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Dr. Vic Hicken, First WIU History Department Chair, Passes Away

Apr 14, 2010

Dr. Victor Hicken, Professor Emeritus of History at WIU and the Department's first Chair, passed away on Thursday, April 8, 2010 in Iowa City. He was 88 years old.

A service of remembrance was held Saturday, May 1 at Macomb's St. George's Episcopal Church. The family requests that memorials be directed to the Hicken Scholarship Fund at Western Illinois University, c/o Foundation Office, 1 University Circle, Macomb, Illinois 61455.

Dr. Hicken was born September 28, 1921, in Witt, Illinois, the son of Thomas Hicken of Staffordshire, England and Ann Atherton Hicken of Lancashire, England. He attended public schools in Gillespie, Illinois and earned a Bachelor of Education degree from Southern Illinois University (Carbondale, Illinois). After military service, he attended University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign, from which he received a Master of Arts and Ph.D. in American History. He met Mary O'Connell while attending United States Naval Officers Candidate School at Columbia University in New York City. They were married on December 28, 1943.

During WWII, Lieutenant Hicken was officer-in-charge of one of the very first landing craft to hit the beach at Dog Green, the naval landing site located at the heavily fortified Vierville, France sector of Omaha Beach on D-Day, June 6, 1944. His LCT(A) craft was specially designed to carry explosive elements to destroy beach obstacles before the arrival of the first United States and British infantry units. The German fortification and defense of the beach was so intense that of the first 250 Allied soldiers to land on that sector, only thirty survived the first five minutes of the fighting without injury or death. The Allied landing at this spot was portrayed in the movie, Saving Private Ryan. Hicken's craft was so damaged that it was beached at its landfall and he was forced to stay with the vessel for the ensuing six weeks. The ship's clock, which was stopped at 0630, and the bullet-ridden American flag which flew at the mast were saved by Hicken and are kept by the family as reminders of that deadly and historic encounter. He later was assigned to the Pacific, where his ship endured two typhoons and he witnessed the last Kamikaze attack at Okinawa. Hicken's experiences in WWII were chronicled in the book, Omaha Beach: D-Day, June 6, 1944, by Joseph Balkoski.

In his 34-year tenure as Professor of History at Western Illinois University, Prof. Hicken served on every major academic and administrative committee. During his several terms on the Salary Committee, WIU increased faculty salaries to match those of peer institutions. During his terms on the Faculty Senate, faculty powers were enhanced. Dr. Hicken was instrumental in establishing the University Archives and went on to document the history of the school in The Purple and the Gold: The Story of Western Illinois University.

As an professor, Dr. Hicken was named Most Popular Teacher by students, as well as the first annual Distinguished Faculty Lecturer, a tradition which began with his address. He also taught courses at Knox College in Galesburg, Illinois and at Black Hawk College in Moline, Illinois. He served as the first Department Chair of the newly created History Department, from 1967 to 1969; in 1976 he was voted Illinois Author of the Year by Illinois Association of Teachers of English. During his last five years at WIU, he held the position of Distinguished University Professor, the first and only WIU professor to be awarded this honor by a faculty committee.

Dr. Hicken served on several state committees, including those which helped to define the role of community colleges in the state, and developed and promoted the teaching of African-American history. He also served on the State Historic Sites Committee and, in 1976, was elected the President of the Illinois State Historical Society. He was appointed guest lecturer at the University of Salzburg, Austria. Dr. Hicken also conducted research for the National Education Association and for the American Academy for the Advancement of Science, through a Carnegie grant.

Prof. Hicken is often listed among Illinois' most noted academic authors. His first major work, Illinois in the Civil War, is considered a classic in the field, presenting one of the first and best descriptions of the Civil War in the West. Published by the University of Illinois Press and the winner of the Award of Merit by the American Association for State and Local History, the book has been in print for over forty years. He was among the first to write about the critical role of the African-American soldier in the Civil War. Besides contributing pieces to the Chicago Tribune Sunday Magazine, Hicken also wrote for numerous scholarly journals on such subjects as African-American history, political trends, and organized labor issues.

Dr. Hicken's personal interests included art, painting, poetry and music. He was a life-long St. Louis Cardinals baseball fan and enjoyed playing baseball in the university faculty and staff leagues. He was an avid runner and kept a regular routine of running ten miles a day. He and his wife were members of St. George's Episcopal Church in Macomb, Illinois for over fifty years. After retiring, he and his wife spent most of their time at their cabin in northern Minnesota, where he enjoyed fishing and birding.

Dr. Hicken is survived by Mary, his wife of 66 years, now living in Iowa City, Iowa; son Jeffrey Price Hicken and daughter-in-law Mary Sarah Hicken of Minneapolis, Minnesota; granddaughter Elizabeth Ann Hicken, son-in-law Daniel Bellrichard and great-granddaughter Lulu Jeanette Bellrichard of Decorah, Iowa; granddaughter Molly Catherine Hicken of Grand Marais, Minnesota; grandson Andrew Victor Hicken and daughter-in-law Elizabeth Anne Mackey of Madison, Wisconsin; son Brian Thomas O'Connell, daughter-in-law Lesley O'Connell, grandson Evan O'Connell and granddaughter Rachel O'Connell; daughter Elizabeth Ann Christiansen and son-in-law Dana Eric Christiansen of Iowa City, Iowa; and son Daniel Joseph Hicken and daughter-in-law Kimberly Kay Hicken of Riverside, California.

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