Aug 3rd 1930 - Jun 30th 2012
With a life that spanned times of great change around him, Dwight King was a man who took each moment captive, never taking even one breath for granted. He faced more than his fair share of challenges in life; yet, his positive outlook remained intact, and each trial only gave him a greater drive to succeed. Dwight was a man of sound principle and great character, and he never expected more of others than he expected of himself. With an unwavering faith as his constant companion, he raised children - he was so very proud of - with the love of his life by his side for nearly 60 years. The memories Dwight leaves behind will be a priceless treasure for generations to come.
As the thirties dawned in America, we braced ourselves for what would be some of the darkest days our nation would ever see due to the unrelenting grip of the Great Depression. Times were tough in every city across our great land, leaving countless American families struggling to get by. Despite the trials around them, a couple from Kalamazoo, Michigan, was filled with great joy to welcome a healthy baby boy into their hearts and home on August 3, 1930. Baby Dwight was the youngest of three children born to his parents, Schuyler Linford and Dellas Maudine (Vaughn) King, and was raised in the family home in Kalamazoo alongside his older sister, Joyce. His brother Roger died as an infant. His father worked at Atlas Press while his mother was a seamstress.
In many ways Dwight experienced an upbringing that was fairly common for the youth of his generation. He enjoyed the companionship of his dog, Spot, and spent a lot of time at a family farm in Cass during the summers. Dwight attended local schools, including Kalamazoo Central where he ran hurdles on the track team and sang in the choir. Dwight graduated from high school in 1948, and worked as a cook at the Park Club before enlisting in the United States Air Force in 1949. He served for four years, and was trained as an airborne technician, while becoming familiar with fighter planes as a member of the Strategic Air Command.
Not to be forgotten during this time was Dwight’s blossoming romance with the young woman who stole his heart. Her name was Barbara Atkinson, and they met while at Lincoln Junior High School. They began dating and became high school sweethearts, although she was one year his junior. They corresponded through letters while Dwight was in the service and Barbara was in nursing school.
With a desire to build a life together, Dwight and Barbara were married on August 14, 1954, at Mt. Zion Baptist Church. Together they were blessed with three children: Dwight, Denise, and Douglas. As a father, Dwight was soft spoken and led by example. He was always there for whatever his children needed and was their biggest supporter in their various endeavors including games, practices, recitals, and school projects. In fact, Dwight was the master of school projects with his children. Some of their more elaborate creations included an adding machine and an irrigation system. Dwight instilled within his children invaluable lessons, such as always doing their best, working hard, seeing projects through to completion, and facing everything with patience. He also taught his children that nice guys actually can finish first. Dwight held education in the highest regard, and he knew how important it would be for his children to excel in their studies. Dwight had a hand in their education, checking their homework at night and setting any corrections out for them to fix in the morning.
Since Barbara insisted that he have a good job before she would marry him, Dwight was hired by the City of Kalamazoo. He was the first Black Firefighter for the City and eventually became the first Black Fire Dispatcher. Throughout his life Dwight had a vocation he loved. Because of his successful and far-reaching career as a leader and administrator, he was promoted to the position of Fire Marshall. He had many “Jackie Robinson moments” throughout his profession, which is a testimony to the fact that prejudice dies hard and has as many lives as the proverbial cat. At first, it was assumed that he was the chauffeur for the Kalamazoo Fire Chief. Well into his years as a Fire Marshal, who probed the cause of blazes, he was challenged by many white householders openly wondering what a Black man was doing walking through the remains of their charred property and how was it possible that “he” could determine the cause of the fire. Even though he was a highly trained professional, his credentials were constantly challenged because of the color of his skin. Some of the things he loved most was teaching fire safety at local schools and dressing up as McGruff - The Crime Dog. Dwight could have retired after 25 years, but his commitment to his community and love of the job kept him working for the fire department for 40 years. He retired in 1994 while continuing his faithful service for the city, he also worked at Chenery Auditorium and Wings Stadium.
In addition to his work, Dwight’s commitment to his community was evidenced by his service to various organizations and programs. He was a life member of the International Chapter of Arson Investigators, Michigan Fire Inspector’s Society and the Fraternal Order of Police. His past board affiliations include: the Douglass Community Association, Kalamazoo Community Relations Council, the Juvenile Home Citizen’s Committee, The Draft Board, The Jolly Fellows Social Club where he has served as secretary, and various PTA councils and local foster care homes. He was the first Black member of the Kalamazoo Jaycees and the first Black recipient to receive the Outstanding Young Man award. In 2010, Dwight was the recipient of Distinguished Veteran Award, presented by the Kalamazoo Chapter of the NAACP for his exemplary service and unwavering dedication to the Kalamazoo Community. He was also active in the Kalamazoo Community through his membership at St. Augustine Catholic Church where he served as a Eucharistic minister, lector, and usher. Dwight was an excellent mentor and role model for so many people.
Dwight’s life was enriched in so many ways. He was thrilled to become a grandfather later in life and was highly involved in the lives of his grandchildren - just as he had been with his own children. It was not uncommon for Dwight to take his grandchildren to appointments and events. He was an avid scrap booker before scrapbooking became popular, narrating pictures with poetry as it was important to Dwight to chronicle events for his family. Dwight always enjoyed some of life’s simplest treasures: going to the movies with his daughter, dancing, crossword puzzles, Sudoku, and word jumbles that kept his mind sharp. He loved traveling with his wife, and they visited Hawaii on two occasions. Dwight enjoyed good food but was more of a snacker with popcorn, peanuts, and granny smith apples being among his most favorite treats. He also liked going out to restaurants from time to time and thought there was nothing like a Coney Island hot dog.
The list of things we loved about Dwight King is extensive. Although he was often seen through the lens of discrimination, he viewed and treated everyone the same. Dwight was outgoing - a real people person who was honest and fair in everything he did. He will be remembered as a devoted husband, unmatched mentor to his children and grandchildren, and community goodwill ambassador. Dwight will be deeply missed.
Dwight B. King died on Saturday, June 30, 2012. Dwight is survived by his wife, Barbara of 57 years; children: Dwight (Mary Hendriksen) of South Bend, Denise and Douglas, both of Kalamazoo; 6 grandchildren: Elise, Carmen (Jacob) Bevier, Matthew, Margot, Gabriel, and Madeline; 2 great-grandchildren: Skylar and Hayden; a nephew, Kenneth Jefferson. He is also survived by a host of extended family, friends and loved ones.
Learn more about Dwight and visit with his family and friends on Tuesday from 4:00-8:00 p.m. at the Life Story Funeral Home, Betzler-Kalamazoo, 6080 Stadium Drive; where a prayer service will be held at 7:00 p.m. Mass of Christian Burial will be celebrated at 11:00 a.m. on Thursday at St. Augustine Cathedral. Please visit www.lifestorynet.com where you can archive a favorite memory.
Memorial donations may be made to the Parkinson’s Foundation, American Heart Association or Hospice Care of Southwest Michigan.