“Girl Friday to work for newspaper man,” read the ad that Jean Rickard responded to while studying to be a teacher at George Washington University.
“I was moving out of the house and needed a place to live, but I couldn’t do it unless I had a job. I was going to be a teacher… This was my senior year,” recalled Rickard. “I was doing my student-teaching from 8 to 12, and I saw this job from 12:30 to 6:30. I thought, ‘Wow, I have classes that begin at 7. Perfect.’”
Little did Rickard know, she was applying to be the secretary for Herb Block, the Pulitzer Prize-winning editorial cartoonist.
“That’s how I got the job.”
Rickard graduated the following summer and was set to teach at an area school, but Block was not ready to let her go.
“I was leaving and he said, ‘You can’t leave,’” she recalled. “He literally got down on his hands and knees and begged me not to leave. He said, ‘Jean, you can’t leave me like this. You just can’t.’”
Rickard stayed on to work for Block for more than 40 years, although she left for a short time to have her children.
“A very generous, kind and wonderful man,” she said of her former boss.
Although Block lived in Washington, D.C., he also owned a vacation home on Atlantic Avenue in Bethany Beach in 1971. When he passed away in 2001, he left the home to Rickard.
“We used to bring him here. We were kind of his family — my husband and I, and I have two children,” said Rickard, who is the home’s third owner. “He treated my kids as if they were his grandchildren. He was just so good to all of us.”
When Block passed, he also left $50 million, with instructions to create a foundation to, according to its website, “encourage the art of editorial cartooning and to support charitable and educational programs that help promote and support the causes he championed during his 72 years of cartooning. The Foundation is committed to defending basic freedoms, combating all forms of discrimination and prejudice and improving the condition of the poor and underprivileged.”
“Obviously, he lived very humbly and left us a pile of money to start a foundation,” said Rickard, who serves as executive director emerita and vice president of the foundation. “Thirteen years later, we have more than we started with, and I think we’ve given away about $14 million. We are trying to do with his money what he did with his cartoons.”
This year, the foundation is a platinum sponsor for Operation SEAs the Day — a nonprofit that organizes a beach-week event in Bethany Beach for military service members and veterans who are recovering from injuries sustained while serving the country, and their families.
This year, Warrior Beach Week will be held Sept. 8-13 and will welcome 30 families and two alumni families.
“We talk about it in every board meeting,” said Rickard of Operation SEAs the Day.
Rickard heard of Operation SEAs the Day after reading a Washington Post article in 2013, after the inaugural beach week, and knew she wanted to get involved.
“I said, ‘But why didn’t I know about this?’ I was so mad! I really was so mad,” she said. “Everything about it just grabbed me. I come from a military family — my grandfather, two brothers, a nephew and a great nephew now. So, the military is very dear to me. I’ve been supporting the Wounded Warrior Project for a very long time.”
After learning about Warrior Beach Week, she called her longtime friend Mary Beth Murray and asked her to find out how she could get involved. Since then, Rickard has donated money to the organization and has offered up her beachfront home to the warrior families.
During Warrior Beach Week, Murray serves as host to the family that stays in Rickard’s home.
“To me, doing what we did was a wonderful healing process, not only for me hosting them, but for [Jean] as the owner. It heals everyone. It brings happiness to everyone,” she said.
This year, a Pennsylvania couple and their three young kids will be staying at Rickard’s home during Warrior Beach Week. To prepare, Rickard and Murray put together gift bags for the family that include beach towels, books and jars of seashells.
The families who stay at Rickard’s home also receive a book that contains a letter from Rickard, information about Bethany Beach, and letters to the warrior and their family, thanking them for their service.
“Everyone who stays at this house or has visited this house writes a letter,” said Rickard, pointing at a letter written by her 2-and-a-half-year-old great nephew. “I thought, ‘This means so much to me. I want to tell them how much I appreciate what they do.’”
The warrior whose family will stay at the home suffers from PTSD and a brain injury, as well as missing part of his tricep and right leg.
“I’m really excited about them. They look like such a nice couple,” Rickard said.
Last year, Rickard was able to meet the couple who stayed at her home during beach week.
“They were coming from Santa Fe, and they flew into Washington to do some sightseeing… So I emailed and asked if they would come over for dinner, and they did,” she said, adding that her family hosted them at a barbecue.
Rickard said she’s thrilled to be a part of Operation SEAs the Day.
“I just think this is such a great project. I hope it goes on forever,” she said. Of Block, who served in the U.S. Army from 1943 to 1946, she added, “He would be so thrilled about his house being used in this Warrior Week.”
She noted that she’s left instructions to ensure that the house will continue to be used for Warrior Beach Week for years to come.
“My son was in the Air Force,” said Rickard. “He said, ‘Don’t worry, this will go on forever and ever as long as I’m alive.’”
Annette Reeping of Operation SEAs the Day visited Rickard last week to thank her for her support of the organization and to present her with a print of a painting she created, titled “Honor,” of the silhouette of a soldier saluting the American flag.
The soldier is Reeping’s nephew Keith Dominic, who was stationed in Al Asad, Iraq.
“It was Memorial Day morning. He got up as the sun was rising and saluted the flag. Well, another soldier came up behind him and took his photograph,” she said. “I always loved that photograph…”
In retirement, Reeping took up painting and recreated the memorable image as a gift for her nephew. She made a print for herself and, later, after reading a poem written by one of the Operation SEAs the Day alumni warriors, paired the two together.
“It is this moment of dedication, service, love of country and honor of the U.S. flag that has been captured. The painting ‘Honor’ depicts any soldier that proudly defends our nation, giving us our peaceful way of life.
“The Dan Dorf poem added to the print captures the tremendous positive effect Bethany Beach Warrior Beach Week has created. The print captures honor of country, as well as honor of Wounded Warrior families shown by the American community.”
Reeping said the organization received a letter from the Wounded Warrior Project stating that, even in its fledgling years, beach week has already made an impact.
“They’re seeing long-term positive impact, including that the caregivers are in touch with each other. And they’re seeing some recovery from the wounded warriors that seems to be lasting.
“We have statistics that say we’ve touched over 300 people already, when you include spouses, children, aunts, uncles, parents of wounded warriors. It’s really a very simple thing in many ways. It’s a simple thing in that you bring them to Bethany Beach to enjoy all the amenities that we live with every day. And we thank them and appreciate them for the way of life we live.”
“What I saw from … that family last year, what came out of it, the progress they’ve made… it’s just unbelievable,” added Murray.
For more information about Operation SEAs the Day, visit www.OperationSEAstheDay.org.