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Columbia Missourian

Richard K. Dixon was an avid storyteller, photographer

By Madeline Kennedy
April 4, 2013 | 8:46 p.m. CDT

COLUMBIA — Richard Dixon was an avid storyteller. He shared vivid tales of his adventures overseas and of growing up in Iowa.

“He always had stories,” James Richard Dixon, his grandson, said.

He included those stories in his three-volume memoir, "Memories of A Small-Town Boy," complete with his own illustrations and photographs. He finished the chronicles in 2004. 

Richard Kinman Dixon of Columbia died Wednesday, March 20, 2013, at the Boone Hospital Center in Columbia. He was 85.

Mr. Dixon was born on Oct. 1, 1927, on a farm outside Bloomfield, Iowa.

He enlisted in the Army in 1946, the year after graduating high school. He spent about nine months of his year of service in Zama, Japan, reaching the rank of sergeant.

Mr. Dixon earned his bachelor’s degree in French and Spanish in 1951 and his master’s degree in French in 1953, both from the University of Iowa. In 1953, the French government appointed him assistant d’Anglais (teaching assistant of English), and he spent the next two years in France. Later, he studied Spanish in Spain and Mexico. He received his doctorate in French language and literature in 1967 from the University of Colorado.

From 1955 to 1958, Mr. Dixon taught French and Spanish at Coe College in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. He was then a teaching assistant in French at the University of Colorado from 1958 to 1961.

In 1961, he began teaching French language and literature at MU. He also taught classes in French drama. For many years, he supervised French language classes with his wife, Sarah. He retired in 1992.

“When he would teach me French, he wouldn't use English just like he did in his classes,” James Richard Dixon said.

Mr. Dixon's son, James Wesley Dixon, said he loved teaching at MU.

“He still emailed with his students even after he retired," he said. "And I know one of them has a student at the university now.”

Ben Honeycutt, also a retired MU French professor, became close friends with Mr. Dixon and Sarah Dixon (whom he knew by her nickname, Sally) after joining the MU faculty in 1970.

Having children of similar ages, the friends would have family picnics together at Stephens Lake Park, which was part of Stephens College at the time.

Sarah Dixon was passionate about Stephens Lake; she and Mr. Dixon worked constantly to save it. There is a tree planted there in her name, James Wesley Dixon said.

“He had a special affection for Stephens Lake,” he said. “He avidly worked toward making it a park.”

The two families would also spend time together at the Honeycutt’s condo at the Lake of the Ozarks, where the Dixons later had their own condo.

“They were certainly very attached to their children and grandson, James,” Honeycutt said. “They loved to take them on trips.”

James Richard Dixon said the family would travel all over the country.

“As a kid, we always went to Colorado, and we went to Florida a few times,” he said. “We took lots of trips to Iowa, mostly to Bloomfield, where he was born. We have a lot of relatives there.”

James Wesley Dixon recalled that Mr. Dixon enjoyed taking the family backpacking through the Rocky Mountains. 

Mr. Dixon and Sarah Nourse Golder, met in Boulder, Colo., when she helped him learn how to ski, James Richard Dixon said.

“He always liked to tell that story,” he said. 

The two married in June of 1962. When they bought a house off Green Meadows Road in 1968, they also bought the adjacent lot for his garden, James Richard Dixon said.

“He probably had every type of flower you can grow in Missouri,” he said. “But day lilies were his passion.”

Mr. Dixon grew hundreds of day lily hybrids, naming many after his sisters and his wife. He was the vice president for Region 11 of the American Hemerocallis Society, which covers Oklahoma, Kansas and Missouri, from 1995 to 1996.

He was given permission to grow day lilies at his beloved Stephens Lake Park, James Wesley Dixon said.

Honeycutt said Mr. Dixon was an avid photographer, and had his own darkroom. He also had a love of theater and music, especially classical — interests he shared with Honeycutt.

“We went to lots of concerts and saw movies at Ragtag Cinema,” Honeycutt said. “He was a great friend.”

Richard Dixon is survived by his youngest sister, Margaret Anne Klisnick of Littleton, Colo.; his son, James Wesley Dixon of Hallsville; his daughter, Marjory Lynn Dixon of Columbia; his grandson, James Richard Dixon of Hallsville; and two stepgrandsons and their five children.

Four sisters, a half brother, and his beloved wife, Sarah, died earlier.

Services and interment for both Richard and Sarah will be held at 11 a.m., April 14, at Columbia Cemetery, 30 E. Broadway.