GENÉAH DOLORES RICKMAN, September 1929 – March 20, 2015
Genéah Dolores Rickman—beloved mother, teacher, friend, mentor, iconoclast, and creator of delicious foods—died peacefully on Friday, March 20, 2015, at Sombrillo Nursing and Rehabilitation facility in Los Alamos, NM. She was 85 years old.
Born and raised in the farmlands of northwestern Iowa, Genéah learned at an early age about self-reliance and the value of being kind and compassionate to all living things. Her father and mother, Jake and Emma Kleinhesselink, taught her the virtues of honesty and hard work. She enjoyed a happy childhood among acres of corn and soybean plants.
Genéah earned her Bachelor’s Degree at Northwestern College in Orange City, Iowa, in preparation for her lifelong career as an English teacher. Shortly afterward she met Joseph Rickman, whom she later married. Genéah and Joseph moved to southern New Mexico during the Oil Boom of the late 1950s to teach in Eunice, NM.
In 1967, they moved with their three young sons to Los Alamos, NM, where both embarked upon legendary careers as teachers. Genéah taught at Pueblo Junior High School, and Joe taught at Cumbres Junior High. Though the two schools enjoyed a long-standing athletic rivalry, Joe and Genéah, like their colleagues within the Los Alamos Schools system, were unified in their commitment to the success of every student.
Those who remember Genéah’s classroom will recall it as a busy and stimulating place that provided refuge, nurturing, and encouragement to every student who entered. She established herself as an advocate for students with learning disabilities such as dyslexia. Genéah’s teaching methods were leading-edged, and focused on identifying and catering to students’ individual learning styles—a somewhat radical idea in those days. Nevertheless, Genéah’s numerous successes in teaching students whom many others had given up on, and her unflinching advocacy for them, made her a well-known and well-respected fixture in the schools. Up until the last days of her life, Genéah continued to enjoy visits from grateful and happy former students.
After teaching for nearly a quarter century, Genéah retired and kept herself busy enjoying her grandchildren and a menagerie of fortunate felines. For a brief stint, she enthusiastically sold educational toys, becoming known to many as the “Toy Lady.” She also actively served on the Jemez House board for more than a decade.
In May 2000, Genéah lost her home and everything she owned to the Cerro Grande Fire. Afterward she testified before the New Mexico Insurance Commission as an advocate for fire survivors, and she entertained two United States senators from New Mexico and the director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency at her temporary trailer home in FEMAville, a name that Genéah herself had dubbed for the post-disaster settlement. Despite the terrible consequences of the fire, she enjoyed many happy years beyond it. In her later years, monthly visits to the pancake breakfasts at the Los Alamos Posse Lodge became a favorite event; she loved being served her special blueberry-chocolate chip pancakes, being serenaded by Cowboy Carey, contemplating another cup of coffee, and seeing old friends and neighbors.
Those who were fortunate enough to have known her will remember her awesome mashed potatoes, her lavish hospitality, the warmth of her hugs, her spirited political opinions, the keenness of her wit, and how brightly her blue eyes shined. Her sweet essence will linger within all who knew her—like the superlative flavor of her world-class German chocolate cake.
Genéah is survived by three fine sons, Rick, Joel, and Jim, and their individual families, all of whom have greatly benefitted from her practical wisdom and generous spirit. She is also survived by her last and favorite cat, Sister Mary, who probably will miss her most of all.
In lieu of flowers, the family requests people who may be so inclined to make donations in her name to any organization that benefits teachers or animals.
A memorial service is being planned to coincide with the summer solstice.