A legend at Garfield High School, Rick walked the halls for half a century. This is his story
Wendell Hicks, known to the Central District as “Two Brick Rick,” and “Garfield Rick,” died last week. He was 69. The cause was pneumonia, his appointed guardian said.
Wendell “Rick” Hicks didn’t attend Garfield, but for half a century was its biggest fan, walking the halls and ducking into classrooms to write the date on the board, happy to engage with students in impromptu call and response:
“Hey Rick! Whose house is this?”
“Who built it?”
“How many bricks did it take?”
Learning this back and forth was a rite of passage for Garfield students, passed down through the years along with the understanding that Rick, who had intellectual disabilities, got respect.
Rick became a fixture at Garfield in the early 1970s, when he was in his 20s. He walked the halls with the security folks, wearing purple, and usually carrying a grocery bag of bus schedules.
The legend of Rick transcended generations, said Chukundi Salisbury, who attend Garfield in the 1980s. “People's grandma knew Rick. You knew Rick, and your kids knew Rick.”
As the Central District gentrified, and more Black families moved out, Salisbury said Rick was a nod to days gone by.
“It's another death knell in the Central Area,” Salisbury said. “We don't have that close-knit community anymore, where this guy's walking down the street, everybody knows who he is, and he’s welcome, and he’s loved.”
Rick was born in 1951 in Seattle to Odessa and William Hicks. He attended Pacific, a school for students with intellectual disabilities across the street from Washington Middle School. He had a little sister, Saneeta, who was 14 months younger with similar disabilities.
Rick and Saneeta were born at a time when parents were strongly encouraged to send children with intellectual disabilities to institutions, but Odessa Hicks held her babies close.
Guardianship records show that Odessa Hicks cared for Rick (she called him Ricky) and Saneeta until they were 41 and 40. Adult Protective Services got involved when Odessa Hicks had difficulty paying her bills and was showing signs of early Alzheimer’s.
“Due to her determination and commitment, she has kept her family together for many years, however, at this point, she is having a great deal of difficulty meeting her own needs, much less those of her children,” the guardianship records read.
This first investigation by Adult Protective Services includes a search for Rick at a church where he was rumored to be hanging out. The investigator didn’t find him there, likely because he was at Garfield – conducting band alongside Clarence Acox or orchestra with Marcus Tsutakawa. He may have been in the gym with Big Joe Bland, or walking the halls with Pam Frazier. If it was lunchtime, he was definitely in Tony Fore’s classroom.
Felisa Yasutake, class of 1998, recalled Rick’s seeming ability to be everywhere – and right next to her as she directed the pep band.
“You don’t direct the pep band,” she said. “Rick lets you direct the pep band.”
Rick rode the bus to games with the players (not the band, Yasutake said laughing), and led the marching band in and out of games. Lore has it that once, the bus was halfway to a game downtown when the football coach jumped up.
“Where’s Rick?” he said. Everyone looked around. No Rick. “Turn the bus around,” the coach said to the driver. They returned to Garfield to pick up Rick.
Another time, Rick got hold of a whistle and started using it with the marching band. A tricky situation, Yasutake said, as the drum major uses the whistle to signal to start and stop. “We don’t want Rick to not enjoy himself, but we can’t have dueling whistles either,” she said.
Yasutake had grown up hearing about Rick from her dad, John, and his identical twin brother Mike, who knew Rick from the neighborhood.
Mike Yasutake shared a story he’d heard from the late Bob Davis, a former Garfield coach, who’d taken Rick under his wing when Rick was a teenager.
Bob Davis brought Rick to a friend’s house, where there was a pool. At one point, someone said, “Where’s Rick?” and Davis panicked, worried Rick had fallen in the pool.
Rick was in the pool — doing backstrokes and spitting out water. Davis, baffled and scared, pulled Rick out to be sure he was all right.
“Who taught you how to swim, Rick?” he said, according to Yasutake.
“My mama, my mama!” Rick said.
Yasutake loves sharing this story. “We see people who are mentally challenged, and we think there’s a level of dysfunction, but that’s our perception,” he said. “In reality, they’re functioning better than we are. I don’t know how to backstroke!”
Rick worked briefly as a janitor, but was soon commuting between his adult family home and Garfield every day.
Ted Howard knew Rick through the years — first when Howard was a Garfield student in the 1980s then later the school’s principal, from 2004 to 2020. Learning is not just about academics, Howard said, but about “understanding what life is like.”
“Students saw a person, a human being,” in Rick, Howard said. “It's rare in your life, especially in high school, that you have someone like Rick, who is around your community.”
Shira Kieval, class of 2000, considers how Rick shaped her own career as a public defender.
“Because he was there, and he was there all the time, and everyone treated him like a person to not be afraid of – it normalized him,” Kieval said. “We recognized the humanity and the dignity in this person, and that he could contribute to this school in this super nontraditional way.”
As a public defender in Albuquerque, New Mexico, Kieval worked with people with intellectual disabilities. She thought of Rick, a success story and example of how things could have been for her clients. And she considered how Garfield was the sort of place where someone like Rick could flourish.
“Maybe it would be normal today, but over 20 years ago, a girl was on the wrestling team, a man was homecoming queen, and Rick was wandering the halls,” Kieval said. “I think it fostered creativity and debate and acceptance.”
As years went on, Rick’s favorite staff members retired.
“When he started losing some of his dear friends that he hung out with, he was really sad,” said Ted Howard, the former principal. “We had to go out there to get him to tell him it'd be okay. And kind of introduce him to some new staff people.”
The biggest blow came when Joe Bland, Rick’s closest friend, died of stomach cancer in 2016. Bland was the gym manager and quietly took care of Rick, often paying for lunch. Bland's daughter, Jomeka, said the two were like brothers.
After Bland died, Rick didn’t return to Garfield as often. Howard went to see Rick, who lived at an adult family home in Shoreline.
“We want to introduce you to somebody new,” Howard told him. “We got Officer (Bennie) Radford. Radford wants to hang out with you.” Rick started coming again.
Howard wanted Rick to feel welcome at Garfield. He celebrated him with a new Letterman jacket and held an assembly to retire his jersey – a symbolic gesture given that Rick hadn’t played sports or attended Garfield. The math team decreed Rick’s jersey should be “00.”
Double zero? Howard asked. In math terms, it’s known as a perfect number, they said.
“We were like okay, and so he got double zero,” Howard said. “He came out, we honored him, and he conducted the band.”
Rick’s jersey now hangs in the gym with the jerseys of other Garfield legends.
Last year, Rick contracted Covid-19. He recovered, but became ill after a change in medication. He died of bilateral pneumonia on February 25.
The state could pay for Rick to be cremated, but nothing more. Chukundi Salisbury launched a GoFundMe that has raised $21,380 to date.
Wendell “Rick” Hicks’ will have a mausoleum wall niche near his friend Joe Bland at Greenwood Memorial Park in Renton.
Editor's note: Isolde Raftery, who co-reported this story, attended Garfield High School.