Richard Arthur "Dick" Horton, 84, a longtime contractor and a 56-year Chico, Calif. resident died at home on Thursday, Nov. 10, 2011, with his family at his side.
To his family, friends and former employees, Dick was a true gentleman - an unassuming, trustworthy, kind, fiercely loyal man who led by example and gave all a fair shake. In the words of one longtime friend: "Chico has lost a giant."
He was born March 2, 1927 in Independence, Ore. Dick spent most of his childhood in the small Washington communities of Yakima and Sunnyside, where his father sold equipment to the local farmers. As a young child, he lost his teenage brother to pneumonia and his mother to a stroke. His 50-year old father was left to raise four children alone on a limited income.
Still, Dick would later recall those early years as happy ones. He never forgot the example that his father set as a breadwinner, honest businessman and single father who sacrificed for his family in tough times. That example, Dick would later say, guided him throughout his life.
As a teenager in depression-era Sunnyside, Dick cut asparagus in the morning before school, helped harvest wheat in the summer, delivered produce and worked as a doorman at the local theater. But he had high hopes for a college education as well.
As the war was nearing an end, he and his best friend applied to be Navy tail gunners in fighter aircraft but were both turned down - one for an overbite and the other for poor eyesight. Instead, Dick headed off to Navy boot camp in Illinois and then into an ROTC program. Once the war was over, he went on to graduate from the University of Washington with a mechanical endineering degree (and a commission as an ensign in the Civil Engineer Corps of the Naval Reserve) in 1949 and a Master's degree in business.
Midway through graduate school, however, a small newspaper ad for a summer study abroad program in Norway (and Dick's need for a few language credits) changed the course of his life. Strapped for cash, he hitchhiked from Seattle to New York City and boarded a boat headed for Norway. As it turned out, his future wife, Marjorie Alm, the daughter of Norwegian immigrants, was on board as well. The two met over a shipboarding game of ping pong.
In 1954, Dick and Marge were married. At the time, Dick had just left a job at General Electric to work for his father's company in Sunnyside. But a job offer from his father-in-law soon drew him to Chico, Calif.
By all accounts, Dick found his place in Chico. He went to work for Butte Creek Rock Company (now Baldwin Contracting Company) in 1955 and was eventually named general manager. He quickly became a central part of his wife's large Norwegian extended family
Then in his mid 40s after a shift in ownership at Butte Creek Rock Company, Dick took a risk. With four young children to raise he left his job in the early 1970s and launched his own construction company with nothing but a desk and a station wagon. It turned out to be one of his best moves.
For some 30 years, Dick and his crew (briefly Wiebe & Horton, then Horton Enterprises) paved new roads, put in high school sports fields, built P.G & E. campgrounds and trails in remote areas around California and installed sewer systems. He rebuilt Chico's Sycamore pool and bridge at the One Mile Dam, landscaped the newly built Chico State library and the Butte College campus. He installed reprap around Lake Almanor, removed more than 1,000 stumps from Buck's Lake and developed subdivisions along the Skyway outside Chico.
He also invested in a small company, Durham Pump that expanded and flourished. And tapping his small-town roots, he poured time and energy into volunteer projects aimed at improving his community as well. He served on the first Butte College board which had the task of choosing a campus location. As an active Rotary club member (a past president and Paul Harris Fellow), he put in bike paths and helped build Chico's Rotary Park among his other projects.
What Dick treasured most in life, however, were his relationships with his family, friends, business associates and small close-knit group of employees. He believed in doing business with a handshake and forging relationships that lasted for decades - and they did.
He loved meeting the "boys" for tennis and a beer at the Chico Racquet Club and playing dominoes with Marge and the gang; gathering with friends in the same booth at the Italian Cottage every Sunday morning and regularly showing up for "Friday Night Group" dinners; and , in later years, watching his grandchildren play. He loved visiting with his children, watching the sunset from his RV deck at Lake Almanor and spending the winter months with friends at a beachfront RV park in Mexico.
He was grateful right up to the end. In the final months of his two-year battle with cancer, he would often say, "I am so lucky." Just days before his death, he wrote a letter to his 90-year-old sister to thank her for helping raise him and for all she had done for him. Just before dawn one recent morning, a daughter found him lying awake, deep in thought, "I'm just thinking," he said smiling, "about my wonderful life."
Dick is survived by his wife of 57 years, Marge; sisters, Donna Cook of Florence, Ore., Barbara Cheney of Keizer, Ore. and Mary Johnson of Chico, Calif.; daughters, Tina (Tim) Horton Flaherty of Pacifica, Calif. and Ingrid (Ted) Fulmer of Danville, Calif.; sons, Todd (Kelli) Horton of Elk Grove and Rocky (Kim) Horton of Big Island, Hawaii; 11 grandchildren; two great-grandchildren; and numerous nieces and nephews and their children.
He was preceded in death by his brother, William Elisha; and sister, Anna Louise Holgate.
An open house celebration of Dick's life was held Saturday, Dec. 3, 2011, from 3 to 7 p.m. at the family home.
In lieu of flowers, contributions can be made to Cystic Fibrosis Research, Inc. or a charity of your choice in care of Brusie Funeral Home.
Bidwell Chapel in Chico was in charge of arrangements.