Side-Yard Superhero

Life Lessons from an Unlikely Teacher

Non-Fiction - Memoir
200 Pages
Reviewed on 03/04/2013
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Author Biography

Following in his father’s footsteps, Rick D. Niece, Ph.D., is a lifelong educator who has served as a classroom teacher, a public school administrator and a university professor, provost and president. In 1997, he was named President of the University of the Ozarks in Clarksville, Arkansas, and has been steadfast in his devotion to the University’s success.

A small-town boy who has maintained his small-town values, Dr. Niece remembers his childhood with fond nostalgia. Growing up in picturesque DeGraff, Ohio, young Rickie was influenced by many endearing friends and neighbors who taught him the important life lessons that shaped his future—especially Bernie Jones. Confined to a wheelchair with severe cerebral palsy, Bernie became Rickie’s friend, inspiration and superhero, opening a world of compassion, trust and adventure that benefitted them both. From Bernie, Rickie learned the value of unconditional acceptance, kindness and the triumph of the human spirit—lessons he took with him from his years as a newspaper boy to a career in academia.

Side-Yard Superhero is Dr. Niece’s first book in the "Fanfare for a Hometown" series about his upbringing in DeGraff, an “automythography” describing his childhood in rich, vivid detail. Considering himself a “memory keeper,” Niece takes readers with him on a poignant journey back in time to a safe haven of heartfelt remembrance. Vibrant, poetic and charming, his stories make DeGraff an open book for everyone who appreciates sentiment.

    Book Review

Reviewed by Jane Allen Petrick for Readers' Favorite

Superheroes come in many sizes and shapes. For Rick Niece, his hero came confined in a wheelchair. "Side-Yard Superhero" is the coming-of-age tale of the friendship that emerged between a nine year old, small town paper boy and the most special of the 72 customers on his route, Bernie Jones. Bernie, crippled with cerebral palsy at birth, sits in the side yard of his home each day (weather permitting) waiting for the newspaper. For nine years, six days a week, Rick Niece stops and reads Dick Tracy to his special customer before refolding the paper and delivering it to Bernie, placing it gently in his lap. The week before he leaves their small town of Degraff, Ohio, for “the big city” and college, Rick promises his now close friend Bernie that he’ll be back to visit. But “life happens”. Six years later, Rick goes looking for Bernie. But Bernie’s house has been torn down, Bernie is gone, and no one in Degraff knows where. "Side-Yard Superhero" follows Rick Niece’s search for Bernie, culminating in a surprising and sobering reconnection and reunion.

Rick Niece has written a beautiful story beautifully. A few times I laughed out loud. Several times I stopped, closed the book and just remembered - remembered my own growing up. Almost as a 'by the way', "Side-Yard Superhero" is sprinkled with poems, also written by Rick Niece, poems that are light yet thoughtful, poems with lines such as “And even if you are both no longer what you were, you are each as you should be remembered.” That verse is going into my next love letter to my husband. And "Side-Yard Superhero" is going on my 'keeper' bookshelf.