Robert Nixon hits the mark
Robert Nixon is iconic in the Forest Grove community. The soon to be 92-year-old retired dentist played basketball for both Forest Grove High School and Pacific University, helped build Dick Hendricks Memorial Stadium and has been on the fence-installation committee for the Concours d' Elegance car show for more than 40 years.
Nixon worked on thousands of people's teeth during his 50 years practicing dentistry in the western Washington County town. But this Saturday during the annual Hall of Fame Induction Banquet, it won't be his personal work on display — rather the combination of those accomplishments coupled with his skill with a bow and arrow will put him in the spotlight.
"I never really thought it was that great of an accomplishment because it wasn't a major sport," said a chuckling Nixon. "So it surprised me I got into the Hall of Fame. But I'm tickled nonetheless."
Nixon played basketball, baseball and even a little football at Forest Grove High, but won a state archery championship in 1942 and placed third at the national championships a year later in Portland. He credits his achievements to a neighbor of his, Everett Smith, who was an avid archer and took an interest in a young Nixon, showing him the ropes.
"I lived on Hawthorne Street and across the field from me Mr. Smith was always shooting his bow," said Nixon. "In those days archery was kind of popular, so I was interested in watching him and he took an interest in teaching me."
Nixon said he became relatively proficient rather quickly and Smith urged him to compete in the state tournament.
"I felt I got kind of lucky," a humble Nixon said. "We shot from 25 yards and had six shots and all mine hit the bullseye. Now at 50 yards I didn't do so well, but I ended up with enough points to win."
Smith convinced Nixon to later compete in the national event in Portland, where he placed third in the junior division (under 21). But while a decorated archer and state champion, Nixon's hobby would soon take a back seat to a real world situation that affected him and nearly every other high school-age boy of that time.
It had been just over two years since the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor and World War II was going strong. After a routine physical, Nixon was declared eligible for the draft and, like his classmates, was simply killing time prior to an inevitable stint in the United States military.
"You had no choice but to go in and it hung over you very much," Nixon said. "Out of the 40 some who graduated in 1944 when I did, all but one went into the service."
Nixon, who stemmed from a family of dentists and aspired to be a surgeon, enlisted in the Navy and requested the Medical Corps. He was told by service agents they expected the war to last up to 15 years, that an attack on Japan would likely result in roughly 1.5 million casualties on both the U.S. and Japanese sides and that they didn't have the medical personnel to support it. So after a series of exams, Nixon began a program at Willamette University that entailed 25 hours of school, seven days a week, in which he was expected to carry a 3.5 minimum GPA. Two years later he had a degree and had been accepted to medical school. Then, in August of 1945, the U.S. dropped atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki and his program was dropped.
"They wanted me to stay in the Navy [and] go to medical school, then spend an additional 10 years in after that," said Nixon. "I was looking at 14 more years in the Navy and I wasn't sure how I felt about that."
After returning home and discussing the matter with family friend and physician Charlie Kaufman, Nixon decided against an extended military stint and launched his dentistry career in Forest Grove.
"I took an honorable discharge and applied to dental school and the rest is history," Nixon said. "I practiced for 50 years, then retired."
It wasn't quite that cut-and-dried.
Throughout his time in Forest Grove, Nixon has been active with the Forest Grove High School Booster Club, even serving as president in multiple years. Along with a group of active community members, he helped construct Dick Hendricks Memorial Stadium on the FGHS campus in the early 1980s, collecting and welding much of the steel for the bleachers on the west side.
"We sold seats to pay for the metal, then were able to build a good portion of the stadium with no expense to the school," Nixon said. "The critical and major welds were done by professionals at Forest Grove Iron & Industrial Supply, but we did all the smaller stuff and we pretty much built the thing with volunteer labor."
In addition, Nixon's work with Concours d' Elegance has raised several million dollars over the years, supporting scholarship funds for area high schools as well as Pacific University.
Nixon and his wife Jean have two daughters — one who's a labor and delivery nurse and another who runs her own business and was president of the downtown Seattle Rotary Club last year. Both live in the Seattle area and both plan to attend Saturday's ceremony.
Nixon is proud of his achievements and contributions to the community, and is equally happy to be able to share them with his wife after so many years.
"We turned 90 together and she has a great attitude despite some physical setbacks," said Nixon. "We can sit down in the morning and have a conversation and make sense to each other," he chuckled. "When you get over 90, that's a plus."