Honoring the man
As former Linfield College football player and athletic Hall of Famer Pete Dengenis tells it, the idea was hatched on a bike ride.
Dengenis was riding around the Burke-Gilman Trail in Seattle, where he makes his home, when he happened across a bronze statue. The moment intersected with his increasing involvement in discussions with fellow Wildcat alumni to honor the late Linfield football coach and athletic director Paul Durham with a permanent, on-campus tribute.
“I thought this would be a nice honor for him,” Dengenis says. “I started researching to see if this is going to be possible, how much this is going to cost.”
Come October, a bronze reproduction of the man whose Wildcat football teams started Linfield’s 58-year-long winning-season streak will stand sentry on the greenspace between the Health, Human Performance and Athletics building – which houses Ted Wilson Gymnasium and various athletic training and locker rooms – and the Aquatics Building. The space is adjacent to Maxwell Field.
Dengenis shared the idea with a former Linfield teammate, Mike Stelman, who contributed $5,000 of his own money. The project has since raised $56,000 from more than 80 donors. Wildcat football players Bob Haack and Bob Ferguson and former sports information directors Tim Marsh and George Murdock have aided the fundraising effort.
A group of Linfield alumni and football players previously coached by Durham lobbied with the college’s administration to name a building on campus after Durham. That plan did not come to fruition.
Instead, Linfield agreed to name the lobby and foyer of the Health, Human Performance and Athletics building in Durham’s honor at a cost of $9,000, to be paid for entirely by donations.
In addition to the bronze likeness of Durham, a 1,500-pound granite marker will celebrate Durham’s election into 10 halls of fame – including the Oregon Sports Hall of Fame and NAIA Hall of Fame – and recall an incident from the 1965 Champion Bowl, held in Augusta, Georgia.
After the Wildcats lost the NAIA national championship game to St. John’s (Minnesota), 33-0, Durham learned that Linfield’s black and Hawaiian players would be required to eat in the kitchen during a postgame banquet. Durham instructed his entire team to go into the kitchen to eat. The hotel refused to accommodate that many people in its kitchen, so Durham proclaimed the team would not eat. No Wildcats did.
The marker will be surrounded by an eight-foot-wide walkway, benches for seating and up-lighting on the monument, according to Dengenis. He estimates the total cost at around $53,000.
Any additional money raised will be placed into the Paul Durham Endowment Fund to support Linfield academic and athletic causes, according to Haack.
Bronze sculptor Heather Green of Cascade Locks will be crafting the monument – not a statue, Dengenis is quick to point out, because it will be taller than Durham was in real life. The Durham monument will stand approximately eight feet tall; the man himself stood 6-foot-4.
The conception of the face and the monument’s pose will be finalized “in the next couple of weeks,” according to David Ostrander, Linfield College’s Vice President for Institutional Advancement, who has served as a liaison between the college and the alumni group.
Once the image is created, Green will make a clay figure to better represent the monument, the final step before the creation of the sculpture.
“It’s a pretty intricate process and very interesting in its own right,” Ostrander says. “Because it’s fairly local, we’ll be able to keep track of the process.”
Dedication of the monument will occur at 11 a.m. on Oct. 18, a couple hours before Linfield’s Homecoming football game against Whitworth.
“That’s going to be quite an event,” Haack said. “We’re inviting national championship players from the NAIA (championship teams at Linfield). We’ve invited the best we can locate and find, teammates from all three teams to be by for the event.”
Durham compiled a 122-51-10 record as head coach of the Wildcats from 1948 to 1967, winning six Northwest Conference championships and making two NAIA national championship games. He also held the athletic director title from 1949 to 1968, taught classes at Linfield College and served as sports editor of the McMinnville News-Register, where his “Dodging with Durham” column kept Yamhill County apprised on the sporting world at large.
“He was actually a Renaissance man,” Dengenis says. “He had a real rich baritone voice and he was a singer at weddings. He was involved in community theater. He actually started and nurtured and was the pioneer of the Linfield Way -- and that is doing things the right way and doing them the right way the first time and doing them with honesty and integrity.”