Remembering Dika Lagercrantz Eckersley

As we honor our 75th anniversary this year, we recall and celebrate some of the most influential people in the Press’s history. 

Dika with berries_no credit neededDIKA LAGERCRANTZ ECKERSLEY

(1939–2015)

Generous. Kind. Quirky. Teacher. Designer. Traveler. Humane. A proponent of joy.

Dika Eckersley’s colleagues and friends remember her as a woman who loved costume parties; saved and reused wrapping paper; made delicate ginger pig cookies at Christmas, tying each pig’s tail with a pink ribbon; and who made everyone around her a better person for having known her.

Eckersley came to Nebraska in 1981when her husband, Richard, was hired as the University of Nebraska Press’s senior designer. Herself a publications designer, Dika taught design and typography in the University of Nebraska–Lincoln Art Department and soon was doing contract design for the press. Among her notable projects was designing Prairie Schooner, UNL’s distinguished literary magazine. She joined the press staff in 1985 and retired in 2005.

A native of Stockholm, Sweden, she moved to England at twenty-two to study graphic design at the London College of Printing. There, she met and later married Richard. They and their three children lived in Bath, England, and Kilkenny, Ireland, before moving to the United States when Richard took a job in Pennsylvania a year before coming to Nebraska.

Because they had no car, the Eckersley family came to Lincoln on the train, colleagues said. “That just seemed so Willa Catheresque,” one said. Both Dika and Richard were avid bicyclists, and although they did add a car to their transportation modes, both rode bicycles their entire lives. After her retirement, Dika purchased a brand-new bicycle for herself after years of functional, second-hand rides.

Dika was known for her hand-drawn flip-books and often would include flip-books in the margins of her publications. Like all good designers, she instinctively knew that the tiny, almost imperceptible details were of critical importance to the overall success of a publication. She could home in on an overarching theme that others might miss, making it the centerpiece of a Prairie Schooner cover that would in one breathtaking moment exemplify an entire edition.

Said a former colleague: “Dika was a designer, but she also was a reader, and she recognized the intimate connection that a magazine’s cover should have with the narrative created from the stories, essays, and poems within. In Dika’s world, books should—and could—be judged by their covers.”

She was a generous and encouraging colleague—always the teacher who never failed to make a positive comment about a coworker’s efforts. She was not judgmental; her criticisms came in the form of gentle redirection and urging a second look with a possible new way to approach a problem.

Her quiet speaking voice made her powerful; she did not yell. But she commanded respect because of her thoughtful words, grace, and tone. “When you were in a meeting with her, no one could be a jerk,” a coworker remembered. “It was just impossible to be a jerk around her.”

The Eckersleys kept odd hours at the press—coming in late and leaving late. Dika often napped on her office floor, which sometimes unnerved new employees or the cleaning staff, who feared the worst upon encountering her there.

Artistry permeated her life. She was a painter, a weaver (making fabric for her colorful and eclectic clothing), a sculptor, a photographer, and a printmaker. Two of her sculptures were included in the 2003 Tour de Lincoln public art project and another was featured in a project championed by the YWCA.

An activist for human rights, women’s and children’s issues, literacy, recycling, and the environment, she lived her values. She was a volunteer tutor for English-language learners; she mentored refugees from China, Afghanistan, and the Sudan and especially enjoyed watching the children of immigrants new to the United States play soccer and other activities. In 2011 she became an American citizen and immediately registered to vote.

She loved to travel and did so extensively, back to her native Sweden but also to Egypt, Japan, and China. She sent postcards filled with her careful observations of the people she met. Her habit of writing lovely, heartfelt notes was remembered by many. She handcrafted beautiful cards from the piles of wrapping paper, fabric, and other items she “artistically hoarded.” Nothing went to waste, and even after retiring from the press, she regularly popped in to assist in efforts to recycle.

The Eckersley family was known for elaborate costumed theme parties, a love of jazz and storytelling. Dika enjoyed and practiced yoga before it was a trendy thing; she was a spirited cross-country skier.

She was a citizen of the world who chose Lincoln as her home and shared her international viewpoint freely.

She died in the spring of 2015 after a period of declining health.

Profile by Kim Hachiya