ABOUT THE FINALIST
Occupation: Outreach coordinator, Southside-Dodson Avenue Community Health Centers
Education: Riverside High School class of 1968, Chattanooga State Community College associate's degree in education, bachelor's degree in history from University of Tennessee at Chattanooga
Civic Service: District 4 representative on Hamilton Board of Education; Leadership Chattanooga graduate. Past president of Chattanooga African-American Museum, Howard High School PTA and Howard High Alumni Association. Served on the boards of Public Education Foundation, Henry Branch of YMCA.
Family: He and wife Maria have one son, George Jr., and nephew Marlon. The couple has five grandchildren.
"We greet them at the door as they get off the bus. I make sure the guys have got their ties on, we tell the girls they look nice. We tell kids to have a good day, good luck on tests. Those who might need it, we'll slip them a couple of dollars." - George Ricks
George Ricks didn't graduate from Howard School of Academics and Technology, although he did attend the South Chattanooga school during two years of middle school.
Yet Ricks served multiple terms as Howard High's Alumni Association president, even though his diploma confirms he was a member of Riverside High School's class of 1968.
That office is a sign of the respect Ricks has garnered from alumni, faculty and parents over almost three decades of volunteerism at Howard.
The 62-year-old Board of Education member said that he and wife Maria, also a Riverside grad, began volunteering at Howard in 1983 after the closing of their own alma mater.
"He's the man," said Howard's Executive Principal Paul Smith, calling Ricks the school's top volunteer. "You name it, he does it. He's one that we can always count on."
"We've tried to take on all the kids there as our own," said Ricks. "They know we love them. If a kid calls and doesn't have a ride to school, we go get them. If they need a ride home after a game, we take them. We chaperone field trips, go with the band and basketball team on trips."
Smith said the Rickses are "on the doors" when buses roll in on school mornings. The couple's goal is to set the tone for a positive learning experience each day.
"We greet them at the door as they get off the bus. I make sure the guys have got their ties on, we tell the girls they look nice. We tell kids to have a good day, good luck on tests. Those who might need it, we'll slip them a couple of dollars," said Ricks.
Smith estimates those donations the couple has made from their own pockets now ranges into the "thousands of dollars."
"We've tried to help students when needed," said Ricks. He modestly downplays their financial assistance, explaining they just don't want a child to be embarrassed or left out because of a lack of funds.
"We've helped kids pay fees for school trips, helped buy band or basketball uniforms. We've paid ACT test fees for kids and college application fees. At one time we'd give $2 to kids making the honor roll, $5 for star roll," he said.
Howard's principal said Ricks serves as the announcer for all school basketball and football games, and never takes a dime for his time. Oftentimes, Maria Ricks is seated beside her husband at basketball games, keeping score.
Their reward for their time and talent is received, Ricks said, when students come back to see them and tell them their support is what helped them succeed.
"We've had kids say they might not have made it if not for us," said Ricks. "We tell teenagers we're glad they let us into their lives. We appreciate their parents and the school for allowing us to do that. That's our family."
Contact staff writer Susan Pierce at email@example.com or 423-757-6284.