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H. Ric Blacksten

Idea Man, Volunteer, Math Whiz

 An idea man, Ric comes up with ideas, often HBIs (half-baked ideas). “There’s a right way, a wrong way, and Ric’s way,” his father would laugh. At Goodwin House, Ric suggested that the putting green could also be satisfactorily used for dog “exercise.” Happily, this “poop or putt” idea was nixed by fellow residents. His better ideas were to host miniature golf tournaments on the putting green by using woodshop scraps as obstacles, and to propose a full-size mini golf course next to the bocce court.
A fan of eclectic older films, Ric initiated the Saturday Cinema Matinee a year ago, showing such diverse films as Bagdad Cafe, My Cousin Vinny, Harold and Maude, Marty, Mr. Roberts, and A Special Day. “I don’t like bureaucracy,” Ric says, explaining why he bypassed GHBC’s committee structure. “I prefer begging forgiveness to asking permission.”

Ric created Good Winds, an online GHBC resident-produced literature and arts magazine. Launched with help from resident professional editors Ann Kurzius and Marcia Reecer, and furnished with memoirs, stories, and art from residents, this turned into a labor of love, finally published online as Good Winds 2023. Ric hopes there might be a Good Winds 2024, with others grabbing the baton. 

Some of Ric’s HBIs have been duds. Ric was always a slow reader. He tried hard to improve, taking and failing an Evelyn Woods Reading Dynamics course. “I thought I might achieve real speed by reading upside down. Using an upside-down tachistoscope and reading my non-technical books upside down, I was thrilled as my upside-down reading speed quickly improved. But then it hit a ceiling, when I could read upside-down as fast as right-side-up. And never faster.”

 Techie Ric

After falling in love with calculus in college Ric arranged to teach introductory calculus for high school students in Anne Arundel County, Md. He distributed flyers to high schools and waited for eager students to show up for the first class. None did. “How naïve of me!” 

At GHBC, Ric is one of the “Bistro Bunch” helping fellow residents with smart phones, smart pads and laptops at the Monday and Thursday morning device clinic, and making house calls at other times to help residents with technology challenges. Ric coordinates collection and distribution of donated clothing for the Community Services Committee. He took over the Employee Gift Fund check printing last year and is repeating this year.
 Tutoring Sok at GHBC
Ric continues his years of volunteer work with Offender Aid and Restoration as a weekly math tutor in the Arlington County Detention Center. He also tutored English, math, and science at the Arlington Community High School.
For many years Ric has volunteered and then chaired an English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) program at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Arlington. With the coming of the covid-19 pandemic, the church closed its doors to such meetings, but that turned out to be a good thing, Ric remarks. “I moved the ESOL program to Zoom, where it has grown. And grown.” Ric continues to host the Thursday afternoon ESOL class. 
Ric’s Road to GHBC
When Ric was born, his father served in the U.S. Army 123rd Radio Intelligence Company, from which his middle name “Ric” was derived. When Ric’s father later joined the Air Force, the family moved around a lot, living in Japan, Hawaii and other states. Ric’s sister, Janice, is eight years younger, and now often joins Ric as an ESOL Zoom host. 
 Cub Scout Ric
At the University of Maryland Ric became a serious student, majoring in physics while falling in love with real math and doing well in other subjects, especially English. Ric earned a B.S. in physics with honors. After college he went to work as a civilian with the Navy, where he turned to operations research.

After a couple of years as a Department of Defense contractor, Ric decided to take a year off to tour the country, camp, and “find himself.” After ten months he found himself—broke. When another Navy civilian job fell through due a government job freeze, Ric taught high school calculus for a year before returning to work as a government contractor.

  Ric and Anne wed   Young Blacksten family  

“The biggest fork in the road of my life was meeting Anne, with whom I fell madly in love. Fortunately, Anne agreed to marry me, even though I insisted that she do the income taxes. I adopted Anne’s four-year-old son, John, and soon after Anne gave birth to Jessica. When Anne’s maternity leave expired, I became a daytime house spouse, working part time evenings and weekends.” 

  John & Jessica as Peter Pan & Tinkerbell   Ric built a treehouse  

After ten months, new childcare arrangements allowed Ric to return to full time work as a government contractor in operations research, math, and physics. Some career highlights include: 

  • For a Department of Agriculture study on gypsy moth pest management, Ric mastered the mathematics of Gaussian plumes in pest spraying. He used that expertise to win a DoD contract to study chemical warfare vulnerability of naval ships.
  • In a study for the U.S. Army, Ric played the “bad guys”—on paper and in computer models—searching for weaknesses in physical security systems at sensitive DoD installations.
  • For the Transportation Security Administration, applying principles from probability and game theory, Ric worked on assignment of air marshals to passenger flights.
  • Thanks to an interest in psychology, Ric contributed to studies on military pilot training, target detection, and DoD manpower recruitment and retention.
  • Wearing his physicist hat, Ric contributed to studies of firepower and communications and helped assess the vulnerability of general aviation aircraft to terrorist bombing.
  • Using the mathematics of fuzzy logic, Ric developed algorithms to simulate decision processes of military commanders in warfare. 

Over the years Ric attended the George Washington University in the evenings, earning both a Master of Science and Applied Scientist Degree in operations research.  

Life can be funny, Ric muses. “For required physical ed course in college I took a life-saving class. (The choice was lifesaving or modern dance, and I could not see myself in leotards.) Though I did become a better swimmer, I did not earn a life-saving certificate. But later I saved the life of an old man who had fallen in front of the D.C. bus he had just exited. Realizing that the driver had not seen the man fall, I shouted, ‘Stop!’ in time. Another time I was hiking at Potomac Overlook when I spotted a guy struggling in the shallows below. I rushed down and pulled him out of the water. He was stoned. Did I save his life? Who knows …”  

In years past, Ric has enjoyed hiking up mountains. He proudly claims that he has climbed the highest mountains in Virginia, Colorado, Utah, and Idaho, adding, “I even got to the top of some!”

  With grandkids Rebecca and Max ...   and granddaughter Emily  

Since their retirement, Ric and Anne have done a lot of traveling, visiting all seven continents. They are scheduled to take an around-the-world cruise from January through mid-May 2024. Ric is diligently recruiting residents to take over his GHBC projects while he is away.


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