Dean Hickey has made plenty of stops in his journey from a sharecropper’s farm in rural Kansas, where he was born 76 years ago, to his home near Blanket.
Those stops include the U.S. Marine Corps and the Korean War; the Los Angeles Police Department, where he was a motorcycle officer; and several businesses including an appliance repair and locksmith shop in Arizona.
Now retired and a widower, Hickey lives on a spread of just over 6 acres.
Retired, maybe, but hardly inactive. He raises goats at his property, he is active with veterans groups, and said he continues a lifelong quest to read and learn. Two of his grandchildren from North Carolina — Crystal, 15, and Christopher, 12 — just finished a weeks-long summer visit with him.
“He is a man of many talents and abilities,” a friend, Gary Baker of Early, said of Hickey. “He can fix small appliances and cars. He knows carpentry, works with metal and designs things out of metal and/or wood which he sells at flea markets.
“He is knowledgeable about gardening and several kinds of animals and animal behavior. He loves science, history — especially U.S. — and is good in math. He has an insatiable desire to learn and reads regularly in a variety of areas. It is the fact that he loves to learn, read and is so knowledgeable and talented in different fields that reminds me of a Renaissance man. I doubt he would think of himself that way.”
Baker wasn’t too far off the mark, Hickey modestly acknowledged, saying his friend “pretty much so” got it right.
Hickey said he was shaped by his experiences growing up as a sharecropper, which taught him self-sufficiency: his family grew or killed what they ate, mostly made what they needed and repaired things that broke.
Hickey was born the fifth of six children — his younger sister died of polio — and graduated from high school in Liberal, Kan. “I was not an outstanding student,” he said. “I barely passed.
“It wasn’t because of lack of knowledge. It was lack of application, but I did graduate, in 1948.”
After high school, Hickey worked at a variety of places including a flour mill, grocery stores and Western Auto.
When the Korean War began, Hickey told his boss he was going on vacation and wouldn’t be back. He drove to Dodge City or Wichita — he doesn’t remember which — and enlisted in the Marines.
He joined because of the war and because he’d recently seen the movie “The Shores of Tripoli.”
“I thought it looked like a pretty sharp outfit to be in,” he said.
In February 1951, Hickey sailed for Korea, where he stayed 377 days and served in an artillery unit. He drove trucks that towed artillery pieces and hauled artillery and ammunition. He was shot at, but escaped injury.
Hickey returned to the States, and was discharged at Camp Pendleton in San Diego. He’d already decided to go into law enforcement, and planned to join the Kansas state police. Instead, he applied for a job with the Los Angeles Police Department and was hired in 1954, assigned as a jailer.
He was accepted into the motorcycle ranks in 1957, riding a Harley-Davidson. Riders kick-started the big 1,200-cc engines, and the sirens were tire-driven.
“I had a few confrontations. Some of them made the newspapers — nothing serious,” he said.
He “half-way” met Ernest Borgnine when he inadvertently ended up riding side-by-side with the actor for a few moments. Borgnine gave him a big grin and a wave.
With a marriage and divorce behind him, Hickey left the police department in 1974 and prepared for his next career: repairing small appliances and locksmithing. “I just have a knack for mechanical things,” he said.
Hickey lived briefly in Colorado and Kansas, then headed back for California, planning to open a shop.
Stopping as he traveled through Williams, Ariz., 35 miles west of Flagstaff, Hickey told someone in a local business of his plans to open a small appliance and locksmith shop. Williams doesn’t have one of those, the person told him.
So that’s where Hickey stayed for the next nine years, running his shop.
In 1983, Hickey moved to Brownwood to join his brother, Bob, who had married a Brownwood woman.
Hickey went to work at Weakley-Watson and became chummy with a co-worker named Linda. On one of his days off, he went to the store, picked her up for lunch and asked her if she wanted to get married. She did.
They went to the courthouse, where then-Justice of the Peace Charles McCain did the job, and Hickey got his bride back at work by the end of her lunch hour.
Hickey went to part-time status at Weakley-Watson in 1993 and ran a small engine repair shop in Comanche with his son for awhile. He closed the business when his son and daughter-in-law moved to North Carolina.
Around 1996 or ‘97, Hickey said, he “pretty much retired for good” and left Weakley-Watson. His wife died in 2003.
Hickey said when he left the police department in 1974, someone gave him advice: it does a body good to change jobs and change locations frequently.
“In my case it’s proved to be true,” Hickey said. “For my age I get around pretty good.”