It was an unusual adventure for the foursome of 18-year-olds, none of whom had been outside California before.
But in retrospect, the cross-country journey set a pattern of how Dick got things done throughout his life. Here was Dick organizing the trip, getting friends involved and driving off on a grand adventure — Dick at the wheel.
He repeated that pattern of striking out on a new path and leading the way toward an established goal in later years as mayor, City Council member and organizer of the Boys and Girls Clubs of Tracy.
A few years after getting out of Tracy High, Dick entered the insurance business, where he honed his salesmanship skills in what was then a highly competitive business.
But it was in the Tracy Junior Chamber of Commerce that he really developed his organizational abilities — and his interest in community issues.
From the late 1940s into the 1960s, the Jaycees, as the organization of young men later was called, were an active group in our town. Dick was at the center of the action. There was a lot of jovial camaraderie in the Jaycees, but a serious side, too
Dick told me a few years ago that it was in the Jaycees he learned to marshal his thoughts, speak on his feet and convince people of the validity of his position.
Dick and other Jaycees became involved in city politics early on. They energetically backed the proposal to establish a city manager form of government in Tracy.
They sponsored a series of public meetings before the municipal election in 1954, when Tracy voters approved the city manager plan.
That involvement gave Dick a taste of local politics he enjoyed. His first attempt at being elected to the City Council fell short, but in 1967, he was appointed to fill a vacancy created by the death of Manuel Rico.
It was as mayor in the early 1970s that Dick put his pattern of leadership into action as an elected official. Tracy voters had turned down bond issues — requiring a two-thirds’ majority — three times to finance construction of a City Hall.
In those days, city government was run out of converted Wainwright Village housing units. Everyone agreed on the need, but too many didn’t want to pay for it or had other reasons to oppose it.
Dick led what amounted to an end run around the bond issue hurdle by orchestrating the sale of 13.9 acres of city-owned Wainwright property for low-rent housing. (Those units are still occupied today.) Funds from the sale, with some general fund money, gave the city $350,000 to build a city hall.
Dick appointed a citizens’ committee headed by my brother, Tom, to line up architects — twins Tom and Ted Eden of San Francisco — to design and oversee construction of the City Hall.
In the process, he and other members of the City Council promoted Mike Locke from planning director to city manager to complete the project. Locke continued in the job for 22 years.
“Naming Mike the city manager was the smartest thing I ever did for the city,” Dick told me years later. “Mike and Bill Coats (the city attorney) made a great team as Tracy dealt with growth issues in the years ahead.”
And Dick made darn sure that the dedication of the City Hall was held while he was still serving as mayor.
Not everyone appreciated building a City Hall without a public vote. The opposition was especially strong among property owners in the North Holly area, who were battling the city on costs of improving their properties.
Some of that negative feeling continued into the next municipal election in 1974, when Dick and two other Council members up for re-election — Bill Adams and Bob Wilburn — were swept out of office. All three were stunned, but Dick said he knew he never was universally popular among voters, especially those who thought he was too intent on pushing his own agenda. He took that criticism as the price of getting things done.
Fast-forward to 1983, when Dick was president of the United Way of San Joaquin County. In checking how United Way funds were being used by nonprofit agencies, he visited the Boys and Girls Club of Stockton.
“I saw what a great job the Boys and Girls Club was doing for those young people in Stockton, and I knew right then we needed a club in Tracy, too,” he told me several years ago.
A year later, Dick was contacting people and holding meetings to organize a campaign to raise money and build a Boys and Girls Club in Tracy.
As Dorlane Thrasher, a key volunteer, notes in her comments in today’s Press, Dick was a bulldog in getting people involved and starting the fundraising campaign.
It took a lot of determination to raise $600,000 in cash and generate another $200,000 in labor and material to make the Boys and Girls Club on Lowell Avenue a reality in 1989, a year after he lost a re-election bid as directly elected mayor to Lester “Scotty” Scott.
The Boys and Girls Club was without any doubt the community project of which he was most proud. It took a great deal of effort on his part to move it forward.
As he did in the 1947 auto journey across the U.S., Dick set the course for those involved, got everything in gear and had his hand firmly on the wheel.
• Sam Matthews, Tracy Press publisher emeritus, can be reached at 830-4234 or by email at email@example.com.