Hazel Dicken-Garcia’s impact in life is measured in the hundreds of former students who now fill newsrooms and university lecture halls nationwide.
Hailed as a trailblazer, she helped shape the study of journalism history and ethics and was an author, including of a well-known book on journalistic standards. But it was her work as a University of Minnesota professor for 30 years that she may be remembered for most.
“She was a towering figure in journalism history,” said Kathy Roberts Forde, a former U colleague who is now an associate journalism professor at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. “In her generation, she was one of the top journalism historians. Her legacy lives on not only in her work, but in her students.”
Dicken-Garcia died May 30. She was 79.
Born in a log house in rural Kentucky in 1939, she grew up in poverty, the second-oldest of five children. She quickly found an escape through education, voraciously reading every book in her one-room school by the eighth grade.
“She’d have a dish rag in one hand and a book in the other,” said her sister, Letha Amonett of Albany, Ky. “She wanted to do better. She wanted to become somebody.”
Her high school classmates saw that, too, voting Dicken-Garcia the most likely to succeed. And she did, graduating from Berea College by working her way through school. She then spent five years working for the American Friends Service Committee in India and in the U.S. before landing a job as a part-time reporter in Ann Arbor, Mich. But she was drawn back to the classroom.
“She loved school all of her life,” Amonett said.
After getting a master’s degree and a doctorate, Dicken-Garcia taught in Wisconsin, Iowa, Maryland, Washington, D.C., Michigan and Massachusetts. By 1979, she landed a job at the U’s School of Journalism and Mass Communications teaching mass media history, law, theory and ethics courses.
She also wrote and co-wrote several books including “Journalistic Standards in Nineteenth-Century America,” which won the Frank Luther Mott Kappa Tau Alpha research award in 1989. And in 2006, she was given the American Journalism Historians Association’s Kobre Award for Lifetime Achievement.
“She was widely known,” said Bill Huntzicker, a friend and former colleague. “She cared a lot about her students.”
In fact, even after retiring in 2008, Dicken-Garcia continued to supervise graduate students on their dissertations. She was also a mentor to colleagues like Forde.
“She just gave so much to so many,” she said.
Outside school, Dicken-Garcia loved being part of book clubs, gardening and walking Como Lake — her rural Kentucky childhood cementing a love of the outdoors. Joe Scovronski, a friend and neighbor, would join her on many of those walks, Dicken-Garcia quietly listening to him share life stories before weighing in with her wise advice. It was that generosity, he said, that he will never forget.
Neither will her former students, who, one by one, traveled from across the U.S. to Dicken-Garcia’s St. Paul home or sent her notes when she was diagnosed with liver cancer in February after being treated for Crohn’s disease for many years.
“This is not a time for sadness …,” she wrote, adding that she is “grateful for the life she feels fortunate to have lived ... and of the many, many ennobling people who, by example, teach us all simply and elegantly while contributing indelibly to the world, making it a better place.”
Along with her sister, she is survived by her brothers Clifton, Clayton and Lee Dicken, all of Albany, Ky. A memorial will be held at 2 p.m. June 22 at Unity Church-Unitarian in St. Paul.