FEATURE — Spring 2009

Supporters of Habitat for Humanity in St. Augustine, Florida, celebrated with alumnus Bob Frick (with hand raised) and his wife, Barbara (far right), on the last day of their cross-country journey on November 15, 2008. (Photo: Stephen M. Dowell)

Cycling for Hope, Housing … Humanity
At 71, alumnus Robert Frick, a retired veteran of the banking and real estate industries, is still on the move. He recently completed a cross-country bicycle ride for Habitat for Humanity®.

by Terri Nappier

Bob Frick chose to undergo a double hip replacement. “Having both sides [operated on] at the same time was both good and foolish,” says Frick, B.S.C.E. ’60, M.B.A. ’62. He explains it was “good” because he didn’t have to undergo two bouts of intense physical rehabilitation back-to-back, and “foolish” because he had to battle through twice the pain at once. Frick, ever motivated, was not content with coming through the physical therapy just in OK shape. Having surgery in September 2003, he wanted to be cross-country skiing by Christmas day, of the same year.

Frick’s surgeon said: “I’ve done everything I can do. The rest is up to you, God, and the physical therapist, so get yourself a good one!”

His physical therapist was a former ballet dancer and, according to Frick, “meaner than heck, but just what I needed.” She had him dancing the hora up and down the halls of the rehabilitation center, over and over at a faster and faster clip.

“You have to work through the pain,” Frick says, “or your long-term results will be diminished.” (He skied on December 26, 2003!)

And judging from his latest adventure, his long-term results are remarkable.

At 71, Frick rode his bicycle some 3,200 miles across the country. A resident of Lafayette, California, just east of San Francisco, he started his journey from San Diego on September 3, 2008. Heading east, he touched water in St. Augustine, Florida, on November 15, 2008.

His motivation: to raise awareness and money for Habit for Humanity®. Naming the ride the “Habitat Cycle of Hope,” he zigzagged through eight states and visited nine different Habitat for Humanity (HFH) organizations.

Bob Frick’s journey for Habitat for Humanity took him coast to coast. Starting from San Diego on September 3, 2008, he traveled through eight states—California, Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and Florida—before touching water in St. Augustine on November 15. (Photo: Stephen M. Dowell)

His wife, Barbara, accompanied him in their Toyota Prius®. She secured lodging, food, and supplies; kept Bob connected to the “Cycle of Hope” Webmaster; and arranged for Bob to participate in 14 phone meetings long distance, which was no small chore on the “back roads” where he traveled.

While cycling, Frick confronted fissured highways in California, 130-degree asphalt in Arizona and New Mexico, incessant head winds and exhaustion in West Texas, high humidity all across the Deep South, and ominous tractor-trailers in every state. He also met strangers and made new friends, and saw volunteers and future homeowners work side-by-side.

In El Paso, Texas, he met a mother of six children, ages 7 to 14, who had lost her husband 18 months earlier in an industrial accident. The family previously lived in a dilapidated trailer, but was now working along with HFH volunteers on the frame for a new home.

“Barbara and I visited the site,” Frick says. “The family was going to move in before Christmas, and the kids were just ecstatic. They would grab me by the hand, show me around, and say: ‘This is going to be my bedroom, and my bed’s going to be over there. This is where we’re going to live!’”

Frick said the mother, who was about 45, inspired him. In addition to raising six children and working full time, she is less than a year away from getting her teaching degree.

Frick thinks highly of the HFH business model as well.

The recipients of HFH homes buy a home just like anyone else but at zero interest. They have to be qualified; they have to have an acceptable credit score and a job. And they have to contribute somewhere between 300 and 500 volunteer hours.

“They can put in part of that work on another house, and part of it on their own,” Frick says. “So we got to see potential homeowners working on someone else’s home.”

Frick appreciates the complexities of the business model, too, having spent nearly 25 years in banking. Joining Bank of America in 1963, he rose through the ranks, working in corporate finance, as president of the bank’s venture capital subsidiaries, and as chief financial officer. He “retired” as vice chairman of its board of directors and head of its world banking group in 1988.

While in his early 20s, Frick idealistically planned to retire by the time he was 50. And he almost made it. At 51, he left Bank of America.

Not one to just sit back and relax, he and Barbara created a successful real estate business, KES Management Company. At first, the Fricks rented homes in Contra Costa County, east of San Francisco, and subsequently apartments for low- and middle-income families in Sacramento. At one time, they owned up to 1,000 units.

Frick notes that his wife was the catalyst for their success. At the apartments, she instituted day-care centers, pre-school programs, free lunch programs, and English as a second language programs. She worked closely with police officers, trying to create a drug-free area for children. Their company’s motto was: “You can do good and make money.”

No longer landlords, this formidable couple still plans a new adventure every year.

At 71, Bob Frick and his wife, Barbara, plan a new adventure every year. “I always keep a checklist of things I want to do in life, and I’ve only got 29 years to go,” he says with a laugh. (Photo: Stephen M. Dowell)

“I always keep a checklist of things I want to do in life, and I’ve only got 29 years to go,” he says with a laugh.

In July 2007, the two cycled 540 miles in Minnesota, about 77 miles a day for seven straight days. Bob, who also teaches in the Executive M.B.A. program at St. Mary’s College of California, did so on a dare from a former student.

The ride, an annual event to raise money for Habitat for Humanity in Minnesota, gave the Fricks an up-close view of the organization.

“I got very impressed with the volunteerism and what they do for others,” Frick says. “At Christmastime, I talked with Barbara and said the difference between 540 and 3,200 miles isn’t that much. Why couldn’t we do that?”

He adds with a grin: “I’m bad at arithmetic.”

Actually, he’s pretty good with numbers. His fundraising goal for the cross-country ride was $71,000, a thousand for every year of his life. At last count, he had raised more than $80,000.

Gifts came in large and small, from sponsors such as Charles Schwab Bank, Clif® Bar, and Lucasfilm Foundation. A few came from folks he met along the way.

He reflects on the day he met a farmworker while resting at a Circle K somewhere in the middle of a desert: “I’m taking a drink, with sweat running down my face,” Frick says. “And this guy, I guess about 65, pulls up in the most beat-up pickup. He gets out and asks me: ‘What are you doin’?’ I told him, and he said, ‘OK.’ The man then went inside and bought something. When he came out, he gave me a handful of bills and said, ‘Good luck, be safe, God bless you, and we need more people like you.’ Then he jumped in his truck and took off. I didn’t get his name or anything. I think he gave me $12.”

Frick, a former recreational runner and hiker of such peaks as Kilimanjaro and Machu Picchu, has seen a lot in his lifetime, but nothing like the generosity of spirit he experienced on this trip. A trip that lived up to its name: “Cycle of Hope.”

Terri Nappier is editor of this magazine.

For more information on the “Habitat Cycle of Hope,” visit: habitatcycleofhope.com.