Jane Benard Dickens
March 17, 1918 – January 14, 2003
Jane Bernard Dickens was born March 17, 1918, to the union of Mr. and Mrs. Bernard in Clarksdale, Mississippi. The family moved to Chicago when Jane was very young.
She attended the Chicago Public Schools and graduated from Wendell Phillips High School. Jane later attended and graduated from George Williams College with a Bachelor of Science Degree in Physical Education.
Jane married William Dickens and to that union William Dickens, Jr. was born.
Mrs. Dickens was quite a dance enthusiast and performed with the famous Sadie Bruce dancers for years. The Chicago Park District employed her for 38 years and she was the first African American woman promoted to Park District Supervisor. This appointment was to one of the largest parks in the city of Chicago, namely, Garfield Park. When a community’s racial make-up changed to be predominately African-American, Mrs. Dickens was transferred to the park district in that neighborhood. Other major parks that she served were Columbus and Lafollette.
She was quite an athlete herself participating in softball and track and field. Her greatest love was track and field and she founded the Hughes Zephyrs Track Club. She was commissioned by Mayor Richard M. Daley to work closely with Joe Robicheaux and Mayor Daley’s Youth Foundation. She also worked with Wilma Rudolph by supplying runners from her track team. She organized a strong team composed of all age groups and named them the Chicago Zephyrs Track Club. She produced many elementary, high school and college national champions, football running backs, and Olympic medalists. If you were a winner, you had been touched and trained by Coach Dickens. She made sure that all of her runners attended college and made sure that they were gainfully employed.
Mrs. Dickens was the first African American female track coach in Illinois. She began as an AAU coach and, for the last twenty-four years, was an active member of USA Track and Field. She was one of the founding members of this association that is linked to the United States Olympic Trials.
Jane’s entire life was dedicated to serving the youth of Chicago and America.