“I’m retiring, time to go,” said Rick Young. For years, his go-to joke when Frankie Rose asked him to do something was to say that retirement sounded like a good option. Now, however, he’s not joking, and everyone is sad to see him go.
Rick came to Union’s International Rescue and Relief Program ten years ago out of a long career in law enforcement. His original plan was to go into elementary education—he wanted to catch children in their early years and mentor them into living a good life. But one of his professors in his master’s program told Young that he would be best suited to educating young adults. When he saw that Union was hiring an IRR director, he leapt at the chance.
“Public safety is a rewarding job because you’re saving lives. But it’s a young person’s job,” Rick said. “So, God brought me here. And now I think I’ve done what I can here, and it’s time to let someone else see what they can do.”
The Student’s Warrior
Rick began his journey with Union in June 2011 as the new International Rescue and Relief Program director. “He’s grown it into one of the most popular and successful degree programs available on campus,” said Kalie Saunders, current director of the IRR program. “Because of the work Rick has done, the program has a good reputation in the Lincoln community. He’s been such a huge part in the development of IRR that losing him feels like we’re losing a part of our IRR identity.”
“That’s what he does. He puts his whole heart into whatever he’s doing,” said Debbie Young, Rick’s wife. His entire time at Union, Rick came into work early in the morning and left late in the evening. Each year as the director of IRR, he advised well over 70 students and ensured they had the resources they needed to succeed.
“My door is always wide open—I rarely shut it,” Rick said. “I always want to be there to answer questions and support any student that needs it.”
One student he helped, Caleb Shetler, struggled to finance all four years of his IRR education at Union. One semester when Caleb was not enrolled, Rick offered him a janitorial position cleaning the IRR building. “I was very excited, but it turns out I was a terrible janitor, and Rick told me I was the worst janitor he’d hired,” Shetler laughed. “But he was so encouraging and solution oriented that he transitioned me to be a teaching assistant. And he made sure I graduated. I owe basically all of my academic success and a lot of my personal success to his mentorship and guidance.”
“I encourage students here to reach out to their professors for anything,” Rick said. He’s helped many students in different ways, from providing career guidance to marriage advice. “There are so many great faculty and staff on this campus who are willing to do anything they can to support their students. Don’t be afraid to step forward and ask when you need guidance or support, because everyone does at some point in life.”
Two years ago, Rick left his position as IRR director to become one of Union’s three academic deans, overseeing programs related to health science, including IRR and nursing. He helped launch Union’s new occupational therapy assistant program and he was one of many heroes who aided in Union’s response to the coronavirus pandemic.
“Union has been a better place because he was here,” said Frankie Rose, Union’s former vice president of academic administration. “So many students have benefited from his mentorship and his leadership. This chapter of his career has been a really important one from the perspective of the people here at Union College.”
A History of Serving and Protecting
“There’s a big rivalry between cops and firefighters,” Shetler said, remembering his days as a student in the IRR program. The IRR students felt comfortable enough around Rick to prank him, like covering his office in sticky notes for his birthday. Shetler’s prank was more personal. “Rick was a former police officer for thirty years, and I’m a firefighter paramedic. We were constantly talking smack about that. So, I bought a bunch of little toy plastic firemen and hid them in various places around his office.”
Prior to his time at Union, Rick served in law enforcement wearing many different hats—literally. For years, a shelf in his office here has supported several different hats representing roles he undertook as a public servant before he came to Union, from police officer to camp ranger. He was active in the California attorney general’s school/law enforcement partnership cadre for fifteen years, with fifty educators and forty nine other law enforcement members who would create school community safety programs in troubled communities. He was also a guest instructor at the Los Angeles Sheriff Academy, Glendale Community College and UCLA lecturing on juvenile issues.
In 2001, Rick acted as a “social firefighter” providing aid and mediation when the Muslim community in Pasadena, California came under attack after 9/11. After Columbine, Rick was chosen to be one of twelve members on the California governor’s Safe School Task Force researching prevention methods after the massacre brought attention to the need for safer schools. In 1991 as a gang investigator, Rick worked closely with gang members while he and two community members piloted a program to keep students out of gangs, together creating the We Care for Youth program. We Care for Youth developed into a city-run program called Glendale Youth Alliance, which is still operating today.
A Journey . . . Together.
“He was in the police department, but he wasn’t your average police officer,” Debbie said. She and Rick met many years ago in an emergency room in Glendale, where she treated a gang member that Rick and his partner brought in. Something Rick and Debbie highly valued was treating everyone, no matter their background, with respect as a human being.
“I taught my partner that everyone’s a human, and we treat them with respect. Even though they make bad choices in life, they still need our support,” Rick said. He watched as Debbie took care of the patient with humanity and kindness—and that sealed the deal for him. “Our eyes met, and I instantly fell in love with this nurse.”
They dated for a few months and married in April 1991. Debbie saw a clearer picture of Rick’s approach to people. “He treated everybody with respect, and he got it in return,” she recounted. At one point, Rick had left his car running while he and his partner went on an on foot pursuit. When they returned, gang members who knew Rick had surrounded the car, wondering why he had left it running. “The gang members knew him. They liked him and would help him,” she said.
After thirty years of marriage, Debbie and Rick look forward to retirement together. Debbie retired a couple of years ago and has been taking care of her father, who lives with them. Now that Rick has joined her in retirement, the couple plans to take a road trip through Arizona and Colorado to decide where they want to live for their time together. They have family in Arizona, and their daughter may decide to live in Colorado. However things happen, they’ll be taking their fifth wheel trailer across the country and take their time camping in national parks along the way.
“His focus has always been to help the students. I’m so proud of him for what he’s accomplished and put his whole heart into at Union,” Debbie said. “Now I’m hoping to be able to spend more time with him, but he’s not one to sit still unless he’s tired. He’s worked hard for so long. It’s time to have fun.”
By Maria Kercher, senior communication major