The Wedemeyer Name Meant Athletic Excellence

by Curtis Murayama, Advertiser Staff Writer
Copyright March 13, 1990, Honolulu Advertiser

 

They were separated by 22 years and completely different eras in Hawaii’s history. One excelled during the war; the other, during statehood.

Still, they were known for their athletic excellence and connected by a surname that carried an aura in Hawaii much like a Kennedy in politics nationally.

In this case, the name was Wedemeyer, and their forte was sports, mainly football.

Herman Wedemeyer was the oldest of nine athletically inclined children of William and Ruth Wedemeyer. Charlie was the youngest. The generation spanned almost a quarter century.

Still, there wasn’t much difference between Herman and Charlie.

As Herman, now 65, said when he first saw Charlie play: "I felt like I was looking at myself."

Said Charlie’s wife and high school sweetheart, Lucy: "Being so close in size, we used to put black-rimmed glasses on Charlie and (imagine) if he had gray hair, he looked like Herman."

Both Wedemeyers brought an athletic brilliance to the field, made names for themselves in life after football and credit their father for instilling in them the inner strength to excel.

"Charlie doesn’t remember not having some kind of ball in his hand," Lucy said. "The father’s intense interest in sports was always there."

Said Herman: "I was born with a football in my crib. The cane fields were my playground."

Bill, currently battling an illness, was quite an athlete himself, playing for the Thundering Herds in a barefoot football league in the ‘30s and various baseball leagues in Hawaii.

What Herman remembers most of his father was that "he was a great ball player" despite missing part of his foot. It was cut off when he was a youngster "hitching a ride on a sugar cane train" and he slipped on the wheels.

Herman said his father "meant everything as far as my career was concerned. He instilled so much in my mind and my being.

Herman starred at St. Louis High School and at St. Mary’s College, where he would make such an impact that Bay Area fans still remember him. He was named Associated Press and United Press International All-American in 1945, drawing raves from even legendary sportswriter Grantland Rice, who called Herman "the greatest athlete in the country."

Herman also succeeded in life off the field. He was a member of the Honolulu City Council in 1969, a two-term representative for Waikiki and Moiliili and played the role of "Duke" in the series "Hawaii Five-O."

Not bad for a kid who endured growing pains as a youth, being raised during a tumultuous time—World War II.

"We had gasoline ration, blackouts. My dad had to pick me up and take me everywhere," Herman said.

Charlie’s time was, of course, different. But his father’s influence wasn’t.

"One thing I appreciated from my father was that he never pushed me like some of my friend’s parents and he was extremely supportive and always there," Charlie said.

Said Lucy: "He knew his father expected him to go for it all. It was a family expectation."

Charlie was an athlete nonpareil at Punahou from 1962-65 and became the first three-time all-star in ILH history. He went on to play football at Michigan State and later became a teacher and football coach at Los Gatos High School in California.

But the most documented portion of his life would come after 1976—the year he was diagnosed as having amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, the neurological diseases that killed baseball great Lou Gehrig.

Given two years to live, Charlie has been winning the battle against this terminal disease for 14 years.

Despite being confined to a wheelchair and needing a respirator to breathe, his zest for life seems eternal. And although he can’t speak (Lucy reads his lips and conveys his words), Charlie makes about three to four "speaking" engagements a week.

Charlie and Lucy, who are Christians, like to say that Charlie is still playing—"but this time it’s on the Lord’s team."

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