The man who never saw a stranger

Courtesy | Diane Hoteling
Courtesy | Diane Hoteling
Courtesy | Diane Hoteling
Courtesy | Diane Hoteling
Courtesy | Diane Hoteling
Courtesy | Diane Hoteling
Courtesy | Diane Hoteling
Courtesy | Diane Hoteling

By: Kat Bishop

Michael Dickens, beloved Virginia Wesleyan cafeteria worker, died Thursday, Nov. 12 during the night. When the news of Michael’s passing hit social media shared by his church, The Chosen, many were at a loss for words.
Michael was described by students and faculty as an extreme Cowboys fan with a forever smile. They said Michael was a friend to all.
Nick Doyle, a senior communication major at Virginia Wesleyan College reminisced on his experiences with Michael.
“Michael, or ‘Big Mike’, would always come up to me and call me his friend. Mike would always talk about his Cowboys. He was very nice and always a joy to be around,” Doyle said.
Many people in the VWC community also knew about Michael’s participation in the Special Olympics basketball games held at Virginia Wesleyan.
“I remember last year at the Special Olympics watching him play and how much fun he was having. He will be missed,” Doyle said.
Michael participated in Special Olympics basketball before he started working at Virginia Wesleyan five or six years ago. This intersection is how the Director of Community Service, Diane Hotaling first met Michael. Hotaling said her first memory that comes to mind when thinking of Michael is her cheerleading for him for Special Olympics basketball, and how he would go around excitedly telling people around them that she cheered for him and saw him play.
Hotaling attended Michael’s funeral service where she said the priest said something that the Wesleyan campus community could unanimously agree with.
“Every man in this parish was Michael’s brother, and every woman was his girlfriend,” Hotaling quoted the priest.
Hotaling had known Michael for years, and referred to him as a gentle giant and a gentle soul.
“We’re better people for having known him,” Hotaling said.
Seniors at Virginia Wesleyan, Brooke Totzeck and Toni Aris-Howell, got to know Michael in the cafeteria and through volunteering at events.
“Michael would always bring out the best in whoever he was around. Whether it was flirting with all of his ‘girlfriends’ in the dining hall, showing off his winning medals or just being a welcoming face, he could easily make anyone’s day better,” Totzeck said.
Aris-Howell knew Michael for around three and a half years, and her first memory of Michael was at the Special Olympics basketball game. He would ask her, and everyone else if they were going to watch his game so that he could show off his skills.
“Michael was one of the sweetest people I have ever met. Always smiling and happy at work or wherever I ran into him. Whether it was memories in the café or at a volunteering event, he was always there to make you smile or brighten your day,” Aris-Howell said.
One VWC community member who spent a lot of time with him at the school was Miss Polly. Miss Polly worked with him in the cafeteria. She described Michael as many did: a very loving and caring person.
Miss Polly was a mother figure in Michael’s life.
“He would always call me Momma. He told me his Momma had died, and he didn’t have nobody, so I said I’ll be your Momma, and he was always calling me Momma. Yup, he would always call me Momma,” Miss Polly said.
Michael Dickens impacted almost every person in the Virginia Wesleyan community. Whether it was with his friends or ‘girlfriends,’ Michael struck up a conversation with everyone.
“For those that did meet Michael, he will never be forgotten,” Aris-Howell said.