Ernest Paul “Bick” Bicknell II passed away peacefully on Saturday, July 30, 2011 in his home, surrounded by love and light, with friends and family near him. He would have been 99 this month.
Bick was a cornerstone in the Berkeley Friends Meeting on Vine Street, and deeply involved in the local community, both in Berkeley and across the border in Oakland where he lived. Bick was the grandson of Ernest Percy Bicknell, National Director and Vice Chairman for the American Red Cross. Born in Fort Wayne Indiana to Scott Clarence Bicknell of Fort Wayne, IN and Anna Katharine Quick of Indianapolis, (Bick’s parents married in Marion County Indiana on June 29, 1911), his father Scott was a newspaperman in Southern Indiana and a member of the Rotary Club.
As a Boy Scout, Bick attained the rank of Life Scout, which is the rank just before Eagle. In his Oral History (May 2009) on the subject of The Boy Scouts of America, he said, “I got more from Scouts that I did from school, actually.” Bick graduated from Kentucky Military Institute in June of 1930 where he learned to dance and lettered as a member of the rifle team. The year following graduation, he worked as a reporter for the Indianapolis Times through Antioch College’s progressive work-study program which allowed him to purchase his first car, a Ford Model T roadster. During his second year of college, at Butler Journalism School, he sold his Model T to help his mother and stepfather purchase the Milroy, Indiana printing plant, where Bick ran hot-metal typesetting on the press and was the reporter and editor, while his mother sold advertising. This is where Bick learned to proofread and where he developed a passion for editing.
Bick moved to San Francisco in 1935 to work for the American Red Cross where he ran the library, wrote news releases and magazine stories, and created the magazine First Aid on the Highway that was picked up as a regular publication by the National office. He attended San Francisco State College, where he graduated in 1941 with a degree in social work, and was involved in the college newspaper.
His love of the newspaper business lasted his entire life. After graduating from KMI, Bick vowed never to raise a rifle again, and he never did. In the fall of 1940, he was writing anti-war editorials at SF State. In 1941, after registering as a conscientious objector, he was thoroughly questioned by the draft board where he shared his beliefs and thoughts on the military and war. They told him to get his affairs in order and to wait for their call. As he has said a million times since then, he is still waiting.
Bick worked in the newspaper business at the Indianapolis Times, with the San Francisco Chronicle from 1945-1947, where he was a copywriter and an advertising salesman, later returning to the Chronicle in 1952 again in advertising. During a short time in Los Angeles he worked for Budde Publications and the Hollywood Citizen News. Upon returning to the Bay Area, he sold advertising for the Mill Valley Record, the Hayward Daily Review, the Freemont News-Register and the Milpitas Post where he retired in 1979 at the age of 67.
Retirement wasn’t in his vocabulary. He immediately became Head of Northern California Press for John Anderson’s presidential campaign. During the War on Poverty Campaign and the Peace Movement of the 1960s, Bick and his second wife Toni were introduced to the Berkeley Friends Meeting of Quakers by Martin “Marty” White, then Clerk, while he, Marty, was Director of the War on Poverty in Hayward. Bick participated in the famous war protest where protesters placed daisies in the rifle barrels of the National Guard and knew the person who brought the flowers. Later, Bick and his third wife Eda were instrumental in starting the Hayward Friends Meeting but also regularly attended the Berkeley Meeting.
Quakerism appealed to Bick and built upon his foundation from the Boy Scouts, his view of Christianity, and experiences at Antioch College where the words of Horace Mann resonated strongly, “Be ashamed to die until you have won some victory for humanity.” A long-time Quaker, Bick was a man who was passionate about social justice and peace. He was a deeply thoughtful and caring man who was interested in all kinds of people, Bick helped many individuals who had lost their way, offering a non-judgmental presence and a ray of hope. He was an avid storyteller, a deep thinker and conversationalist, and was rarely without a twinkle in his eye and a pun rolling off his tongue. Well loved by the Berkeley Friend’s Quaker Meeting, Pacific Yearly Meeting, and Friends Committee on Legislation in Sacramento, he served as good listener, insightful mentor, instigator extraordinaire and eventually, as a wise elder.
Bick and his beloved wife Eda met when they were both 58 years old. They were together for 32 years until she passed away in 2002 at the age of 90. During her lengthy illness, Bick read to her every afternoon from her favorite books and brought her fresh red roses from the lovely garden they had grown together. Bick loved: the outdoors, especially walking, aggressive driving, auctions and yard sales, collecting books, reading political histories and biographies, gardening, the current SF Giants, and spending as much time as he could with his family and friends. His long life was well lived.
Married Eleanor “Ann Taylorson” Dixon June 6, 1936, Son: Ernest Paul Bicknell III, Daughter: Susan Bicknell Price. Married Tonita Harris 1954, Daughter: Toni Katharine Bicknell. Met Eda Drake 1968, married 1978 in a Quaker Ceremony at Hayward Meeting. Bick is survived by 3 children, 3 step-children, 6 grand-children, and 3 great grandchildren. A Quaker memorial service will be held November 12th, 2011 at the Berkeley Friends Meeting on Vine Street. Those unable to attend but wishing to honor Bick’s memory may consider making a donation to the Berkeley Friends Meeting, the Boy Scouts of America, Antioch College, or the American Red Cross.
Thanks to Stephanie Nydell for conducting, compiling, and editing this obituary, to Sylvia Drake for additional editing on Bick’s Oral History; thanks to Helen Greenspan for her lovely letter to the UCSF Willed Body Program. Thanks to everyone in Bick’s life who kept him young, engaged, and vibrant for so many years. His work will continue, his “victory for mankind” known by many.