On January 28, 2023, Richard “Dick” Blankenburg, the retired editor and publisher of the Five Cities Times-Press-Recorder and longtime Special Olympics supporter, passed away at the age of 86. Blankenburg had lived a life of service in special education, business, and the community, being involved in organizations such as Special Olympics. Together with his wife, Maxine Blankenburg, he established the first support group for parents of children with special needs and helped bring Special Olympics to San Luis Obispo County in 1969, just one year after the organization was founded.
Blankenburg’s involvement in Special Olympics was his pride and joy, as it was a way for him to make a difference in the lives of others. In 1991, he was named Arroyo Grande Citizen of the Year, with former Citizen of the Year, Khatchik “Katcho” Achadjian, commenting that Blankenburg had been very involved in Special Olympics. Blankenburg coached and drove his son Rick, a Special Olympics athlete who benefited from his father’s involvement with the organization. Blankenburg’s dedication to Special Olympics was recognized in 2019 when he and Rick were honored with a proclamation by Arroyo Grande Mayor Caren Ray Russom for their 50 years of involvement in the organization. Law enforcement officers who were big supporters of Special Olympics through the Law Enforcement Torch Run were on hand for the celebration at the City Council chambers, as were members of the Kiwanis Club of Greater Pismo Beach.
Blankenburg was not just involved in Special Olympics, but also in other organizations that aimed to make a positive impact in the community. He and Maxine volunteered with Arroyo Grande Valley Harvest Festival, Camp Fire, Boy Scouts, Kiwanis, and more. All three of their children worked for the newspaper during the 39 years the family owned the business, and they continue to give back to the community, instilling the values of community service to their own children.
Jim Gardiner, who worked with Blankenburg and Maxine on the Special Olympics board from 1987, fondly remembered the interaction between the athletes and law enforcement. “For me, the interaction between the athletes and law enforcement remains my most cherished memories. It was great to see the reactions of the athletes but even more, I appreciated the reactions of law enforcement personnel as they gave their time and efforts to the program,” said Jim.
With Dick’s support and encouragement, Gardiner traveled the world on behalf of the Torch Run and met other athletes and law enforcement professionals. He was involved in the 1993 Torch delegation that participated in the Winter games in Austria.
Dick was proud to be part of the Special Olympics legacy, and his family continues to be involved in the organization. Cindy Blankenburg, Dick’s daughter, shared that her parents’ example taught their children the value of hard work.
“Their motto was ‘Do your best’. They would also share the Special Olympics motto: How Far is Far? How High is High? They’ll never know until they try’,” said Cindy.
The Blankenburg family is proud to continue the legacy of their parents, just as other families like the Eunice Kennedy Shriver family and the Rafer Johnson family continue to make a positive impact on their communities. Dick Blankenburg’s dedication to service and Special Olympics will not be forgotten, and his legacy will continue to inspire others to make a difference in the world.