FAMILY HISTORY OF RICHARD LEE ATKINS
1933 Marriage of J. S. Atkins, Jr. and Geraldine Martha Cooper on February 22. Both graduated from Moore Haven High School in Glades County, Florida: J. S. in 1932 and Geraldine in 1933.
J. S. was class president and a very capable basketball and tennis player. Jerry had skipped a grade in school after moving down from Georgia and was class valedictorian. He was twenty years old, and she was sixteen.
He had a job with the United States Sugar Corporation at their commissary warehouse in Clewiston. Then he was transferred to the commissary store at the Azucar plantation (now Bryant, Florida), where he worked as clerk.
1934 Birth of Dicky Lee Atkins on March 1 in Moore Haven at the Atkins grandparents’ home on the south bank of the Caloosahatchee River. He was named for his mother, who was called “Dick” by her two brothers and three sisters, and also for his father’s mother, Leila - or, “Mama Lee.”
1935 Family moved to South Bay, where J. S. was manager of the commissary store for the USSC.
Birth of Dick’s sister, Ann Cooper Atkins, on July 7 in West Palm Beach. Named for her mother’s mother, Annie Rose Cooper.
Birth of Dick’s future wife, Janet Merilyn Gunter, on August 17 in Jacksonville.
1936 Moved to Azucar, where Dick’s father ran a Standard Oil service station on the Palm Beach Highway, Hwy 98. The station serviced USSC vehicles as well as the public. The family lived in a two-story wood frame apartment building that housed six families, all employees of the USSC. The plantation camp consisted of large corrugated metal sheds for maintaining sugar cane cultivation and harvesting equipment, a water tower, office building, commissary, “colored” quarters, and a railroad that carried the harvested cane to Clewiston for processing. Surrounding all this were the cane fields growing in rich black muck. Azucar, which is the Spanish word for sugar, was later renamed “Bryant” after one of the founders of the USSC.
1940 Dick started first grade at Canal Point Elementary School. Canal Point was so named because it was located at the point of entry of the Palm Beach Canal into Lake Okeechobee. Dick made good grades and showed an early talent for art and music.
1941 Start of World War II. The sugar industry was an important part of the war effort, so Dick’s father was not called into military service.
1943 Family moved to Pelican Lake, known informally as “Muck City,” just three miles deeper into the cane fields, where Dick’s father became manager of the commissary store. All of the same kinds of buildings were there as at Azucar, except for a smaller shed for the Caterpillar tractors, and well-built houses for the white families. Company amenities included free utilities and yard workers. There was only one telephone on the entire plantation, and that was in the commissary. Water for the whole camp came from a railroad tank car sitting on the tracks and periodically replaced. Two main roads to Azucar and Pahokee were unpaved; they were dusty when dry and impassable when wet.
The yearly cycle of sugar cane ended with winter harvesting, which involved burning the fields to rid them of dense, saw-edged cane blades, and then manual cutting
and stacking by imported laborers. When the cane-cutters were sent back home to the Caribbean islands, the camp got quieter, and it was possible to see for miles across the flat fields. Once the cane was grown and tasseled, it was higher than a man’s head, and to see further required climbing the water tower or a cane hoist, which was a metal structure built like a giant inverted “U” astride a train track. The cane fields abounded in critters that Dick, with his dog Wooie, could hunt with his .22 rifle. Playmates were few, just the children of the other five white families. Dick and Ann had varieties of pets, including a baby wildcat, a field rabbit, a hamster, ducks, dogs, and chickens.
Moving to Pelican Lake meant changing schools. When Dick started the fourth grade at Pahokee Elementary School, he had the same teacher, Mrs. Cunningham, that he had had in the third grade at Canal Point.
As soon as he could “make change” (count money), Dick started working in the commissary after school and on Saturdays.
1945 Dick began playing the clarinet in the school band. Before getting into the band, he rode his bicycle into town on Saturdays to receive music lessons. Since the fifth and sixth grades were located in the same building as the high school, a sixth grader could be in the high school band. Practice after school meant missing the school bus and having to walk and thumb rides home.
1946 Dick was elected president of the seventh grade class.
1947 Dick was baptized in the Canal Point Missionary Baptist Church on April 27, along with his sister and both parents. This church stood back-to-back with the Methodist Church. There was also a Baptist Church not affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention that effected the name “First Baptist Church,” but which everybody called “the canal bank church,” because of its location on the Palm Beach Canal. That church’s members and preachers were the more emotional and less educated residents in the town. They sang jazzy music from Stamps Baxter hymnals.
Dick was elected president of the eighth grade class. He played Junior High basketball, not too well.
1948 Dick was elected president of the ninth grade class.
1950 Dick was elected president of the eleventh grade class. He wrote a winning essay on “Courtesy.” He played football, mostly at the defensive end position, not too well, the last two years of high school.
1951 Dick was selected by the local American Legion to attend Florida Boys State in Tallahassee, where he observed the government in operation. He was Youth Week pastor in his church. He sang Al Jolson songs in the school’s blackface minstrel show. He also sang in a Gospel quartette.
Dick helped in the commissary before and after school and, therefore, could not ride the school bus. He bought a 1937 Dodge with a 1942 Plymouth engine for $150 to drive to school. His uncle Harmon helped him paint it green and yellow.
1952 Dick was choir director in his church, as well as Assistant Sunday School Superintendent. The Future Farmers of America quartette he sang in won the state championship.
Dick graduated from Pahokee High School as valedictorian. His classmates elected him Most Likely to Succeed, Most Talented, Most Dignified, Most Studious, Most Intelligent, and Most Dependable.
He received the Literacy medal for highest grades in English, and the faculty selected him as All Around Senior Boy.
That summer he enrolled at the University of Florida, where he joined the Gator Band and got involved in the Baptist Student Union. He started singing in the choir at Gainesville’s First Baptist Church. He tried his hand at campus politics and was in charge of Liberty Party publicity, but he was defeated as a candidate for Executive Council. This exposure to the shady tactics of politics cured him of aspirations in that direction.
1953 Dick made the Dean’s List and was inducted into the honorary fraternity Phi Eta Sigma. He served as BSU music director. He also directed a student religious program on radio station WGGG. Since he was an aeronautical engineering student, he joined the Institute of Aeronautical Sciences (IAS) and served as publicity director until graduation.
He secured a part-time job at one dollar per hour in the Aeronautical Engineering Department as lab assistant to help pay expenses and held this job until he graduated.
In the summer he continued to go to school, taking calculus, physics, and band - a very arduous schedule.
1954 Dick was elected Youth Deacon in his church. He served as BSU publicity director. He was art editor of the newsletter “Mach Buster.” He was treasurer of the IAS. He was accepted into the honorary Arnold Air Society in connection with ROTC. He was Youth Week choir director in his church. He was art editor of the state BSU paper and editor of the local newsletter, “The Timepiece of BSU.”
In the summer he got a job as Junior Engineer at Chance Vought Aircraft, Inc. in Grand Prairie, Texas, making money toward his school expenses and gaining experience in the Flight Performance Section of the Aeronautics Division. He helped in the design of the F-8U Crusader, the first tilt-wing aircraft ever made. When the plant was shut down for a two-week vacation time, he visited his aunt Louise in Colorado.
In the fall he was elected president of the University of Florida Baptist Student Union.
1955 Dick bought a 1952 Plymouth and parked it off-campus, but rode a bicycle all over the school grounds to his classes.
In the summer he attended Student Week at Ridgecrest Baptist Assembly and sang a solo in the main hall. Then he drove to Bryan, Texas for ROTC summer camp. Following that, he returned to work at Chance Vought Aircraft for the rest of the summer.
In the fall he was elected state president of all Florida Baptist Student Unions. He presided at the state convention in St. Petersburg and at the opening session of the next summer’s Ridgecrest Student Week.
During the Christmas vacation, he had his birth certificate legally changed to show his name as Richard Lee Atkins.
1956 Dick graduated from the University of Florida with a Bachelor of Aeronautical Engineering degree. He had a 2.92 out of 4.0 grade average. He was notified of acceptance into Sigma Xi, the engineering honorary society, but he declined to accept since the minimum grade requirement was 3.0 (someone had made a mistake). Having 164 credit hours, where only 147 credits were required to graduate, he was incorrectly listed in the school’s yearbook among the graduate students. He was a three-year letterman in the Gator Band.
At that time Dick was six feet tall and only 147 pounds in weight - probably kept thin by involvement in numerous activities and intense study of twenty-credit-hour semesters.
On the same day as graduation, he received a commission as Second Lieutenant in the USAF. He was to report for duty the following January.
Dick became engaged to marry Merilyn Gunter, a fellow member of BSU, from Live Oak, Florida. He had known her brother, Bill, since high school days, from contacts at Florida Boys State and in Future Farmers of America, where Bill was state speaking champion and national president.
After graduation, Dick obtained a temporary job with Boeing Airplane Company in Seattle. He parted from Merilyn for a few months at the Ridgecrest Baptist Assembly in North Carolina and drove across country in his new green and white Plymouth sedan.
In the Boeing plant at Renton, Dick was again in the Flight Performance Section, working on the KC-135 Stratotanker, the first jet tanker. He saw its maiden flight on Labor Day. While in the “great northwest” he made excursions to Mount Rainier, Yakima Valley, Grand Coulee Dam, and Vancouver, Canada.
He joined an American Baptist church in Renton, and on returning to Florida, he gave the interim pastor, Dr. Hamm, ninety years old, a ride back east to return him to his family.
1957 Dick married Merilyn Gunter in the First Baptist Church of Live Oak on January 20. Their plans were to honeymoon on the way to Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas, where he was to go on active duty. The day before the wedding he got a telegram saying Uncle Sam did not need him until March. The couple still headed west, and in New Orleans, Dick called his old boss at Chance Vought to see if he could get work for the month of February. He was accepted, and the couple rented their first home on 611 Hill Street in Grand Prairie. There Merilyn saw her first icicles and was introduced to the sights around “Big D.”
USAF date of duty was March 9, so the couple took up residence in a motel in San Antonio until May 6. Then they were sent to Kinston, North Carolina, where Dick started pilot training. That base was closed on June 30, and so training continued at Moultrie, Georgia. Dick flew the T-34 and then the T-28 aircraft. After he had completed 73 hours of flying time, his class was given the option of either signing a new five-year contract of enlistment or terminating flying. Along with most of his classmates, Dick chose not to remain in the Air Force beyond his original three-year obligation. He was subsequently assigned as a maintenance officer at a Strategic Air Command installation, Hunter Air Force Base, in Savannah, Georgia. The couple moved there on October 18. They lived first at 138 E. 61st Street, Apartment B. Dick was put in charge of the Field Maintenance shops with a hundred men under his command. His shops maintained the B-47 and KC-97 aircraft stationed there.
1958 Richard Lee Atkins, Jr. was born in the military hospital in February. Dick was promoted to First Lieutenant on June 4. Also, the couple moved into 2-B Lamara Apartments in June.
1959 Laird David Atkins was born in a newer military hospital, just constructed, in April.
Dick was honorably discharged from the USAF on July 1. He considered three primary locations for future employment: Lockheed Aircraft in Marietta, Georgia, General Dynamics in Fort Worth, and Chance Vought in Dallas. The first was near Georgia Tech, and the other two were near Southern Methodist University, where Dick planned to continue his schooling. The best offer came from General Dynamics.
Dick was employed at GD/FW on July 21 in the Aircraft Furnishings Group, which had to do with the design of the cockpit and the crew escape system for the B-58 Hustler, a
three-man bomber built for the Air Force. This aircraft was the first supersonic bomber. Dick’s job consisted mostly in writing factory test procedures and sections of technical manuals. He also served as test director and taught the factory workers a class on explosive devices used in escape systems.
He went to Fort Worth ahead of his family and purchased a new house at 4245 Larson Lane. It was a three-bedroom, single car garage, pink brick home with white trim, and it cost $11,500.
The couple became members at the Wichita Street Baptist Church.
Dick’s sister Ann was married to Gary Shelby. Not having enough leave time accummulated, he was not able to attend.
1960 Joel Gunter Atkins was born in July
1961 Dick was ordained as a Baptist deacon on February 26.
1962 Death of Dick’s grandmother, Leila Harmon Atkins.
1963 Cristi Gaye Atkins was born in April.
1964 Dick became registered as a Professional Engineer for the State of Texas.
1965 Amy Ruth Atkins was born in March.
Dick was promoted to Senior Design Engineer on April 5.
1966 Following four years of part-time schooling after working hours, Dick received a Master of Science degree in Engineering Administration. At work he was aiding in the design of the crew escape module for the F-111 Air Force bomber - the first swing-wing aircraft ever designed. It also had the first encapsulated cockpit.
1967 The family moved to the west side of Fort Worth, to be closer to the aircraft plant and to have more room for the five children. The house at 3840 Carman Drive was built to the family’s design. It was made of tan bricks with cream colored trim and was situated in what had been a pecan grove. It cost $23,000.
The family joined Western Hills Baptist Church.
Dick spent two weeks in Alaska as test director on a cold sea survival experiment by crewmen in an F-111 crew escape module.
1972 Merilyn received a Bachelor’s degree in English education with a Spanish minor from Texas Wesleyan College.
Death of Dick’s grandfather, John Silvey Atkins.
Decision to relocate to Florida. Terminated at GD/FW on June 9. Employed at Martin Aerospace Corporation in Orlando on June 26. Dick was assigned to the Ground Support Group for the Sprint missile, where he wrote test procedures and became a trained missile silo loader on the company demo team.
Merilyn was employed as an English teacher at Union Park Junior High School.
In Orlando, the family first rented a home on Highway 17-92 at 1201 E. Wilkinson Street. Then they located a five-bedroom residence at 1981 Blue Ridge Road in Winter Park. (They had first tried to build a new home in the Maitland area, but the price would have been twice the cost of their Texas home for the same design. Bricks were expensive in Florida.)
They became members of the First Baptist Church of Winter Park.
1973 Dick was reassigned to the Pershing missile program and took part in developing the Pershing II technical proposal to the Army.
Summer trip to Europe: two week tour with Al and Johnnie Meeks, high school friends stationed in Frankfurt with the Air Force.
1974 Employed by the Naval Training Equipment Center in Orlando on June 3 after termination at Martin on May 31. Dick had been attempting to get this civil service employment for several years, whenever he was back in Florida on vacation, and by correspondence. A hiring freeze hd precluded employment previously. At the Center, located just across the street from his home, Dick was first assigned to the Navy Air Defense Trainers Design Branch. His first project was Device 2E6, a $30 million air combat maneuvering simulator - the first trainer with a forty-foot dome visual system. He hired on at the GS-11 level.
1975 Received an Outstanding Performance award.
1977 Transfer to Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW) Trainers Group. Project was Device 14H4A, a tactics trainer for the SH-3H helicopters operating at Jacksonville Naval Air Station.
Death of Dick’s grandmother, Anne Rose Cooper.
1978 Promoted to GS-12. Assigned to Device 2F87(T) series trainers, located at several stations where the P-3 ASW aircraft was operating.
The family changed churches. Dick refused to sign a new statement of deacon qualifications that required belief in biblical inerrancy - a Fundamentalist doctrine. Moved membership to a more progressive fellowship, the College Park Baptist Church.
1979 Letter of Appreciation received. Assigned as Acquisition Director (A.D.) on Device 14D1, Aviation ASW Basic Operator Trainer, to be located at Memphis Naval Air Station.
1980 Received Quality Salary Increase.
Son, Lee, married Nancy Moskos on March 22.
1981 Dick was notified that the Engineering Division Head had stated at his staff meeting: “Dick Atkins is the top A.D. at the Center.”
Dick was reclassified from aero to electronics engineer.
Received Sustained Superior Performance award.
Assigned to the Navy-wide ASW Steering Committee.
1982 Elected Chairman of Deacons.
1983 Merilyn started teaching sophomore English at the Winter Park High School.
Dick was promoted to GS-13 and assigned as Air Planner for all Navy projects at the Center.
Dick wrote and directed a church drama, The Last Passover of Jesus Christ, performed at the Easter season and continued each year thereafter.
1984 Son, Laird, married Sheryl Steinmeier on March 17.
Birth of first grandchild, Kristin, to Lee and Nancy in March.
1985 Naval Training Equipment Center was upgraded to a systems center, becoming the Naval Training Systems Center on October 1. Dick got a new boss who had been Air Planner previously, and conflict followed.
Summer choir tour in England and Scotland for two weeks.
1986 Transfer to Maintenance Trainers Branch, and assigned two projects: Device 11B108, Advanced First Term Avionics Maintenance Trainer, and Device 11B110, Avionics and Electrical Systems Advanced Trainer.
Merilyn received Master of Arts degree in English from the University of Central Florida in May.
Summer trip to national historic sites up the east coast to Pennsylvania.
1987 Daughter, Cristi, married on January 3.
Birth of grandson, Ricky, (R. L. Atkins III), to Lee and Nancy in June.
Sustained Superior Performance award.
Attended Conference on Biblical Inerrancy at Ridgecrest.
Drove with parents through Georgia to their family homesites.
1988 Visit to New York City.
Attended Conference on Biblical Interpretation at Ridgecrest.
Birth of granddaughter, Camille, to Laird and Sheryl in November.
1989 Houseboat vacation with high school classmates.
Attended Southern Baptist Convention in Las Vegas.
Elected Chairman of Deacons.
1990 Birth of grandson, Daniel Dawson, to Lee and Nancy in March.
Daughter, Amy, married David Bock.
Reorganization of NTSC because of reduced defense budget. Transfer to Special Systems Trainers Branch. No change in program assignments.
Attended Harmon family reunion in Atlanta.
1991 Participated in the formation of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship in Atlanta - in reaction to the Fundamentalist takeover of the Southern Baptist Convention.
Son, Joel, married Rhonda Donaldson.
Birth of granddaughter, Jaimee, to Laird and Sheryl in June.
Work on family genealogy: Dick and his dad made a trip through north Georgia visiting old homesites, cemeteries, and relatives.
1992 Served as Chairman of the Long Range Planning Committee in the church.
Fortieth high school reunion. Week-long Caribbean cruise.
1993 Dick’s parents moved to South Carolina to be near their daughter Ann Shelby, who lived on a farm near Spartanburg. Genealogy research showed that this is the region from which the Atkins clan began their migration into Georgia.
1994 Dick’s work was on Army simulators using laser technology.
Merilyn became Head of the English Department at her school. She and her daughters, Cristi and Amy, made a trip to San Francisco.
1995 Daughter, Cristi (divorced), married Paul Valdes.
1996 Fortieth reunion of the Class of ‘56 at the University of Florida.
Birth of grandson, Grant Charles, to David and Amy Bock in April.
1997 Dick and Merilyn celebrated their fortieth wedding anniversary in January. Then both retired in July. Dick had 15 years in the aviation industry plus 25 years of government service, and Merilyn had 25 years in the classroom.
Accompanied a church group on a mission trip to Maine, starting a new church on the Canadian border.
Death of Merilyn’s mother, Tillie Gunter.
1998 Birth of grandson, Davis Bryan, to Amy and David Bock in April.
Trip to Israel and Greece.
Dick became President of the United Nations Association, Greater Orlando Chapter.
Dick gave guest lectures to Winter Park High School seniors on Beowulf and the Epic of Gilgamesh.
1999 Attended the national UNA Convention in New York City in March.
Made a family genealogy trip through North Georgia in June.
Birth of grandson, Samuel Paul, to Cristi and Paul Valdes in July.
Began work on the Pastor Search Committee after the pastor resigned.
Death of Dick’s father, J. S., on September 25.
2000 Death of Merilyn’s father, Dawson Gunter, age 93.
Birth of granddaughter, Jessie MeriAnn, to David and Amy Bock in September.
Birth of granddaughter, Meri Louise, to Cristi and Paul Valdes in December.
Mission trip to Hawaii to work on a Baptist conference center.
Took a train ride across Canada from Toronto to Vancouver in a tour group.
Dick presided over the state convention of the United Nations Association, which met in Orlando.
2001 Both attended the national convention of the United Nations Association in New York City. Mission trip to eastern Kentucky for construction work at a Bible college.
Three-week tour of Italy, and both climbed to the top of Mt. Vesuvius.
2002 Dick wrote a book, The Fables, Fabrications, and Fallacies of Islam.
2003 Both attended the national convention of the United Nations Association in Washington, D.C.
Took a tour of Boston and the New England area to see the fall colors. Made side trips to Concord (Walden Pond) and Plymouth (Mayflower II).
2004 Both went on an Alaska cruise and land tour.
Dick helped organize a Baptist Heritage Weekend and gave a lecture. He also directed the drama he wrote, The Last Passover of Jesus Christ, during the Easter season.
2005 Tour of the Western Parks, starting in South Dakota and ending in Denver.
Both attended the one hundredth anniversary of the Baptist World Alliance in Birmingham, England, followed up by a tour into Cornwall. One highlight was a side trip to the old home of Charles Darwin.
Heavy dark hair and early greying
Heavy black eyebrows
Dark eyes and complexion
Widow’s peak and high forehead
Hooked nose, medium to small
Wide face and forehead
Fair complexion and blue eyes
Light hair, tendency to balding
Large, bulbous nose
Tendency to balding
Heavy lidded eyes
Wide face and nose