by Robert Ricks, Becketwood Member (as told to Carol Masters)
I served various congregations in Illinois and Iowa for a number of years and enjoyed that calling. I was able to work with many different people from different walks of life, and ecumenically across denominations. In fact, once, with a Catholic priest in our town I drove to the South to march with Dr. King—that got me into a bit of trouble with elders in my church—but that’s another story.
However, because of my interest in science, I eventually took a different track. In Des Moines, Iowa, I’d been volunteering at the Science Center, which had a fascinating exhibit about dinosaurs, with “life-size” figures placed in areas with the look of Jurassic landscapes.
My special talent, it appeared, was to work with children, explaining various facts and engaging their interest. One day the Center’s director spoke to me, saying he’d been watching me with the kids and wondered if I’d like to develop an outreach program to children and youth in the area. They had a new grant to do some education, using some of the materials from the Center to present science information to classrooms.
The opportunity was exciting to me—and I began bringing programs to schools, community centers and various assemblies, from kindergarten through high school. In the beginning I worked out of my car, with what supplies I could carry on my own—equipment that would demonstrate various scientific principles in age-appropriate ways, what I called the Ricks Science Method.
I had a lot of fun with the program. For a time, I placed an R2D2-type robot in my passenger seat and could make him wave: when I passed a car with children in it, or kids on the street, we’d wave—the expressions on the kids’ faces were priceless! In the first two years I’d done programs for around 9,000 children. Our sponsors then expanded the program—Maytag Corporation gave us a van—and I had an assistant. By the end of six years, we’d presented lessons and programs to 48,000 young people in the Midwest. My favorite classrooms were the special needs kids and the little ones, who sometimes needed coaxing to try an experiment. To see their faces light up when they succeeded or found the courage to be hands-on was just great.
Sometimes the older kids were more blasé. I remember one time a high school boy who was the bane of his principal’s existence (I later found that out), a football player, and “big man on campus” type. He kept wisecracking and being generally obnoxious. I had an idea that he could use a lesson in basic humanity. We were in a sort of open assembly area and were using electrical conduits, six-foot-long metal rods.
“Who is stronger, girls or boys?” I asked. “In every case? Let’s see who can hold high these rods up longer.” I volunteered the smart aleck and a shy little girl near him, a bit reluctant but game to try. Now the rods looked identical, but his contained lead, a lot of it. A crowd gathered as the pair held out their rods, the boy’s face showing more and more exertion and the girl sort of looking off in the distance, unconcerned. After only a few minutes, the guy’s arm was shaking and the girl looked over at him, puzzled, her own arm steady as a rock. Then the boy caved, put the rod down. “We have a winner!” I announced, and the gathering applauded. The principal had a big grin on his face—and the humbled boy offered rueful congratulations to the victor.