sunday and Feature Editors.
In his acceptance speech, he urged that Reavis Hall, where
NIU's communications department is housed, should be renamed
for Dr. Donald Grubb, the founder of the journalism program at
NIU. He recalled that Grubb was determined to make the journalism
department one of the best in the nation - which he did.
Since retiring, Dickey has been freelancing for Los Angeles
Times Magazine, as well as writing a weekly people column for
the San Diego Union-Tribune.
"For the LA Times, I primarily write about issues,"
he said. "For the Union-Tribune, my subjects have been interesting
and unsung people, from those who have faced hardship to those
who caused it - the human parade."
"I write about the overlooked people who do remarkable,
even heroic things: disabled people who find productive jobs
within their capability; children who survive nightmare family
situations and make the honor roll; mothers who gather up children
and flee abusive husbands," he said. "I find a homeless
person more interesting than a typical millionaire."
In a separate discussion we had afterward, he demonstrated
he's lost none of the candor that marked his journalistic career."I
still follow developments at NIU, and I'm greatly bothered by
the way the president's office is being handled," he said.
"Frankly, when the incumbent's contract ends, I'd like to
see Dennis Barsema named to the job. He's a tremendously successful
businessman, a straight shooter and a loyal alumnus who has demonstrated
his love for NIU with his deep pocketbook."
Dickey points out that other universities have turned to
successful business executives for leadership, especially when
mired in financial or marketing problems. He said the results
have been largely successful. He once met Barsema at a San Diego
football game alumni event and was impressed with the conversation
Every time Dickey returns to his hometown, he said, "I
always go back to California a little wistfully - especially
if it's not February."