March 15, 2010

OBITUARIESOzie Ricks Sr., 88, always worked hard to provide for family

— PASSAGES

Each day the newsroom selects one obituary and seeks to learn more about the life of a person who has lived and worked in Maine. We look for a person who has made a mark on the community or the person's family and friends in lasting ways.Ozie Ricks Sr., who died on Sunday at the age of 88, had a tough life but always found joy in dancing.

As an African-American growing up in Harrell, Ark., Mr. Ricks experienced discrimination and segregation. His mother died while giving birth to his sister, and he and his six siblings went to live with their grandmother.

When he was 17, he joined the Navy. He was a cook on the USS Denebola during World War II.

Mr. Ricks and his wife, Alice, were married for 55 years. They raised six children on Lafayette Street on Portland's Munjoy Hill. His son, Ozzie Ricks Jr. of Portland, said dancing was a big part of their life. He said they often danced at the Old Orchard Beach Pier and heard the greats -- Duke Ellington, Count Basie and Lionel Hampton.

''Dad was a jitterbugger. He could dance. They won a ton of dance contests,'' his son said.

Mr. Ricks was remembered by his son Thursday as a great father who worked hard to provide for his family.

Mr. Ricks was a baggage handler at the Greyhound bus station for more than 30 years. His son said he helped out servicemen who missed their bus to Brunswick Naval Air Station.

''After work, he would give guys a lift to the base,'' his son said. ''Dad would do whatever he could to make ends meet for his family.''

Mr. Ricks worked two or three jobs, and sometimes more, to provide for his family.

He shined shoes for passengers inside the bus terminal. He washed windows, and he worked as a bartender and waiter at parties in Greater Portland.

One of his most memorable jobs was working a party that Bette Davis and Gary Merrill threw at their home in Cape Elizabeth, his son said.

''He was a good father. There was always food on the table. We never thought of ourselves as poor. We shared with other families. It was a close community on Munjoy Hill,'' his son said, recalling one family his father brought home for dinner.

''If I remember correctly, he gave the fellow a dress shirt because he had nothing to wear,'' he said.

The younger Ricks said many kids in the neighborhood looked up to his father.

One of his fondest memories as a kid was going to Sebago Lake for the Fourth of July. He said his father always barbecued ribs for the family.

''Once, a storm came up,'' his son said. ''Dad had his meat on the grill already. Everyone ran to their cars and dad stayed put cooking those ribs. It was the Fourth of July. It was his day off. He didn't care what the weather was. He was going to stay there and cook.''

-- Melanie Creamer

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