William "Bill" Hickok died Monday at the age of 82 in Marina Del Rey, Ca. Two decades ago, Hickok and his wife, Gloria Vando, co-founded a literary community center in Kansas City, Mo. called The Writers Place.
Hickok, a first cousin several times removed of the gunslinger "Wild Bill" Hickok, was born in Kansas City; he graduated from Southwest High School and the University of Missouri.
From 1951 to 1955, Hickok served as a lieutenant in the U.S. Marines. When he returned to the Kansas City area, he joined his brother, Jack, in the family business, building homes and apartment complexes in Johnson County, Kan.
Retirement in 1989 led to a focus on charitable activities, including the arts. In 1992, Hickok and his wife, poet, editor and publisher Gloria Vando, founded The Writers Place in a three-story limestone mansion at 36th and Pennsylvania in Midtown Kansas City.
"We might say Gloria had the vision, but Bill had the resources and know-how to bring The Writers Place to life," said Mary Bunten, executive director of the organization, in an email. "They worked together to help sustain the organization, and through it have touched countless lives."
The Writers Place continues to provide a gathering place for writers and artists, with a gallery, writing workshops, and author readings.
"He had an enigmatic gruffness about him, but he was an enthusiastic supporter of writers and visual artists," said Robert Stewart, editor of New Letters magazine, New Letters on the Air, and BkMk Press at the University of Missouri-Kansas City.
Stewart related a memorable story about Hickok in the first year of The Writers Place. An exhibition of William S. Burroughs's shotgun works called "The Seven Deadly Sins" was slated to open. The roads were icy, and Burroughs considered not driving in from his home in Lawrence, Kan. According to Stewart, Hickock said, "This is not going to happen," and told Burroughs to "look outside your door." He had arranged a limousine for transportation.
"He was tough minded, but the sweetest, most generous man you'd ever want to know," said Stewart.
Hickok also wrote humorous essays, published in newspapers and periodicals, and poems. In 2011, he published a collection of poetry, The Woman Who Shot Me & Other Poems. Poet Al Young described it as "bulging with all of life's male stuff - aims vs. goals, family, fortune, shame, love, wine, women, Kansas City-proof jazz, savvy, fish and game."
Despite a move to California in retirement about a decade ago, Hickok and his wife, Gloria Vando, kept ties to the Kansas City area. He's survived by Vando, as well as a daughter, a son, three stepchildren, and six grandchildren. A memorial service is scheduled for Saturday, August 9 at 1 p.m. at Unity Temple on the Plaza, 707 W. 47th Street, Kansas City, Mo. 816-561-4466.