Dr. Rex Bickers: Planting Seeds of Opportunity

Dr. Rex Bickers (inset picture) is responsible for establishing the Howard Johnson III Memorial Fund, which supports paid internships for Floyd Central students to nonprofit organizations across Kentuckiana. Students earn on-the-job training in a future career field.

Stationed at Waterfront Botanical Garden’s Avish Estate in Louisville and surrounded by rows of flowers of every genus and color, recent Floyd Central High School graduate Brianna Christensen leads a class of eager elementary school students who are learning about botany, the study of plant life. The future Indiana University student is able to share her passion with young students thanks to an uncommon internship opportunity.

“This internship opportunity was right up my alley. I plan on going to IU Bloomington and majoring in Environmental Management, with a minor in Public Law and Public Policy,” Christensen said. “I will probably go into consulting or lobbying, but I think the communication skills I learned here, along with how to dedicate yourself to something, are very important skills to have for my future.”

The organization that sponsors the internship varies from year-to-year, but one common denominator is that the internship, unlike so many others available, is paid – a rare perk for high schoolers.  The funding comes from a permanent endowment, the Howard Johnson III Memorial Fund, held at the Community Foundation of Southern Indiana. Dr. Rex Bickers, a retired physician and FCHS graduate, created the fund recently when he sought a unique way to honor Howard Johnson III, a classmate who was tragically killed in an automobile accident in 1971 during their high school years. 

“Listening to my own mother” just a few weeks after Johnson’s death “helped to plant a seed that would take root decades later. The idea sat for 44 years, until 2013, when my own father died. I did not expect that both parents of my long-lost classmate would come to the funeral home for our family. I got up the nerve to approach them with a question about honoring their son” Bickers recalled. “I wasn’t sure how they were going to take this. But lo and behold, they were thrilled.

“The staff at the Community Foundation of Southern Indiana were patient in educating me on possible ways to carry out my intentions,” Bickers continued. “The Johnson family expressed a wish that the fund would provide a paid internship, a learning opportunity in a real-world adult setting. It would not be tied to plans to go to college. The Johnson family believed that college was not the right answer for every student.”

It led Bickers to approach the Community Foundation of Southern Indiana about how such a technique might work. The staff worked out the details to put the fund into motion, and now invests and administers the funds, ensuring the internship would endure forever. Thanks to Bickers’ generosity, the Howard Johnson III Memorial Fund has sent recent FCHS graduates to nonprofit organizations all over Kentuckiana, including the Floyd County Library, the Floyd Memorial (Hospital) Foundation (now serving Baptist Floyd Health), Leadership Southern Indiana, Yew Dell Botanical Gardens and the Waterfront Botanical Gardens.

“Through the generosity of Dr. Rex Bickers, the Howard Johnson III Memorial Fund has positively impacted Waterfront Botanical Gardens over the past four years by providing our organization with mature, knowledgeable interns that help in fulfilling our mission of educating, inspiring, and enhancing appreciation of the relationship between plant life and a healthy environment,” said Wanda Peck, the Youth Education Manager at the Gardens. “Having taken advanced Ecology courses, Brianna was well informed on current environmental issues. She helped to teach scientific lessons that centered around gardening and the importance of plants in our ecosystem, but also never showed any hesitancy to get down in the dirt to look for worms or plant tiny seeds. Brianna truly inspired our campers to become junior horticulturists.”

To read about Brianna Christensen’s Internship Journey, please click here.

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