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A Personal Hero
Leon Herman Adickes

by Bob Bowman
Bob Bowman
My favorite East Texans are the senior citizens whose agile memories have helped me write columns such as this.

Leon Herman Adickes, 88, who was high on my list, died recently at Hemphill -- a place where he helped make history by simply doing things to make his community a better place. Most of what he did were acts like making sure Hemphill had a doctor, a hospital, a nursing home and a Lions Club.

I first met Leon as a second grade student at Hemphill in 1943 -- and I never forgot two simple things he did for me.

Leon married a Hemphill girl, Pansy Fuller, in 1941 while he was working for a seismic crew in Sabine County. In 1943, when Pansy's father, Jim Fuller, became ill, the Adickes family moved to Hemphill to take over Jim's business, Hemphill Drug Store.

Each school day morning I walked from East Mayfield, an old sawmill community near Hemphill, to school. And on the return walk each afternoon, I made a detour through Hemphill Drug Store to read the comic books displayed on a rack in the back of the store. I bought a few comics, but mostly I read Leon's books without charge or a rebuke. I suppose he realized that I came from the family of a poor sawmill mechanic with four hungry kids.

The second simple thing Leon did was on a Saturday afternoon as I attended a cowboy western at Hemphill's movie theater. A bully swiped my hat as I left the theater. Leon, who happened to be walking by, observed the crime and carried me to his store, where he outfitted me with another hat, again at no charge.

Leon was only in his twenties at the time, but he became my family's hometown hero. I suspect he also gave my family medicine when they ran short on funds.

Over the ensuing years, Leon kept busy making Hemphill a better place for the people who lived there.

He served 15 terms on the Hemphill City council, 25 years as a volunteer fireman, and led the effort to build Hemphill's first public hospital and served four terms as its president. When the hospital started, it did not, in Leon's words, "have enough money to buy a postage stamp."

Leon was a charter member of Hemphill's Lions Club and had 27 years of perfect attendance.

In the 1950s, when Hemphill found itself without a doctor, Leon wrote 100 letters to physicians, asking them to come to Hemphill. Only one, W.S. Winslow, replied. He established a practice in town and became a close friend and business partner with Leon. Together, they helped build two nursing homes, a restaurant, a motel, a radio station and other businesses they felt Hemphill needed.

As an adult, I renewed my acquaintance with Leon in the 1960s while working for the Houston Chronicle. He told me about unique morsels of East Texas, such as ghost towns, outlaw crimes, good ol' boy expressions, home remedies -- and other stories that have made their way into my books.

Leon never asked for anything in exchange for his historical help, but in the 1980s he called me in Lufkin and reminded me that I had read his comic books for free, and he wanted a favor. "Could you come to Hemphill and make a speech at our Chamber of Commerce banquet?" he requested.

I did. It was the least I could do for a hometown hero.
All Things Historical - May 14, 2006 Column
Published with permission

(Distributed by the East Texas Historical Association. Bob Bowman of Lufkin is a former president of the Association and the author of more than 30 books about East Texas.)

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