In Memory: Fred Hicks ’79MSCJ ’80H
February 08, 2022
By Elsa Wenzel
Rollins bids farewell to the distinguished historian and former president who left an indelible mark on the College, most notably in the arts.
Frederick William Hicks III ’79MSCJ ’80H, beloved former acting Rollins president, dean, and history professor, passed away January 23, 2022, at the age of 88 in Sarasota, Florida.
The Fulbright Scholar and U.S. Army Security Agency veteran held numerous leadership roles at Rollins, including as the first director of the Cornell Fine Arts Museum, now the Rollins Museum of Art. The namesake of an annual curatorial fellowship at Rollins, Hicks provided longtime support for the College, which included remaining an emeritus member of the museum’s board of visitors.
Hicks, who also served as president of Wesleyan College in Georgia and as chancellor of Coastal Carolina University, expressed a special affection for Rollins.
“Of all the schools I’ve been associated with, it’s the one that’s had the most impact on me personally and professionally,” Hicks told Wenxian Zhang, Rollins’ head of archives and special collections, in 2006. “If I had it all over to do again, I might have never left.”
Friends and colleagues lauded Hicks’ scholarship in history, his affection for the arts, wry sense of humor, and an interest in supporting women and underserved populations.
Born in Detroit on March 26, 1933, Hicks was raised on a farm near Jackson, Michigan, by a schoolteacher mother and a mechanical engineer father whose fortunes shifted from losing work during the Depression to helping produce anti-aircraft munitions for the War Department during World War II.
After graduating from Grosse Pointe High School, Hicks earned a bachelor’s degree in ancient history with honors at the University of Michigan and then served for three years in the U.S. Army Security Agency in Austria and Germany. He returned to the University of Michigan to pursue a master’s degree in political science and history before going on to serve the university in a variety of roles and earn a PhD in higher education and administration.
Time As a Tar
Hicks spent a year as the director of financial aid at Arizona State University and then moved to Winter Park in 1964 to become the dean of men and dean of student affairs, positions he held until 1969.
“Fred Hicks helped to forever change the course of Rollins College,” says Rollins Trustee Bill Bieberbach ’70 ’71MBA, describing how Hicks, under Rollins President Hugh McKean, “refused to allow a large group of student troublemakers to return to Rollins in 1966. This sent a message to all returning upperclassmen that their behavior would be evaluated, and if not satisfactory, they would be sent home. Fred was revered for planning and implementing these changes.”
Hicks worked through various leadership roles in development and administration while also teaching history. In 1978 he was appointed acting president of the College between the presidencies of Jack Critchfield ’78H and Thaddeus Seymour ’82HAL ’90H.
Influencing the Arts
“Fred was an indefatigable supporter of our museum, an art enthusiast, a kind spirit, and dear friend,” says Ena Heller, Bruce A. Beal director of the Rollins Museum of Art. “He was involved with, and left his imprint on, our college and museum in so many ways over the years.”
Hicks’ legacy includes the annual Fred W. Hicks Curatorial Fellowship, which he funded and established in 2006 to provide third- and fourth-year Tars with hands-on, in-depth training in curating art exhibitions.
“Seventeen Rollins students have benefited from this incredible opportunity to work in the museum for one year, to be exposed to and learn about museum careers, to explore and deepen their own passion for art, teaching, and research,” says Heller. “Many have gone on to careers in art history and museums, while others have moved on to other professions but never forgot the critical and creative thinking skills this experience taught them.”
Hicks reflected later in life that his love for the arts was partly sparked in his early years at Rollins while spending time at Wind Song, the home of President McKean and his wife, Jeanette, an artist and Morse family heiress.
In the late 1960s, Hicks’ office was in the former Hamilton Holt House, which was then adorned with Louis Comfort Tiffany stained glass and other valuable master works. Art was scattered on and off campus in various basements and even a parsonage, including the former Fred Stone Theatre, the basement of Rose Skillman Hall, and in an old hotel. Hicks helped the early efforts to bring together the collection and served as the administrator at the helm in 1978 when the Cornell Fine Arts Museum opened.
“Fred was at heart a teacher and established a very close relationship with the faculty,” says Rollins historian and emeritus professor Jack Lane. “He and Ann were constantly having faculty over to their home, which, as I look back, was a very appropriate way of bonding. This paid off handsomely when Fred brought controversial matters to the faculty and helped solidify the relationship between them and Student Affairs.”
Curating a Legacy
In 1999, Hicks moved to Savannah, Georgia, where he was a member of the Directors Circle of the Telfair Museums of Art and the Telfair Legacy Society. He moved back to Florida in 2013, settling in Sarasota, where he was an avid fan of the Sarasota Orchestra. He remained active with the Rollins community, including as an emeritus member of the museum’s board of visitors, the Fiat Lux Society, the Cloverleaf Legacy Society, and the Museum Director’s Circle.
“He lived a life of example, showing kindness to others in everything he did, always pausing to consider someone else’s point of view, always taking an interest in others’ lives more than his own,” his family members posted on a Facebook announcement of his passing. “He advocated for those underserved and took great pride in helping fund scholarships for women and minorities in the arts.”
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