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Time precious to Rock Falls alum in many ways

Dick Skelton, a member of the Rock Falls athletic hall of fame, runs on one of the first 
prototypes for the treadmill at Northern Illinois University in 1952. Skelton's picture 
appeared in both Polular Science and Popular Mechanics magazines in articles 
featuring the invention.
Dick Skelton, a member of the Rock Falls athletic hall of fame, runs on one of the first prototypes for the treadmill at Northern Illinois University in 1952. Skelton's picture appeared in both Polular Science and Popular Mechanics magazines in articles featuring the invention.

With his family at his side and, as doctors increased Richard "Dick" Skelton's morphine dosage, he had one final request on his last day on earth.

He wanted to speak to Frank "Moe" Duis, someone he had always looked up to and considered a mentor throughout his life.

"On my dad's deathbed, that's who he wanted to talk to," Dick's son, Rick Skelton, said. "Duis was 2 years older than him, and he credits Duis to who he was as a person."

Dick died on April 18 due to complications from a rare form of cancer that started in the salivary glands in the mouth, he was 81. Former professional baseball player and hall of famer Tony Gwynn suffers from the same type.

Dick was diagnosed with cancer in 2007, and the slow-moving illness spread to his jaw and soon after began radiation and had surgery in an attempt to remove it.

In 2011, the cancer moved from his jaw and into his lungs. Doctors told Dick and his family that he wouldn't live more than a year.

"But that didn't stop my dad," Rick said, "he kept fighting."

Miles on those legs

Dick Skelton was born in Fort Wayne, Ind. and raised in Rock Falls. He was an athlete in the purest form.

He played, and excelled in, just about every sport, including competitive softball and golf, and played basketball, baseball and, most notably, ran track at a high level.

He competed at Rock Falls High School, where he earned 10 varsity letters spanning track, basketball and baseball, before graduating from the school in 1950. He was an outstanding runner, and held the Rockets' school record in the mile for some time.

He was the NCIC champ during his senior year in the mile, and went to compete at the state meet, where he placed eighth.

"He was a pretty great athlete here," current Rock Falls athletic director Rich Montgomery said.

Dick was later inducted into the Rockets athletics hall of fame in 2002 for his accomplishments as a long-distance runner.

"Whenever he was in town, he would usually come by and poke his head in," Montgomery said. "He was a grand ol' gentleman."

Dick went on to be a strong runner at Northern Illinois, where he was a two-time All-American in 1953 and 1954. In the 1950s, no one had broken the 4-minute barrier in the mile, and runners across the world were aiming at the first for that distinction. Dick was in the hunt, running a best time of 4:15.

His fast legs and work ethic earned earned him a qualifying time for the Olympic Trials in 1956, but he didn't compete because the dates conflicted with his Army boot camp training, as he enlisted after graduating Northern Illinois in 1954.

Coach Skelton

Dick was stationed at Fort Wadsworth in New Jersey after graduating college, and soon took over the athletic programs for the base, coordinating games and practices.

"He was actually promoted twice from a Private because no one wanted to listen to a Private," Rick said.

He also coached track and football in New Jersey for several years before moving to Florida.

During Dick's funeral service on April 18 in Florida, former athletes and friends came from around the country from Minnesota, to California, to New Jersey. One of his former athletes who was particularily changed by Dick, told a story that not many people knew.

He kept a collection of pristine stopwatches and added to the collection each year. Each watch had the year it was used engraved on the back. It was his treasure, and he parted with just one of them.

"They asked me why I wanted to be a track coach," said Randy Fowler, one of Dick's favorite athletes. Fowler was applying for a head coaching position.

"So I pulled out the stop watch that Dick gave me and slid over the note that he had wrote me and, without saying a word, I got the job. The interviewers eyes began to water. The note was so heartfelt."

Fowler went on to coach eight state champions.

Helping hand

Dick was known for his coaching prowess but always wanted to help others.

In 2012 Dick went through an aggressive round of chemotherapy that weakened him to the point where he couldn't live on his own. So the family moved him to a retirement home called Independence Hill in San Antonio, and the close-knit community rejuvenated him.

"He was almost reborn," Rick said. "He had 350 people to tell stories to, and he even started a chess class on Saturdays. He wanted to help keep everyone's mind sharp."

One of Rick's favorite stories came from that retirement home.

On the last night before Dick died, the breathing technician came in to clean out the respiratory tubes, and Dick started a conversation with him. The two talked about the simpler things in life – fairways and greens.

"They started some small talk, but that's not all you got with my dad," Rick said. "The two started talking golf, and all of a sudden my dad is asking about his swing and starts to give the guy putting lessons."

"We didn't have my dad to ourselves," Rick said. "He was interested in so many other lives and wanted to help as many people as he could. We shared him with everyone."

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