'64 Grad Writing Fiction
Dick Haddock thought he wanted to be an engineer, but an Arkansas City Junior College math instructor had a way of persuading even the most enthusiastic of would-be engineering students that maybe they should consider a different career. Thank you, Henrietta Courtright. Instead of struggling with calculus, trigonometry and the like, Haddock, a 1964 graduate, spent more than 30 years working with computers.
Now, he’s found another passion: Writing. Since October 2001, Haddock has had four fiction works published by Writers Club Press. He hopes to have a fifth published by the end of this summer. One of the books is titled “Arkalalah.” Although the story line is a murder-mystery, Haddock said some of the characters were developed based on actual friends and acquaintances. “Arkalalah” and the other titles have kept Haddock busy in his Centreville, Va., home since retiring from full-time work in computers a year ago.
“I’ve been writing about 15 years,” said Haddock, who wishes he’d found the spark to write in the 1960s. “I always considered myself a good writer, and I always did well with the writing I did in school. I started to write a novel and found out how completely wrong I was. The first three or four books were easy. I had people tell me they were really good. It took 10 years to get published. I have a stack of rejection letters at home to tell me how humbling this experience has been.” “Arkalalah” was published in February 2002. “The Family” came out in March. Prior to those works, Haddock published “The Ninth Sabbat” in December 2001 and “Maggie Dayton” in October 2001. “It’s been real rewarding because a larger audience has had a chance to read my books,” Haddock said. “I’ll never be able to retire on the royalties, but to have friends and associates tell you they really enjoyed it means a lot.”
Haddock was born in Arkansas City, but being the son of an Air Force father, he moved around a lot. There was Tennessee, Georgia, Alabama, Texas, and Bermuda, yet Haddock always found himself back in Arkansas City, where he graduated high school in 1962. “In between assignments, and when he (his father) was in Korea, we would always come back to Ark City, where my mother’s parents were,” Haddock said.
After graduating from ACHS, Haddock enrolled at ACJC. “A whole group of us claimed to be interested in engineering,” he said, “not knowing what was involved in that. The group got whittled down quickly, thanks to Henrietta Courtright. I hung on my freshman year, then switched to liberal arts my sophomore year.” Haddock had many interests, which partly explains why he struggled to declare a major. “I had nothing specific, other than playing golf,” Haddock said. The Tigers captured the state championship his freshman year under coach Joe Sumners. After aimlessly wandering about ACJC, Haddock went to Kansas State University, where his grades got worse. “I went to K-State for a year and wound up on double-secret probation,” he said. “My inability to focus in on a major continued in Manhattan.”
After a year, Haddock was back at ACJC to try and revive his grade-point average. But instead, he volunteered for the draft and was drafted into the U.S. Army in December 1965. “I volunteered because I wanted to go to Vietnam and never got there,” Haddock said. “I was taught how to operate computers and they sent me to Fort Myer. I was disappointed from that standpoint, as stupid as that might seem. Everybody was gung-ho to go over there (Vietnam) and get it over. But it introduced me to my career in terms of the computer business.
I was stationed two years at Fort Myer. I worked in the evenings on computers and programming and got an offer to stay here.” And he did. The Washington, D.C., area has been his home since 1966. He and his wife, Marilyn, a D.C. native, were married in 1969. They have two grown children, Christopher and Tiffany.
At the urging of his wife, Haddock went back to school, transferring very few hours he had accumulated from ACJC and K-State, to the University of Maryland. Three years later after attending class five nights a week, Haddock earned a bachelor’s degree. “I wasn’t really interested in going back to school at that point in time,” Haddock said. “I was starting a career, making good money, and learning things every day. She (Marilyn) said you can’t go very far in this (computer) business without a good education.” Haddock decided to work toward a master’s degree, since he figured going three nights a week would be a piece of cake compared to his bachelor’s experience.
He earned a master’s of business administration degree from George Washington University in D.C., all at night. And he completed a Ph.D. in business with a major in behavioral science, also from George Washington, in 1980. The unfocused young man who wanted to become an engineer was now Dr. Haddock. “I had a lot of interest in the area of my dissertation, which gave me a target to shoot at,” Haddock said. Haddock spent years managing computer designers and systems builders. Clients included the Saudi Arabia Petroleum Ministry and government agencies.
Now, Haddock has more time to write. He still does some computer consulting work, but writing books is at the top of his retirement list. “I’m revising my fifth book,” Haddock said. “It’s a story about the business I’ve been in from a melodrama standpoint. I’ve got five or six other books that I’ve got the skeleton over the years that I’m anxious to finish.”
Haddock described his book “Arkalalah.” “It’s a murder mystery first and foremost,” he said. “It’s really the story of somebody like myself who left Ark City after college, had their career, and never came home. I was drawn back by an apparent murder of a close friend in high school. He’s being asked to come back because he’s a lawyer. So he comes back to Ark City for the first time since college. And you have all the contrast you normally have in that circumstance, life now versus life had you stayed there. And all of the emotions.
It’s set in the middle of the Arkalalah festival. “Most of the characters are people I grew up with or who had an impression on me during my times in Ark City. There are a number of people I went to high school with or composite characters I knew, and I mixed those qualities together. Most of the characters are based on real people. The story is totally fiction.”
Haddock, who hasn’t been back to Ark City in 22 years, is planning a return this Arkalalah for a family reunion. Uncle and aunt Bob and Lois Fencil live in Ark City, and another uncle and aunt, J.B. and Dorothy Fencil, live in Oklahoma, along with Haddock’s sister in Altus, Okla.
Although he admits he wasted a lot of hours in the early 1960s, they weren’t completely wasted. “In retrospect, the simple pleasures of being a teenager in a small town, doing all the things we did, most of it fairly mindless, but still entertaining with friends, was what mattered,” Haddock said. “It’s a stage in life we all go through and don’t reflect, then suddenly you’re in the Army and seeing a different world. I remember all the innocent fun things like going to football games, basketball games, the pool hall, the Paris Park pool where we’d sneak in on hot summer nights, and playing golf at Spring Hill. But I don’t have a lot of memories of studying.”
As for a career in engineering, maybe it wouldn’t have worked out. “I think it was pretty self-evident,” Haddock said. “We started the initial calculus class with 40 kids, all bent on being an engineer. By our sophomore year, only five were left from the original crew. All went on to K-State as engineering students and were successful. The rest of us read tea leaves on how tough that was and how ill prepared we were. But it all worked out.”