My son, Dick Lawson, was born in Georgia with special learning disabilities. We placed him in public, private and military schools, trying to help his learning and decision making ability.
In 1979, we enrolled Dick, who was 16 years of age, in Evergreen Life Services near Minden. The school and Mr. Outz, a Special Education Professional, had a great reputation for helping special young adults.
Little did we know that the Minden community and especially Coach Ronnie Whatley, would make Dick a favorite son of the community. We had no idea of just how wonderful Minden would be for our son. Before long, Dick got a bicycle and enjoyed driving all over town smiling and waving to everyone. He quickly grew to love everyone in Minden and they loved him in return.
In 1980, with the help and encouragement of Coach Sonny Taylor, Dick began participating in Special Olympics and that is where he met Ronnie. There was an instant connection between Coach Whatley and Dick.
Dick told me Ronnie was an All-American linebacker from El Dorado, Arkansas. When I met Ronnie he told me that Coach Garland Gregory had a special assistant named Murphy that helped the Wildcats. Ronnie asked me if I would mind if he included Dick on the team as his assistant.
Dick quickly became a regular on the sidelines at Minden football, basketball, baseball, and track events. Coach Whatley made sure he was part of the team, always helping with water, towels and equipment.
During Dick’s first 10 years in Minden, Mr. Outz was his caretaker, Coach Sonny Taylor was his Special Olympics sponsor and Ronnie was Dick’s mentor. All these men were an integral part of Dick’s happiness.
In 1990, Mr. Outz tragically died. Dick was traumatized at the thought of having to leave his many friends in Minden. My prayers were answered when Ronnie and Cheryl Whatley stepped forward to handle Dick’s affairs. Looking back, God’s hand works in mysterious ways when you consider Ronnie was in the prime of his coaching career. Any coaching opportunities in other schools or colleges would be rejected because he had committed to helping my son.
I recently spoke with Mark Hankins, Minden Walmart Manager, and he said “Dick is one of the most dedicated associates we have and this shows through his 23 years of employment with us. Dick is the type of associate that would never miss a day and does his job to the highest standards in all weather conditions! Dick is an absolute integral part of what Walmart stands for and is loyal supporter of the community and Minden athletics.”
Recently I asked Ronnie how such a great athlete could be such a kind, loving man. He replied:
“I was born and raised in El Dorado, Arkansas. At the age of 6 years old I was stricken with polio. I remember how it felt to watch the normal kids run and play. I swore that when I got well, I would outrun them all. El Dorado had an outstanding Boys Club run by Cecil Kellum and he taught us that athletic competition would build our character. I loved growing up in El Dorado and I hope the Minden children feel the same way about their hometown. After my playing days were over, I have found it very satisfying to give back to my teammates, family, church and community. I started out as Dick Lawson’s mentor and now he is more like my brother.”
God bless Minden for Coach Ronnie Whatley. I understand he is retiring in May after 46 years of coaching and teaching our children. He is the most unselfish, loving, Christian person I have ever known. I can die today knowing Dick will always be loved and cared for the rest of his life. What a precious gift to know that my son is living a full and happy life.
Dick’s Grateful Mother
Kay Oxford Singletary