SENECA FALLS – Sam Dickieson disliked fuss and show, yet few people in Seneca Falls have received as many honors as has Sam and his beloved wife, Dorothy. Samuel C. Dickieson, who would have been 90 years old in October, died on Tuesday following a long illness.
He is being remembered as a dedicated teacher and friend who gave tirelessly to make Seneca Falls and Seneca County a better place.
“Our teacher, our friend, curmudgeon, compassionate giver, passionate musician – you are at peace now but your soul lives in each of us whose lives touched yours and the many lives you touched without meeting,” said Karen Beals, executive director of Seneca County United Way. In 2003 she presented Dickieson with United Way’s Herb Wurstner Award for his exceptional work as a community volunteer.
It was just one of the many accolades Dickieson received in his remarkable lifetime, but the accolades he cherished most acknowledged his skill as an educator.
“I’ve known Sam Dickieson since I was a freshman at Mynderse in 1955,” said journalist and friend Carol Ritter Wright. “He was my ninth-grade science teacher and later my chemistry teacher. A few years later than that, we sang together in the Presbyterian Church choir.
“Sam was one of the funniest, wittiest, kindest, and most grounded people I’ve ever had the pleasure of knowing. Losing him is losing a trusted and very dear friend. He was the last of a line of wonderful teachers we had at Mynderse Academy. As a sort of honorary member of virtually every class there in his teaching tenure, he kept close track of Mynderse grads all over the country.”
When Al Guardino, Mynderse Class of 1970, was named Teacher of the Year in Amarillo, TX, Independent School District in 2012, he credited Dickieson with inspiring him. “An extraordinary man and educator, whose life continues to impact our world through your family and students. We are your legacy!” he wrote in dedicating the program book to Dickieson.
Another student, State Sen. Mike Nozzolio, remembers Dickieson as “a remarkably dedicated teacher, who was deeply devoted to his family, and the community he loved. I along with generations of Mynderse Academy students was very fortunate to have the benefit of Sam’s guidance through chemistry and physics classes.”
The class of 1957 dedicated its yearbook to Dickieson early in his career at Mynderse and when he when he retired as a teacher in 1982, the students of that class presented him with a special tribute. “In your presence we shared the wealth of your warmth and wisdom. In your absence we shall share the riches of your memory,” the students wrote.
But Dickieson so disliked fuss that he even told his daughters that there was no need to come to the retirement party.
Retirement didn’t mean that Dickieson would rest on his laurels.
“He became the community’s volunteer,” said daughter Christine Pesses. A member of the Seneca Falls Presbyterian Church for more than 60 years, he sang baritone in the choir and served as the church’s treasurer of special funds. A lover of opera and classical music, he was on the board of the Geneva Concert Series. He served as treasurer for the Seneca County Retired Teachers. Dickieson served as treasurer and a member of the board of the National Women’s Hall of Fame for 15 years, from its inception until 2008.
“As treasurer of the National Women’s Hall of Fame – he was named a board member emeritus when he left the board after years of dedication – he pinched every penny, worried over every bill and did his level best to get the word out everywhere that the organization was worthy of recognition and support.,” Ritter said.
“It was my special honor though to work with Sam and his beloved wife Dorothy for many years on a number of projects important to Seneca Falls, especially the Seneca Falls Library and National Women’s Hall of Fame,” Nozzolio said.
Dickieson served as a member of the board of the Finger Lakes Library System and president of the Mynderse Library Board of Trustees and was instrumental in the construction of the Seneca Falls Public Library.
“His vision and determination drew many others along in the drive to build a new modern library in the center of town,” daughter Christine said. ”It was difficult to say no to Sam when he asked for money or time because people knew that he never asked anyone to do something if he wasn’t already doing it in spades.”
Under his leadership, the library reached its $3 million construction goal. Dickieson was named Trustee of the Year in 2006 and received the Finger Lakes Library System’s distinguished service award.
His caring extended to those less fortunate. For more than 25 years, Dickieson coordinated the local Salvation Army red kettle drive, lining up volunteers to ring the bell during November and December in Seneca Falls and Waterloo. He served as treasurer of the Salvation Army’s Seneca Falls-Waterloo unit and the Seneca County Federal Emergency Management Agency board. He was presented the Sharing the Light award by the Catholic Church in June 2011.
Former SF school superintendent Doug Zoller and Sam Dickieson at Salvation Army red kettle, 1985.
Dickieson was a true Renaissance man, sewing his own neck ties for many years, refinishing many pieces of furniture in his Daniels Street home, playing cribbage and pinochole with his grandchildren, swimming at the New York Chiropractic College pool, and devotedly listening to PBS. After his death, his family discovered his secret cache of scores of wonderful water color paintings that he made each summer while accompanying his family to the beach.
A veteran of the US Air Force, Dickieson was a member of the Army Air Force from 1942-45, trained as a radar specialist and serving in the Philippines. He had interrupted his studies at Albany State Teacher College, and after the war returned to earn his Bachelor’s degree in 1948 and Masters in Education in 1950.
After a five-year term as a high school science and math teacher in Hartford, NY, he and Dottie, the former Dorothy Sturzenberger of Queens, Ulster County, whom he married in 1947, moved to Seneca Falls in 1953. He taught high school math and science in the Academy Square building, later moving to the current Mynderse Academy where he taught chemistry and physics. Many students remembered his “concepts to grasp” homework.
The Dickiesons fell in love with their adopted community and it with them. It was a love that would continue for half a century. A member of Seneca Falls Rotary and a Paul Harris Fellow, in 1991 Dickieson was named Rotarian Citizen of the Year. He and Dorothy also received the Convention Days Community Service award that year, and 20 years later, they were given the George Bailey Wonderful Life award, for demonstrating their “firm belief in the value and potential of each individual. “ By promoting access to education and the joy of learning, they exemplify the spirit of George and Mary Bailey and help make it a Wonderful Life, the committee said.
Dickieson is survived Dorothy, by his wife of 66 years; their daughters, Christine (David) Pesses of Gloversville and Catherine (Alan) Jovinelly of Wynnewood, PA and grandchildren Ruth (Rafael) Martins of Brazil, Emily (Bendan) DuBois of Chicago, Elizabeth (Alan) Retersdorf of Avon,CT, Sarah Jovinelly of Austin, TX and Jennifer and Eric Jovinelly of Wynnewood, PA
Funeral will be at 11 a.m. July 13 at Seneca Falls Presbyterian Church, with Rev. Leah Ntuala presiding. r=Reception to follow in church parlors. Burial will be at Sampson Veterans Memorial Cemetery. Additional details to follow.