Civic leader Helen Dix dead at 96 (with gallery)

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Helen Westcott Dix, whose husband, the late Robert C. Dix, was publisher of the Record-Courier, died Wednesday, Oct. 2, 2013, at Robinson Memorial Hospital in Ravenna following several years of declining health. She was 96.

Active in the community, she helped found, lead and participate in numerous civic undertakings, many of which she supported financially and with stories she wrote that were published in the Record-Courier.

She strongly supported charitable organizations in Portage County, her adopted home county, with her time and financial contributions. Kent State University, Hiram College, Robinson Memorial Hospital, the Coleman Foundation, the Burbick Foundation, the Portage County Gardeners, and the Portage Park District and Foundation were recipients of her generosity. Among other charitable institutions she supprted was her church, the United Methodist Church of Kent.

An energetic person, she was asked by many to volunteer because she was able to get the job done. She helped found the Kent League of Women Voters and was its last surviving charter member, the Kent State University Journalism Alumni Association, and the Blossom Music Center Women's Committee, leading its Ohio chapter for a year shortly after Blossom Music Center opened in 1968.

During the 32 years her husband served as a trustee of Kent State University, Mrs. Dix regularly entertained guests of the university at their home in Kent, assisted with Kent State's international student association, and avidly followed and supported Kent State's intercollegiate sports teams. They befriended and enjoyed the company of many faculty members over the years.

After the founding of what is now the Northeast Ohio Medical University in Rootstown, she led in the creation of the medicinal herb garden on its campus. She also helped create the healing garden at Robinson Memorial Hospital. She was an ardent supporter of the Western Reserve Herb Society, Mrs. Dix writing and editing its newsletter for a time. At the age of 85 in 2002, she became the oldest person to go through Leadership Portage County, a nine-month experience she thoroughly enjoyed.

Her devotion to Kent State did not go unnoticed. In 2007, when she was 90, Kent State University awarded her its University Medallion and hosted a birthday celebration in her honor. She was a recipient of the Distinguished Alumni Award and in the 1990s served as Grand Marshal of the Kent State Homecoming Parade. In 1957, she received the William Taylor Award for her work in founding the Kent State Journalism Alumni Association. The Daily Kent Stater editor's office is named in her honor. A fund she and her husband set up underwrites journalism scholarships annually. She received the KSU Lifetime Achievement Award in 2004.

Others were generous in their recognition, too. Robinson Memorial Hospital honored her in 1998 at a Robinson Society's Distinguished Giving reception and recently named a lobby for her and her husband. Hiram College inducted her into its Garfield Society in 2004. The Kent Area Chamber of Commerce in 1984 bestowed its Kent Medal for Public Service on her and in 2004 recognized her for a lifetime of contributions. The Portage Park District honored her in 2007 on her 90th birthday, recognizing her gift of 103 acres for a park in Ravenna Township. Ron Burbick, who developed Acorn Alley and resuscitated the old Kent Hotel, honored Mrs. Dix by putting her name on one of his buildings at 138 E. Main St. in Kent, where in the 1930s as a student, she edited and helped compose The Daily Kent Stater and reported for the Kent Courier- Tribune.

She and her husband were avid golfers and from the 1930s members of the Twin Lakes Country Club. She remained a member until its demise a few years ago.

She was adamant about the importance of education and a strong advocate of the public school system, which she and her husband told their children was a vital ingredient in the American success story. When her five children attended elementary school, she was a leader in the Parent Teacher Associations of their schools. As a mother, she stressed achievement and hard work both in the classroom and outside of it.

In the 1950s, her husband befriended a Swiss businessman, Marcel Durieux, who was using local newspapers to promote European and other international tours for Americans. She helped them organize tours for Portage County residents in Europe and Latin America. The experience furthered her interest in international politics, often a topic in the Dix household, and she enrolled in the late 1950s for a master's degree in political science at Kent State. She completed her degree in the early 1960s, specializing in Latin American politics.

Born in Pittsburgh on April 18, 1917, she was the daughter of John and Nellie (Salton) Westcott. With her two brothers, she was the oldest sibling in a family that moved frequently. Her mother, who had studied science at Cornell University in early 1900s, taught general science. Her father was an artist who took a variety of day jobs to support his family. The family moved several times, its financial position never secure. Residing a few years in Trenton, N.J., she was able to attend a Quaker elementary school founded by William Penn just outside of Philadelphia, where her mother taught general science. Her father worked as a gardener.

Eventually the family landed in Painesville, where she attended high school. The economic pressures of the Depression caused the family to break up. She spent her high school senior year alone in Painesville working in a boarding house for her keep.

A high school guidance counselor proved a turning point in her life by persuading her to attend Kent State University, where he found her a job in Kent waitressing at the Robin Hood, a fine restaurant in those days. Her interests were in newspapers. Kent State had journalism classes, but offered no journalism degree at the time so she obtained her bachelor's degree in business. She worked at the Daily Kent Stater, becoming one of the first women to serve as its editor. In addition to waitressing, she supported herself as a reporter for Scripps Howard's Akron Times Press and also at the Kent Courier-Tribune, where she caught the eye of her future husband, Robert, who was assisting his older brother Albert, then the publisher of the Ravenna Evening Record and the Kent Courier-Tribune.

Invited to interview for a job at Look Magazine in its New York City offices, she left Kent immediately after graduation. Within a day or two, her future husband, a pilot, telegraphed her to meet him at an airport in Deposit, a small town outside of Binghamton, N.Y. He flew there and asked her to marry him. She accepted and returned with him to Kent, the two getting married at the home of Albert Dix in Ravenna on June 15, 1938.

The Dixes resided in Kent. An enthusiastic gardener and, like her mother, interested in nature, Mrs. Dix took pleasure in the woods that surrounded her home and invariably experimented with new flower beds and trees she planted on the premises.

She was an avid birder. That led the couple to acquire a condominium on Sanibel Island in Florida in 1974 shortly after the island opened to development. In their senior years, the two of them wintered in Sanibel and Mrs. Dix often treated first-time visitors to a tour of Ding Darling Wildlife Preserve, the renowned bird sanctuary that occupies more than 30 percent of the island.

Her husband preceded her in death in 1996.

Mrs. Dix is survived by her five children: Robert (Nancy), Bonita Springs, Fla., David (Janet), Sugar Bush Knolls, Timothy, Colorado Springs, Colo., Dr. Darcy (Robert) Folzenlogen, Columbia, Mo., and Kristina (Gregory) Frost, Newark, Ohio. Also surviving is Geoffrey Thompson, Mountainview, Calif., who joined the Dix family in 1959 following the deaths of his parents. In addition, seven grandchildren, three step-grandchildren, four great-grandchildren, and seven step-great-grandchildren survive.

A memorial service will be held at 1 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 12 at the United Methodist Church of Kent, with the Rev. David Palmer officiating. The family will receive friends at a reception at the church immediately following. Cremation will take place. Burial will be in Standing Rock Cemetery. S.C. Bissler and Sons Funeral Home and Crematory in Kent is handling arrangements.

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  • Helen Dix will be missed.  She was a true civic leader; the Dix Family legacy of "community first" lives on.

  • What a truly remarkable woman.  Such energy so well used.  She is an inspiration to all who seek to make their lives relevant.  Ardis Wood

  • Portage County has lost a most extraordinary individual--a