Retired staff member Presley Hicks, who served as a financial aid advisor for 26 years, passed away May 20. He was 84.
Born January 21, 1936 in Houston, Texas, he spent his earliest years in Michigan before moving to Oakland and eventually serving in the US Navy. After completing his service, he worked for many years for Butte Creek Rock. He earned his bachelor’s degree in social work in 1973 from Chico State, and would also eventually earn an MPA in 1979.
In 1974, Hicks was hired to work in Student Affairs at Chico State. He held many roles but is most fondly remembered for working in the Financial Aid and Scholarship Office. Many alumni, hearing of his passing, reminisced about how diligently he worked on behalf of students, especially Black students, to ensure finances would not be a barrier to their dreams. In 1986, he told The Orion, “Education should be a right, instead of a privilege.”
Now the office’s director, Dan Reed still remembers when, as a new advisor, he asked Hicks for advice on how to support students when there were no funds to give. Hicks said, “Money’s just what they want, go find out what they need.” That attitude transformed the Financial Aid office, Reed said, noting Hicks’ presence, ideas, and approaches influenced department leadership to view financial aid as not just a money machine, but also social work—an opportunity to change one student life at a time and, from there, the world.
“Presley insisted that the students most in need of aid are not the ones prepared to follow all the rules, meet all the deadlines, and then benefit from that aid,” Reed said. “He said that collecting documents, reviewing files, disbursing money is the stuff we must do to be a decent financial aid office. But he also thought helping with paperwork, removing barriers, compensating for inequities, giving hope, is what makes us truly successful.”
Hicks had a true, deep passion for helping students—especially those who were first-generation—persist at Chico State, said Herman Ellis, retired associate vice president for Student Life. He knew how to work the system to benefit them and would go the extra mile to ensure their success.
“He was a good man who always kept it real. Presley was always willing to pass his wisdom on to others,” he said. “He was good mentor to many of us young professionals.”
Multicultural and gender studies professor Vernon Andrews (English, ’82; MA, Information and Communication Studies, ’89), one of Hicks’ former advisees, said he equally influenced students, many of whom would have dropped out were it not for Hicks and others like him.
“First of all, Presley had more soul than any employee in the history of Chico State. That brotha was smooth—and I know smooth—and kind, uplifting, funny, personable, and kind of an uncle. With cash. He always came through,” he wrote in an online tribute. “That man worked as a strong advocate for Black students. I trusted him. I needed that Black male role model, an older figure like him. He was it.”
Kentiner David was just coming into the financial aid world when Hicks was getting ready to retire. Now the office’s associate director, he shares that in a relatively short period of time, Hicks had a tremendous impact on his approach and perspective to financial aid administration.
“He used to call out to me as I walked by his office, ‘Young man, come into my office and let me tell you something,’ and then he would tell me amazing stories about what we could do in our roles as financial aid professionals,” he said.
More than two decades later, David still runs into people who, upon learning he works in Financial Aid, recall incredible experiences with Hicks.
“Presley was a towering, big man, but most people with whom he interacted remembered his bigger heart,” David said.
For many years, Hicks was the liaison for the Educational Opportunity Program (EOP), said retired associate director Christopher Malone. In that role, he realized that EOP students were the neediest and had to overcome many obstacles in order to succeed in college. Hicks was able to help change policies (like first come, first served) so that EOP admits had priority for receiving full financial aid awards. With Presley’s wise guidance and encouragement, EOP students were able to focus on their studies without having to worry about money for food, housing, books, and the many other necessities for succeeding as a college student.
“Throughout his years of service, Presley was able to help change the lives of thousands of students for the better. He cared about students and worked extremely hard to make sure that students would be given an opportunity to succeed. Presley was known for taking home boxes of financial aid files, so that they could be reviewed and completed as soon as possible. He was a lifesaver for many of our students,” Malone said, noting that he was also his own mentor, colleague, and friend.
Though he always told his family that he retired too soon in 2000, he enjoyed many more years of his favored pastime of fishing, as well as taking in blues festivals, playing dominos and card games, and spending time with his grandchildren.
He is survived by his wife, Martha Hicks; children Jamal Hicks, Gaye Rougeau, Carlton Whitted, Lisa Byrd, Elaine Celistine, and Delores Sawyerr; and 13 grandchildren. He was laid to rest at the Sacramento Valley National Cemetery.
Services with military honors will be held when circumstances allow. We will share details when we learn of them. The University flag will be lowered Monday, July 27, in his honor.