Dale Spickler, for many years not just a representation of Santa Claus, but just as in “Miracle on 34th Street,” the embodiment of the spirit, if not the actual Kris Kringle, passed away on Wednesday evening, June 21, 2006, at his home in Idyllwild. His kind eyes, gentle voice and twinkling ready smile, whether in full Claus regalia or civilian red plaid shirt and suspenders, will be missed by every child and adult whose life he graced. He was 75.
Spickler, ill with cancer, had been preparing to leave with his wife MaryAnn to be with their son Sandy and wife Veronica in Aloha, Ore., where, according to MaryAnn “hospice care, which Dale desperately needed, would be available. … He didn’t really want to leave Idyllwild, and maybe this was his way of staying.”
Spickler, active on many Idyllwild boards and in many organizations since moving to Idyllwild full-time in 1998, once attended a quarterly luncheon given by then Riverside County 3rd District Supervisor Jim Venable. Invitees were asked at one point to stand and state what part of the district they came from and what organization or organizations they represented.
Charlie Wix, who accompanied Dale, rose and said that he was from Idyllwild and represented County Service Area (CSA) 36 and Rotary. As Wix recalls, Dale stood, said “I’m from Idyllwild,” paused as if collecting data in his head, and continued, “And I think I’m president of everything.” Wix fondly remembered that “Dale would volunteer for everything.”
“Dale was such an example of diplomacy and graciousness,” said Chris Singer. “I joined Idyllwild Community Recreation Council (ICRC) because Dale was at the very first skatepark meeting [to build a skatepark for Idyllwild kids] and I said to myself . . . if Dale Spickler is involved, I want to be involved. Whenever I had difficulty in knowing how to deal with certain people, Dale would always give me wise advice. He was the gentlest of souls.”
Then there are the ROMEOS (Really Old Men Eating Out), an Idyllwild tradition and men’s breakfast club (no one younger than 55 permitted) of which Dale was a member. The club has rules, established by founder Rayburn Hazlick, 99, with which Dale had no trouble: no bad language or off-color stories that would upset any lady within earshot (although, of course, ladies were generally not permitted at the table, and would have had to rely on earshot). As member Gerald Holsclaw remembers, “Dale was a gentleman. He never let any subject over which we might disagree stand in the way of our friendship.” Member and fellow ROMEO Bob Parish chimed in, “Dale always spoke well of another, reminding us that ‘if you don’t know something good to say about someone, don’t say anything.’”
Parish, who is the Fourth of July Parade chair for Rotary, wants readers and parade attendees to know that this year’s parade is dedicated to Dale, a 50-year Rotary member. Parish reports that “there will be a car, empty but for the driver, with flowers and a sign indicating that the parade honors Dale’s memory.”
Parish relates that Dale was an active, proud Rotarian and played a seminal role in the admission of women to Rotary as full members — a case in which the Duarte chapter, of which Dale was then president, had its charter revoked by Rotary International because of its admission of three women in 1977 (Rotary International at that time did not allow women members).
The Duarte chapter appealed. The case wound its way to the Supreme Court where on May 4, 1987, the Court affirmed a lower court ruling in favor of the Duarte chapter, which in the interim 10 years had been meeting as the “X Rotary Club of Duarte.” Ever after, and thanks in large part to Dale, the chapter’s banner reads “Rotary Club of Duarte - ‘the mouse that roared’ - EQUAL OPPORTUNITY FOR SERVICE.”
Most townsfolk interviewed for this article remember that, more than anything, Dale was about service to others. Pete Capparelli, with whom Dale served on CSA 36 and other boards, said that “Dale always made a point of shaking everyone’s hands at meetings, making them feel welcome.” When something was needed, “he stepped up to the plate and always jumped in and helped.”
Parish relates another story about Dale attending a Knights of Columbus (KOC) meeting with incoming Idyllwild Rotary President Bill Gallagher who knew Dale from Duarte. Gallagher confirmed that Dale enjoyed the meetings hugely and wanted to join. “There’s just one problem,” Gallagher told him. “You’re not Catholic [a prerequisite for KOC membership].” Gallagher laughed, “About the only thing he didn’t join.”
Dale had a business card with his picture as Santa. Parish remembers that often, if Dale was sitting on the bench in front of the Post Office, Claus-garbed or not, young children would line up in front of him, waiting to talk, and, of course, Dale was fully present, patient, every bit the spirit they believed him to be.
MaryAnn, who will leave Idyllwild for Oregon after the Fourth of July Parade, recalled her husband’s many careers. He was proud of his Air Force service, in which after World War II he was stationed in West Germany, and pre-Gary Powers, Dale flew low over the then-Soviet Union taking spy photos, also serving as a Russian during that time. He subsequently studied at UCLA where, after obtaining a master’s degree, he served as dean of students. He owned restaurants in the San Gabriel Valley. But probably the career of which both the Spicklers were most proud was his calling as the sweet, lovable man in the red suit trimmed with white, a role he volunteered to play at countless hospitals, burn centers, playgrounds, parking lots, parades, festivals, schools, service clubs, “Breakfasts with Santa,” and ultimately, life with Santa.
MaryAnn would like the community to know that the June 14 dedication to Dale — exactly a week before his death — of a sculpture bird bath and feeder by Idyllwild artist and friend Jan Jaspers-Fayer is the only public memorial service that will be given. The sculpture at the Idyllwild Nature Center honors Dale’s work with and dedication to the Friends of the San Jacinto Mountain County Parks. “We’re just thankful that Dale lasted long enough [to attend the dedication],” she said.
MaryAnn urges friends wishing to acknowledge Dale’s many gifts to this community to donate to an Idyllwild Rotary Club scholarship fund in Dale’s name that will fund college education for Hill students. Contributions may be sent to Bill Gallagher, Rotary Club of Idyllwild, P.O. Box 152, Idyllwild, CA 92549.
MaryAnn also urges the community to continue to support Dale’s dedication to and efforts on behalf of the Friends of the San Jacinto Mountain County Parks by sending donations to the Friends, care of P.O. Box 1522.
Nature Center Naturalist Shelly Kibby, who just returned from New Hampshire to the news of Dale’s passing, was devastated at learning of his death. “He always called me ‘youngster.’ He was such a supporter of mine and of our work. I’m just so thrilled that we could honor him while he was still with us. He seemed so surprised and honestly humble that we would create this luncheon and memorial for him,” she said.
In addition to his wife MaryAnn, Dale leaves behind his son Sandy and wife Veronica in Oregon, daughter Sheryl Montour and son-in-law Steve in Mission Viejo, and the community of Idyllwild.