ESCANABA - Karl Dickson was never good enough to be the star athlete, but he was a great friend to all athletes during a long and storied life.
Dickson died Tuesday at his beloved home on Portage Point, a treasure trove of athletic history as well as Delta County history. He was 94 and had been bed-ridden since early April.
Affectionately called "Mr. Little League" by many, Dickson brought that youth baseball program into the Upper Peninsula when he founded the Escanaba league in 1951.
He also developed several off-shoots, most notably beginning the Yooper Tournament for 10-year-olds which gave those young baseball players a head start into postseason experience that would be so valuable over their next few years.
He was also involved with American Legion and Babe Ruth baseball and Golden Gloves boxing.
Karl was a first-class gentleman, as nice as they come. Baseball was his first love, after his dearly beloved late wife Winnie.
He always wanted to be a ballplayer but learned early in life his skills did not reach the high level he was seeking. A senior prophecy in the EHS yearbook indicated he would become commissioner of baseball.
Those goals did not work out, but the ideas helped send him to the University of Missouri, where he studied journalism with the idea of getting into sportswriting.
However, he returned to Escanaba upon the urging of his parents and took over the family business, Office Service Co. He guided that small operation into a peninsula-wide success long before the big box stores arrived, enabling him to travel and meet with so many people, and baseball was always high on the list of discussion topics.
He built an excellent reputation, in business and life, and was usually seen wearing a baseball hat, either with an E for the Eskymos or B for the Boston Red Sox.
He just loved to talk about sports, and during our last visit he talked about an Escanaba graduate on the football team at Michigan State in the 1940s who was placed in the line but should have been a running back.
Dickson loved to research older athletes and make sure they were not forgotten. He carried that mission to the Upper Peninsula Sports Hall of Fame in 30 years on the executive council, providing extensive information on numerous candidates that helped several oldtimers get selected.
He also formed Escanaba's Cortege of Meritorious Athletes to ensure that former Eskymos received their just due a half century or so after they were stars. He brought back to life standouts like Ed Gauthier, Bucky Flath, Frank Katarincic, Lawrence Erickson and Henry Olmstead, from Escanaba's first football team in 1897.
Award-winning national sportswriter Bob McGinn of Escanaba, one of those guys who does so well what Karl wanted to do, enjoyed the times he spent with Dickson.
"Wow. What a man. So glad to have known him," McGinn said in an email after I notified him of Karl's passing. "Just a pillar of the community. Such a nice way about him."
Frank Rodman of Hermansville, an old crony through Office Service days and on the Hall of Fame's executive council, agreed.
"Karl was a good, honest, fair man. His contributions, can anybody equal it," asked Rodman. "This is a big loss to the entire sports community. He was very fair and square and tried to give credit where credit was due."
The Escanaba Little League Field was named for Dickson in 1991 and he was selected to the U.P. Sports Hall of Fame in 1992. Very worthy honors for a man who loved his hometown and athletics as much as anyone and made a tremendous impact on the lives of so many.
A true sportsman and wonderful man.