Robert Minick, 1928-2015: Longtime Fresno State economics professor ‘demanding’ but fair

Robert A. Minick and his wife, Sarah Minick.
Robert A. Minick and his wife, Sarah Minick.

Dallas native Robert A. Minick, who came to Fresno in the early 1960s to teach economics at Fresno State, had a love for teaching, a passion for baseball and a lifelong hankering for “real” Texas barbecue that for years just couldn’t be satisfied in California – until he built his own backyard smoker.

Mr. Minick, a respected yet outspoken professor of economics at the university for more than 40 years, died Oct. 10 in Fresno. He was 87.

“In my judgment, Bob was the best teacher the (economics) department ever had,” longtime colleague and friend Dale Bush said. “He had an unusually engaging personality and a marvelous sense of humor. He was soft-spoken and even-tempered, and the students loved him.”

Bush recalled that Mr. Minick joined the fledgling economics department at what was then Fresno State College in 1962, and later served as the department chairman as the college was enduring a period of social strife over “a number of really difficult problems” including the Vietnam War, issues of academic freedom and due process, and racial conflict.

“There was a great deal of tension between liberal elements of the faculty and the college administration … and Robert was identified with the liberal faction of the faculty,” Bush said. “But our department was very cohesive, due in no small part to Bob’s leadership. He was a perfect colleague.”

“Economists tend to be a very contentious lot; we’re always fighting with each other,” Bush added. As an institutional economist rooted in a Keynesian philosophy of economics rather than a more conservative supply-side position, Mr. Minick “held a minority view, but I don’t think he had an enemy in the faculty. He was just one of those people that everyone trusted.”

In 1946, after graduating from high school in Dallas, Mr. Minick joined the Army, serving as a clerk for military forces occupying Japan following World War II.

His son, Russell Minick, said the deployment to Tokyo was Mr. Minick’s first time outside of Texas, and came as President Harry Truman desegregated the military. Russell Minick said it was an eye-opening and perspective-changing experience for his father after being raised “with all the white Texas attitudes” of pervasive bigotry and racial segregation.

After his military stint, Mr. Minick used his G.I. Bill benefits to earn his bachelor’s degree at North Texas State University, where he met his future wife, Sarah. The couple wed in 1950.

Mr. Minick taught high school for a few years before returning to college for graduate studies, earning a master’s degree at North Texas State and his Ph.D. at the University of Texas at Austin.

Russell Minick said his father considered two job offers – one in Texas and one in California. He stunned his family by accepting the invitation to join the faculty at Fresno State. Russell Minick said that “getting away from the bigotry in Texas was a big reason.”

Bush remembered that his longtime colleague developed a reputation as a fair but demanding instructor with a penchant for assigning essay exams and insisting that students learn and use proper English in their writing for class.

“But it wasn’t just his students who had to meet those standards,” said Russell Minick, a former deputy opinion editor at The Fresno Bee, who recalled that his father and mother – who was a school librarian – raised their children “in a relentlessly literate environment.”

Outside the classroom, baseball was a great passion for Mr. Minick, who played the sport in high school and was a fan of the St. Louis Cardinals. “St. Louis was as far west and as far south as the major leagues went back then,” Russell Minick said.

“All throughout the Great Plains and into Texas, there was a long tradition of sitting around on the porch in the evening, listening to a Cardinals game on the radio.” Later, “Dad sort of morphed into a Giants fan when we came to Fresno,” Russell Minick added.

Mr. Minick also enjoyed golfing, which he began playing with fellow graduate students in Texas, and improved his game with regular play after he retired.

In retirement he also became an avid runner, “signing up for every 5K and 10K run,” Russell Minick said. “He was always very competitive in athletics, but it was more about pushing himself against the clock than against the other runners.”

What California did not offer, however, was “real barbecue, central Texas barbecue,” Russell Minick said. “For the first decade or so in Fresno, we would go back to Texas every summer to visit family, and one thing my dad would do is get all the brothers-in-law and go out for barbecue every day. He’d stoke up because it would be another year in Fresno before he could get good barbecue again.”

Before he retired, however, “he got the bug and built a brick meat smoker in the back yard so he could do real Texas-style barbecue,” Russell Minick said. “Once he got that thing built, he drove my mother crazy because he would barbecue a brisket every week – that’s a lot of meat.”

Robert A. Minick

  • Age: 87
  • Residence: Fresno
  • Occupation: Retired professor of economics at Fresno State
  • Birth: April 3, 1928
  • Death: Oct. 10, 2015
  • Survivors: wife Sarah Minick; children Russell Minick of Fresno, Nancy Vinckier of Goleta and Steven Minick of Fresno and their spouses; four grandchildren; one great-grandson; several cousins and nephews
  • Services: None scheduled. A celebration of life will be held at a later date.