Harvey County Roots: Jesse L. Dickinson

by Kristine Schmucker, HCHM Curator

In 1976, the Dickinson Fine Arts Academy, South Bend, IN, was dedicated.  Named for Jesse L. Dickinson, who was active in South Bend, IN as a musician and civic leader, the school continues today as a magnet school for grades 5-8 and  is noted for the After-School Arts Adventure program.

Who was Jesse L. Dickinson? What is the connection to Harvey County?

An accomplished musician, Dickinson was also active in public service.  He served six terms in the Indiana House of Representatives and two terms in the state Senate.  Although he spent his adult life in Indiana, his childhood was spent in Newton, Ks.

Jesse L. Dickinson, 1924 Newtonian, HCHM Archives

Known all over the state for his tenor voice

Jesse L. Dickinson was born in Chandler, Oklahoma in 1906 to George & Fannie Junkin Dickinson. By 1910, his family had moved to Newton, Kansas.  Shortly after arrival in Newton, his mother, Fannie, died and Jesse lived with his grandmother, Elizabeth Dickinson. At a young age he was active in Newton’s Junior Boys’ Working Reserve. A gifted musician, Dickinson was a  popular soloist for Newton High activities, “known all over the state for his tenor voice.”

Evening Kansan Republican, 12 April 1922.

Involved in “All School Plays” throughout his high school years, Dickinson often sang. He was recognized by the by his peers and received a gold medal for the “best student in the state” from the State of Kansas.

Evening Kansan Republican, 11 Nov. 1922.

NHS Glee Club, 1925-1926. Jesse Dickinson identified.

In addition to vocal and instrumental pursuits, Dickinson was active in debate and on the track team.

Newtonian, 1924.

In 1924, he graduated from Newton High and married Helen Bledsoe, the daughter of Rev. William & Adella Bledsoe of Newton, Kansas. He studied music at Bethel College, followed by Western University, Kansas City. Throughout the 1920s, he performed on the Redpath Chautauque and Lyceum circuits.  In 1928, he moved to South Bend, Indiana. He and Helen had four sons.

In South Bend, Dickinson was also well known for his musical talents.  He directed a popular quintet known as Dickinson Plantation Singers in the 1930s.  He also conducted choirs at churches and local festivals.

He entered public life and was elected to the Indiana House of Representatives for the first time in 1943.

Throughout his life Dickinson’s commitment to others was evident in the organizations he served.  The finding aide for his collection at Indiana Historical Society reveal areas of interest including education, health, aging, human relations, and urbanization. Dickinson is included on the Indiana University “Outstanding Black Americans” list for his efforts in improving race relations in South Bend, including the desegregation of the Natatorium (a segregated swimming pool in South Bend).

He maintained connections with Newton, Ks and attended his 50th class reunion in 1975.

Newton High School Class of 1925 50th Anniversary, August 30-31, 1975.

Dickinson died 5 June 1986.


  • The Newtonian, 1924.
  • Evening Kansan Republican: 17 March 1913, 9 November 1917, 22 May 1918,  29 May 1920, 26 February 1921, 14 May 1921, 12 April 1922, 14 April 1922, 15 April 1922, 23 May 1922, 14 October 1922, 11 November 1922
  • Kansan: 14 April 1939.
  • Site for the Dickinson Fine Arts Academy:  http://dickinson.sb.school/home_old-aug15
  • https://library.iusb.edu/search-find/archives/crhc/JesseDickinson.html
  • The repository for Jesse L. Dickinson Collection, 1911-1986 at Manuscript Collections Department, William Henry Smith Memorial Library, Indiana Historical Society, Indianapolis, IN. www.indianahistory.org


New & Cool: A Garage Sale Treasure

by Kristine Schmucker, HCHM Curator


A recent donation to the museum’s collection had a unique journey to us.


This sketchbook was found at a garage sale by a sharp eyed customer who recognized the name on some of the sketches. She later donated the sketchbook to HCHM.

A Landscape

The sketchbook belonged to Lloyd T. Smith, inventor and businessman in Newton, Ks.  Most of the dates in the sketchbook are from the 1980s.


An early drawing.

The original emoji?


1 of 3 self portraits in the sketch book.

A few animals.

Dramatic shading.

Unknown woman

Unknown woman


Unknown woman

The sketches in the book show another side of a man who was an inventor and instrumental in early historic preservation efforts in Newton.


‘What Did It Say To You?” the Art of Vernon Rickman

by Kristine Schmucker, HCHM Curator

Recently, we were pleased to receive a painting by local artist, Vernon R. Rickman, for our collection.  Rickman worked at the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History for 23 years.

He began as technician in 1958. At the time of his retirement in January 1981 he was a senior sculpture. One of many projects he worked on was the Neanderthal figures for the permanent exhibit “Ice Age Mammals and the Emergence of Man.” He later recalled this was one of his favorite projects.  Another project involved preparing full-sized mannequins of Pat Nixon, Betty Ford and Rosalyn Carter for the First Ladies Hall in the National Museum of American History.

During that time, he also painted privately.    His body of work included over 300 oil paintings, in addition to sculptures and reliefs. The collection was donated to the Carriage Factory Art Gallery in Newton, Ks.  One was also given HCHM for our collection of local Harvey County Artists.

Painting by Vernon Rickman. HCHM 2017.1

Vernon Reid Rickman was born in Newton on August 4, 1929 to Theodore and Mattie Jordan Rickman.  He had three sisters and a brother.

Shirley Elliott, a cousin remembered that “he always had a pencil in his hand.” 

At Newton High School he was fortunate to have Marie Orr as an art teacher.  She recognized his talent and encouraged him to explore different mediums throughout high school.  As a senior in 1947 he won the Scholastic art contest and spent a semester at the Cleveland School of Art.

Vernon Rickman. Photo courtesy Julian Wall, Find-A-Grave Memorial Marker #127049881.

After nearly 2 years in the U.S. Army, he enrolled at the University of Kansas. In 1957, he graduated with a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree.  He began graduate studies at the Kansas City Art Institute, but quit to “earn a living” at the Smithsonian Institution.

After he retired, Rickman returned to Newton where he continued to paint.  A nephew, Michael Scott recalled one visit to Rickman’s home soon after;

“I looked at paintings everywhere . . . paintings in the basement . . . paintings everywhere.  He was painting all the time.”

In 2007, Rickman had a show of his private work at Bethel College.

Vernon died at Kansas Christian Home in Newton on December 27, 2013 at the age of 84.

Examples of his work  can be found at the Carriage Factory Art Gallery, with some available for sale. The Carriage Factory Art Gallery is located at 128 E. 6th, Newton, Ks.

In a conversation about his work with his nephew Ted Scott, who asked, “Where did this come from?” 

Rickman  replied, “you had to figure it out for yourself-what did it say to  you?”


  • Buller, Beverley Olson. “Vernon Rickman Life Sketch,” 2016.
  • “Vernon Rickman” Find-A-Grave Memorial #127049881.
  • http://carriagefactoryartgallery.com/vernon-rickman-exhibit/nggallery/page/1.