I am deeply saddened to hear about the loss of Mr Dean Strickland. Just the other day I was telling Oasis about a few different men who were “like a dad” to me when I was living at the Falcon Childrens Home. Dean’s name was on that list. I’ll never forget the little moments with Mr Dean around campus and during offsite activities with the guys. I’ll never forget looking out of my window from Morris Cottage and seeing Mr Dean on that lawnmower… every. single. day. Haha – I think it took a week to cut that grass, and by the time he was finished cutting it the other side of the field was ready to be cut again! One time I snuck out the back door of the cottage as he was turning the mower around, his back was to me and he could not hear me coming as I ran across the field and jumped onto the back of the lawn mower while he was driving. I grabbed his shoulders and screamed loudly at him, and I think he thought he was getting attacked by a bad guy because he reached back and grabbed a hold of me by my underarm, and he was just about to throw me across the field like a football before he realized it was me!  I’ll always remember that as the day I tried to scare Mr Dean, and Mr Dean almost killed me.

Speaking of football, my favorite day of the year was when the staff would play against the students in a game of tackle. I think the most memorable game went something like this…Mr Mark was quarterback, and Mr Gipson  was to the left, Mr Dean to the right. And then some of the other skinny houseparents were wide receivers. Mr Gipson was wearing cowboy boots and didn’t seem like the athletic type, so Mr Mark handed the ball to Mr Dean. I watched Mr Dean run over, like a bulldozer, he flattened about 11 children’s home kids before getting to me. I knew I might be the last possible kid in the field who could tackle Mr Dean. So, I prepared myself to hit him harder than I’ve ever hit someone in my life. Running in his direction, I yelled “Don’t worry guys I’ll get him!” With fire in my eyes, and with all the strength I could muster up, I went in for the tackle. Just before impact, I looked up and I saw his face. He was smiling. And he proceeded to flatten me, too. I’ll always remember that day as the day I tried to tackle Mr Dean, and Mr Dean almost killed me. 

Mr Dean’s love for the Lord, his joy, and his gentle spirit changed my life. One time I was hiding from some older boys who were bullying me during summer program. I ran and hid back behind the gymnasium and I was crying but trying to keep it together because I didn’t want anyone to see me cry. Mr Dean happened to be riding the lawn mower, and he saw me back there hiding. It was just a few minutes before I heard the lawn mower cut off, and heard footsteps coming in my direction. I looked up to see Mr Dean coming straight for me. I thought I was in trouble, because I was outside my “boundaries.” But, being the man he was, he had already sensed that I was afraid and something wasn’t right. It wasn’t long before I realized Mr Dean was not coming after me to rebuke me, he was coming after me to minister to me. We stood behind that gymnasium for some time, and he listened to all my fears and doubts and questions. He told me I didn’t have to worry about no bullies because he had my back. And he told me I didn’t have to worry about anything because God had my back. 

This is the man I remember. Dean Strickland was a man who was strong and capable, but he was also kind and compassionate. In retrospect, I’m so glad Mr Dean had my back. I know he had a lot of people’s backs, because that’s the kind of man he was. So many of us are saddened to hear of his passing, but I am holding on to the eternal hope that one day I’ll stand with him again behind some gates made of pearls…