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Former Dixon Mayor Don Erickson, a beloved civic leader and dentist, dies at 84



a man standing in a room: Former Dixon mayor Don Erickson pours the good stuff at a Wine Stroll event in Sept. 2009 hosted by the Downtown Dixon Business Association.  Courtesy Photo, Angela Meisenheimer


© Provided by The Reporter (Vacaville)
Former Dixon mayor Don Erickson pours the good stuff at a Wine Stroll event in Sept. 2009 hosted by the Downtown Dixon Business Association. Courtesy Photo, Angela Meisenheimer

Former Dixon Mayor Don Erickson, universally remembered as a kind, outgoing, beloved and humble man with a gift for storytelling, died Saturday in Paso Robles where he was visiting a daughter during the Thanksgiving weekend.

He leaves a legacy that, during his tenure on the City Council in the latter part of the 20th century, saw a continuing shift from the city’s largely agriculture-based economy to an increasingly diversified one, with more businesses, housing and population growth.

He was 84 and reportedly suffered a heart attack.

Born in Great Falls, Mont., in 1936, Erickson was the son of farmers, attended public schools and later graduated from the University of Montana. He pursued a dentistry degree from Northwestern University School of Dentistry, and married his wife, Marcia, a former Dixon Unified school teacher who predeceased him earlier this year.

He entered the Air Force as a commissioned officer and, for a time, was stationed at Travis Air Force Base, where he worked as a dentist. After leaving the Air Force, he and Marcia settled in Dixon in 1964 and he opened a dental practice in town.

People recalled Erickson, who, for many years, also served on the DUSD governing board, as a gentle, friendly, down-to-earth and good-humored man whose accomplishments in his civic life will have a lasting effect.

Jack Batchelor, like Erickson a former city councilman and former mayor until 2016, remembered him “as just a very kind and gentle individual.”

“You could disagree with Don, but there was never any vitriol,” he added. “He was a great storyteller and would tell stories about growing up in Montana and going off to college.”

Batchelor’s wife worked in Erickson’s dental office for a couple of years and, he said,  Erickson’s “primary purpose was to treat his patients with dignity and respect and take care of their dental needs.”

“He wasn’t the sort of person where you had to pay now,” recalled Batchelor. “He was just a great, all-around man, very dedicated to his profession and also dedicated to the goodness and well-being of the City of Dixon. He was patient and would listen to people at meetings. He gave everyone a chance to speak, whatever their cause.”

Erickson also was a founding member of the Travis Regional Armed Forces Committee, which Batchelor described as “the bridge” between the Air Force and civilian community members across Solano County.

“That organization is still very active today,” he noted. “Those kinds of things will make him a living legend in the City of Dixon. We have had many people in Dixon who passed before him and brought goodness and he was one of them.”

After Erickson retired from dentistry, he worked for the Cooley family, owners of Cool Patch Pumpkins, the well-known corn maze and pumpkin patch in Dixon, where he would help harvest their crops, Batchelor said.

Erickson also was “engaged” with downtown business owners while serving on the City Council “and knew them by their first name,” he recalled, adding that Erickson “worked very hard to preserve (Dixon) agriculture.”

“We’re all very saddened by the loss,” said Batchelor. “No matter who you were, Don always smiled and said hello. He was an all-around good person. The world could use many more like him.”

“I have deep respect for him,” he added. “He was my dentist. The appointments always lasted longer than scheduled and we’d talk about city business, but it was hard to talk with your mouth all numbed up.”

Michelle Cooley, a family friend and co-owner of Cool Patch, recalled Erickson as “a second father to me.”

“I spent many hours at his home and spent the night with Kathleen,” she said. “He was funny. There was just kind of a fatherly figure there. He accepted me into his home. I was a third daughter there.”

The City of Dixon, said Cooley, “will remember Erickson as “someone who got things done. He was wasn’t a regular politician. He was very respected as a man.”

Former Dixon City Manager Warren Salmons remembered being hired for the job when Erickson was mayor, the city’s first mayor who ran for election.

“He was a wonderful, good, grand and great boss,” he said. “He was interested in what I was doing — without giving me explicit instructions. He was delightful. People loved him. He was friendly.”

Erickson served Dixon as the city transitioned from a small farm town to a suburban bedroom community, said Salmons.

He will be remembered not so much for his many good deeds but more so for his personality, which Salmons described as “humorous and warm.”

“I don’t know anyone who disliked that man,” he recalled. “He was gregarious and fun to be around.”

Yet Erickson’s civic contributions are many and significant, he conceded.

Salmons said Erickson was instrumental in encouraging Cardinal Health, a healthcare services firm that specializes in distributing pharmaceutical and medical products, to locate an office and warehouse in Dixon, generating a sizable amount of sales tax.

Additionally, Erickson was a key figure in the evolution of “what was pretty much a volunteer fire department” into a “first-line” fire department, he added. “What had been a small town with a good fire department had to become a department that could provide a higher level of protection for a rapidly growing city.”

As mayor, Erickson also represented the city with “other leaders in other counties,” remembered Salmons. “Don was a good ambassador for the city and respected among his peers.”

The mayor’s job “takes the right kind of personality to handle that kind of responsibility” and Erickson “handled the center chair (so-called, where the mayor sits) on the dais in a really good way. That’s something that’s not so easy for everybody.”

Former Dixon Mayor Mary Ann Courville recalled her first days on the City Council, when she and Erickson did not get along.

“I was going to be the rebel on the City Council,” she said. “I was going to show him how to do things. Once I was elected and had to sit next to him, he became very gentle, sincere and turned me into a friend. And we got along famously after that. He was a mentor to me on the City Council.”

Courville described Erickson as “funny and thoughtful. He made a lot of decisions that brought Dixon to the forefront,” she said, laying the groundwork for mayors who came after him.

He was on the committee that started the funding and the effort to build the new Dixon High School on College Way, she said.

“Sadly, I got a lot of credit for it, but he started it,” Courville recollected.

Former City Clerk Janice Beaman also recalled that Erickson served as a DUSD trustee “for a long time.”

And before he left the Council in December 2000, Erickson had worked on a ballot measure to lengthen the mayor’s term of office from two to four years. And Erickson also worked on the Vacaville-Dixon Greenbelt and helped to annex property that eventually was incorporated within city limits, some of it for housing projects.

Once no longer mayor, Erickson could never stray from city matters, Beaman remembered, with Erickson serving as a consultant for Dixon Downs, a proposed 260-acre racetrack facility that was eventually rejected by voters in the latter years of the first decade of 2000.

“He was just a very jovial guy who always had a good story and was fun to be around,” said Beaman, adding that part of Erickson’s legacy will be “his smile, his humor.” “He conducted city business very well.”

Erickson’s philosophy of living and governing can perhaps be summed up by statements he made just before he retired from the mayor’s office.

The anger and opposition that commonly accompanies change should not be feared, he noted in a Reporter account in September 2000, a story about Erickson’s “state of the city” address:

“It should be welcomed because it means change will happen and that means progress will happen,” he said. “Be strong. Change is healthy. Change leads to progress. Face it with courage. It’s important for you, your children and their children.”

Besides daughter Kathleen, who lives in Paso Robles, Erickson is survived by another daughter, Stacey, of Boise, Idaho.

Michelle Cooley said family survivors have no immediate plans for a memorial service but may schedule some in the coming months.

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