By Shereen Siewert
William M. Hickson, a longtime Wausau School District educator who taught and coached for nearly 40 years, has died. He was 85.
If you went to middle school in Wausau between 1961 and 2000, you either had him as a teacher or coach – or at the very least knew who he was.
Hickson taught at both Horace Mann and John Muir Middle Schools during his tenure in Wausau and coached several sports. In addition to his contributions as an educator and coach, Hickson will also be remembered for the many years he worked at the east ticket gate for the Wisconsin Valley Fair, a familiar face with a warm smile and a kind word for the people he met.
“He loved the fair and really looked forward to it every year, as it was a chance to engage with the community and see so many of his previous students,” said his son, Merrill Mechler-Hickson.
Hickson grew up on a small farm in Delavan and went on to serve in the U.S. Army from 1955 to 1957, where he was stationed at Elmendorf Air Force Base in Anchorage, Alaska. He earned a bachelor’s degree in education from the University of Wisconsin in 1961 and went on to earn his master’s degree from the University of Montana-Missoula while he taught geography and social studies. He had a love of travel, spending many summers taking his family across the country to experience national parks and other storied locations nationwide.
But he never stopped thinking about his students and often used what he learned in his travels to enhance his teaching.
“The photos, movies, and books, rocks, ash from Mt. St. Helens, etc… obtained from the area would then be turned into visual aides in his geography class later that school year,” said his son, Jonathan Hickson.
Jonathan said his father’s passion truly was educating, coaching and mentoring his seventh and eighth-grade students.
“It wasn’t uncommon that he would coach football in the fall, boys basketball and girls basketball during the winter, and then track in the spring,” Jonathan said. “My mom would joke that she just gave up asking when one team’s season was going to end because immediately the next one would begin.”
William Hickson is survived by his wife, Leola, sons Merrill and Jonathan, six grandchildren and countless former students who saw him as a mentor and role model.
“He was a dedicated public servant; he really devoted his life to helping build a foundational knowledge base for so many kids who came from the Wausau area,” Merrill said.