ROBERT WESLEY DICK
Vol. 3, p. 1020-1021
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Robert Wesley Dick, warden of the Oklahoma State Penitentiary, is a native son of Arkansas, and was born in Columbia County, June 8, 1865, a son of William J. and Minerva C. (SMITH) Dick. His father was born and reared in South Carolina and came of sturdy Scotch-Irish stock, and as a young man went to Louisiana, where he met and married a daughter of one of the very oldest families of that state. He settled there and lived for a short time in Columbia County, Arkansas, when he removed to Grayson County, Texas, in 1870, and settled on a farm.
Robert Wesley Dick was but five years of age when his parents removed to Texas, and in that state he was reared on the farm, coming from the domain of the Lone Star to Oklahoma as one of the many Texans who in a generous and substantial way have contributed to the development and progress of this commonwealth. Mr. Dick did not leave the farm until he was sixteen years of age. It was on his father's homestead that he learned the invaluable lessons of industry and perseverance in his early life, lessons that have so greatly entered into his career as elements of success. After attending schools at Whitesboro, Texas, he secured a first grade certificate to teach and commenced his work as an educator at the age of nineteen years. His rapid rise in this profession may be seen when it is stated that when he was but twenty-one years of age he was president of the Centennial Literary and Commercial Academy, at Cannon, Texas, which was at that time the largest school in the northern part of the state, and where many young men and women who attained distinguished positions in after life were his students. While the executive and directing head of this institution, Mr. Dick also edited a journal published in connection with the academy. He remained at the head of this school for two years, and was then for one year president of the Pilgrim College, of Collin County, Texas. In 1888 he became president of Pottsboro College, and then, in 1889, came to the Indian Territory and taught in the public schools at Ardmore, where he closed his activities as an educator. As an instructor it is but fair to say that Mr. Dick was one of the most popular, efficient and thorough members of his calling during his day. He possessed the happy faculty of being able to impart his knowledge to others, and as an executive transferred to others, his associates and teachers, his own boundless enthusiasm for his work. He had a warm place alike in the hearts of teachers, fellow-educators, pupils and parents.
Mr. Dick was one of the "eight-niners" of Oklahoma City, to which small community he went with a former pupil of Centennial Academy, Bill Alexander, the two camping, on the night of April 22, 1889, under an old cottonwood tree which stood at what is now the juncture of California and Broadway streets. During the days of his school work, Mr. Dick had given his leisure hours to the study of law, and when a court was established at Ardmore he was admitted to the bar, in 1890. He successfully practiced his profession there until 1902 when he was elected mayor of the city. For five consecutive times he was the winner of the mayoralty election, and served in that capacity until 1908, when he resigned to assume charge of the Oklahoma State Penitentiary, as warden, to which office he was appointed by Governor Haskell, and in which he has since served with great credit to himself and to the lasting benefit of the state. He is successful student of human mature, and is thus ably fitted for the position he occupies.
When Mr. Dick resigned as mayor of Ardmore the Ardmorite, leading newspaper of that city, said: "Mr. Dick has been mayor of Ardmorite so long, has worked so faithfully for the city's interests, and has done so much to put her in the path of progress, that his going from us causes hearts among us to be sorrowful. During the time of his administration as mayor, he has been regarded as a man of progress and foresight. When he took the leadership of the town upon himself, there was not much of the present Ardmore. To his work, together with that of his coadjutors, we owe the fact that he was ever a park reservation; to him we owe it that 1,350 acres of ground was condemned for a water shed; the vast improvements of our streets show that things undreamed of before were planed out by him and came to perfection during his administration."
While he was mayor of Ardmore, many movements for the substantial progress of the city were inaugurated among which might be emphasized above all others the public schools. With an enviable recorded as a mayor behind him, Mr. Dick became warden of the penitentiary not only with experience in public service, but with mind and heart well calculated to enable him to achieve success in a broader field of usefulness. As warden of Oklahoma State Penitentiary, Robert W. Dick has not only won for himself a nation wide reputation of efficiency as a prison official, but has placed the institution over which he has had charge among the best in the United States. He was the first warden and has been the only one to hold the office in this state institution. Under his administration its entire equipment buildings, machinery, and all, has been inaugurated. Governor Cruce, in speaking of Warden Dick, said: "I believe that it would be hard to find in this or any other state a man who would make a more competent warden than he has proven himself to be. The work done by him at the penitentiary will stand as a monument to his genius in the building and handling of large propositions." We quote from an article which appeared in the Guthrie Lender: "He has done things that those versed in criminology have pronounced impossible; first to bring him into prominence, was the transfer of over 200 hardened convicts from the Kansas State Prison to McAlester, a distance of 450 miles, without a mishap. The precaution Warden Dick has taken to prevent escape shows that he is not only looking after the welfare of the convicts, but their safety as well."
No one can investigate Warden Dick's physical management of the institution and withhold expressions of admiration for his ability, and in addition thereto he has given evidence of exceptional capacity in the handling of men, thereby raising the moral standard of the convicts and preventing wholesale "jail deliveries." A splendid and thorough student of human nature, he has, by unerring judgment, placed hundreds of convicts on the trusty list, not on a list of trusties who must be guarded but who are trusted to themselves. This has given hope to many convicts, has developed in them a spirit of self-respect, and brought to the surface latent merit lying within. Punishment he makes subordinate to reform. No man holding the position he does can hope to escape unkind criticism, and fault has been frequently found of his methods, but all special committees of the Legislature, as well as special committees of other natures, have been ready to render the most favorable and complimentary reports of the man and his work. Warden Dick has proved himself thoroughly honest, and no objection has ever been urged against him on the grounds of dishonesty or the lack of economy in the administration of the affairs of the institution. If he has been criticized it has been because of the fact that he has too many trusties; it is because his critics have not had the same confidence in humanity that has always regulated the actions of Warden Bob Dick. He does not wish for the unfortunate a more bitter penalty than can be avoided; he would rather turn a man out of prison with an inspiration to be useful as a citizen, than with a desire to again commit crime. With the milk of human kindness pulsating in his veins, he has sought the uplift of those who are his wards, and to this end has inaugurated ways and means for hygienically caring for the men, and has looked well to developing in them all latent qualities of worthiness. Summarized, it may be said that Warden Dick has well won his substantial reputation as a humane and capable prison official, and has made the Oklahoma State Penitentiary a model for other institutions of its kind in the country.
Warden Dick is a stanch and undeviating democrat, and, while he has not allowed politics to enter into the management of the institution of which he is the head, has long been active in the councils of his party. Fraternally he is a thirty-second degree Scottish Rite Mason and a Noble of the Mystic Shrine, and also holds membership in the Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks and in the Independent Order of Odd Fellows.
In 1887 Robert W. Dick, was happily united in marriage with a lady of many sterling qualities of mind and heart, Miss Minnie BLESSINGAME, who has graced his home with dignity and culture and has been an inspiration to him in the carrying on of his work. They are the parents of two accomplished daughters: Irene, who is the wife of H. L. BERRY, of McAlester, Oklahoma; and Miss Jerline, who is attending college.
Transcribed by Carolyn Smith Burns, July 29, 1999