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Gene Raymond Dickens, age 85, of D’Iberville, passed away Wednesday, March 1, 2023.
He was preceded in death by his beloved wife, Sonya; his parents; and several siblings.
Gene is survived by his children, Heinrich Dickens (Debby), Burk Dickens (Colleen), Elisabeth Yates (Michael), David Dickens, Thomas Dickens (Kelly), Nicole Dickens, and Kirsten Gonzales; 20 grandchildren; and 22 great-grandchildren.
Gene was born on January 17, 1938, in Hampton, Virginia. He was the eighth of eleven children born to Ella Mae Wilder and John William Dickens.
Gene was baptized a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints in 1947 at the age of 9 in the York River. Gene was always proud of the fact that his mother was instrumental in forming a branch in their area and was a pioneer in building up the Church there. He remained a faithful member of the church throughout his life and found joy in serving the Lord and others.
Gene’s mother died when he was just 17 years old, the summer before he started his senior year in high school. Shortly thereafter, he became the first member of his family to graduate from high school.
Gene joined the Air Force after high school and served for four years. He trained as a radar technician, which jump-started his career in computers and electronics.
Upon completing his military service, he returned home to Hampton, Virginia, where his bishop asked him if he would serve a mission. He was very surprised, as the thought of serving a mission had never occurred to him. While he initially said no, he kept thinking about it over the next year, and the feeling that he should go started weighing on his mind. He returned to his bishop and told him he wanted to serve. Not long after, he was called to serve in the Austrian Mission for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints where he served from December 1961 to June 1964. Gene said, “Going on a mission was the best decision I ever made. It has brought me more blessings than anything else I have ever done.”
After returning home from his mission, Gene got a job working in Alaska. He sent a Christmas card to a woman named Sonya, a member of the church he had met on his mission. This started a two-year correspondence which led to their first date in the spring of 1966 when Sonya and her three children, Heinz, Burk, and Elisabeth, moved to the United States. At the time, Gene was living in California and Sonya was living in Utah. After making the long drive from one of their visits, Gene commented that he was getting tired of making that trip and that they should just get married. To his amazement, Sonya said, “OK, when?” They set a date for August 1, but had to postpone the wedding by a day when Gene got into a bad car accident driving from California to Utah for the wedding.
Shortly thereafter, the newly formed family made several moves around the United States before moving to Germany. In Germany, Gene and Sonya welcomed their first child together in 1968, a son named David. After two years in Germany, they moved to Virginia where Thomas was born in 1970. The family finally settled in D’Iberville, Mississippi in 1971, where Gene and Sonya stayed for the remainder of their lives. Their daughter Nikki was born in 1974, and Kirsten completed the family in 1976.
Living in Mississippi gave Gene and his family many opportunities to serve others and share the gospel. They fed the missionaries every week for many decades, and they cared for several elderly couples in their ward and neighborhood that had no one else to turn to. Church service was very important to Gene. He served in various callings, including Branch President, Counselor in the Bishopric, Ward Clerk, and Sunday School teacher, among others.
Raising a family of seven children was a challenge but Gene worked hard to provide for their needs. He supported his children’s interests and education and was the family chauffeur since Sonya couldn’t drive.
Gene worked as a computer technician until he retired in 2000. He then became “Papa Dees” to the countless children that he and Sonya cared for in their home daycare until 2005.
Gene enjoyed computers and technology, doing daily crossword and sudoku puzzles, listening to opera and classical music and attending community concerts with his beloved wife. He described his sense of humor as dry and sarcastic. He was known for his corny jokes and puns and his silly songs. He delighted in entertaining his grandchildren with his goofy antics. He was incredibly generous, humble, and unassuming.
Gene lived a life of service. He has loved God and his country in an inspiring way. His testimony of the Gospel has blessed his children and their posterity, which includes his 20 grandchildren and 22 great-grandchildren. He never questioned God’s will or His commandments. His testimony was sure and strong. He was faithful in his service in the Church and has definitely left a legacy of love and kindness that will bless his family forever.
This quiet, humble man will be missed. Until we meet again, dad.
Riemann Family Funeral Home, Gulfport, is serving the family.