Long Journey to City Hall

Honolulu Star-Bulletin, January 14, 1969

 

For Herman Wedemeyer, the journey to City Hall began 30 years ago, with his first taste of acclaim as a sports hero.

Not that his thoughts were of that far in the future when he was a prep school star at St. Louis. Nor when he went on to become a national celebrity as an All-America football halfback at St. Mary's of California. Nor even during his career in professional football.

But it was in those years that Herman Wedemeyer's image and reputation were built, that the personality was formed and the lessons were learned. Those were the years that helped more than anything else to carry him to a resounding victory in his first try for public office.

"A background as an athlete is a definite advantage for a man involved with the public...not only in politics, but in any job that depends on contact with people," says Wedemeyer, who started a new career as a City Councilman last week.

"For one thing, if he's been successful as an athlete, he begins with the edge of having a name...of being known. He's also accustomed to being among people and being before the public. He's likely to be more at ease, say, at making a speech before a crowd or in face-to-face dealings with individuals.

"These are only external factors, though; superficial things that can take a man only so far. But beyond that are other values..."

Such as?

"Well, there's the knowledge of people you get through close association. You learn about human nature, that people have strengths and weaknesses and you have to expect them and accept them. You learn teamwork...that you have to depend on others and that they depend on you, and it takes everyone to make things go.

"And you learn what competition is, and how it takes work and discipline to be a success at anything.

"But most of all, I think, it's that understanding of people you get."

Wedemeyer ranks as the most famous football player ever produced in the Islands, and he and the late Duke Kahanamoku are the most celebrated of all Hawaiian athletes.

Herman was born in Hilo, but his family moved to Honolulu when he was four. He went to St. Louis on a baseball scholarship, and although he excelled at this game then and in later years, it was football that took him places.

He was a freshman sensation at St. Mary's in 1943, and then went into the Navy as an aviation cadet. He was given a medical discharge six months later, however, because of a leg injury he had received in a skiing accident, and switched to the Merchant Marine.

After the war, in 1945, he returned to St. Mary's for three more seasons of football under Jimmy Phelan.

Certainly Wedemeyer was one of the most versatile athletes of his, or any other, era--a 60-minute man. As a tailback in the Gael's single-wing formation, he was the team's No. 1 runner and passer, as well as signal-caller and field leader. In addition he did the punting and placekicking, played safety on defense, and ran back punts and kickoffs.

Versatile he was, and one of the best--twice he was All-America.

From St. Mary's, he and Phelan went to the Los Angeles Dons of the All-America Football Conference--with Wedemeyer getting a two-year contract for $35,000, a remarkable sum in those days.

("I also had offers, with more money, from major league baseball, and I've often wondered how things would have turned out if I'd taken one of them. But football was what I wanted...and I don't have a single regret.")

The Dons already had an experienced pro at tailback, Glenn Dobbs, so Wedemeyer was strictly a running back. After one season, to help the struggling Baltimore franchise, he was sold to the Colts.

"They had the T-formation, with Y.A. Tittle at quarterback, so again it was something new for me," he says. Then, with a chuckle, "I played halfback, but I did quarterback one game when Tittle was hurt. What I remember is how hard it was to see over the linemen to pass, dropping straight back. You can imagine how it would be for me now, as much bigger as those guys are."

After a spell with the San Francisco 49ers, Wedemeyer retired from football in 1950.

"I probably could have stayed in the pros, but I decided it was time to quit. I was anxious to get started on a future life and was concerned about waiting any longer."

Wedemeyer's career as a pro was not rewarding, compared to what he'd done in college. Does he feel any bitterness over that?

"No...none at all. There were circumstances that no one could help and no one could be blamed for. It was frustrating in a way, but it was an experience I loved and wouldn't trade for anything."

He returned to Hawaii and has remained here since, except for a stay in New York as a representative for an airline. His work has been almost exclusively as a man who meets people--in public relations and sales. He was vice president of Associated Innkeepers before joining Del Chemical, where he is now an executive.

Herman lives with his wife, Carolyn, in a Kahala Avenue cottage. At 44, he helps keep trim with karate exercises (he has a black belt rating) but his main recreation is golf. Naturally, he is one of the State's top amateurs.

"I got an early interest in golf [part of article is cut off -- appears to discuss that he went from a scratch (zero) handicap to having to add a few strokes as a result of neglecting his game]."

The time, of course, was spent instead at campaigning and then preparing for his new job.

Wedemeyer was a natural for politics--immensely popular and respected, exceedingly handsome, articulate and personable, active in civic affairs, and a native son with a large measure of Hawaiian blood. When did he decide to try for public office?

"Actually, people had been talking for me about it for several years, but it was all rather vague and there was no real follow-through. It built up until last year, when I felt I was ready...even though I wasn't too optimistic..."

As it turned out, he had no reason for worry. He led the field of 18 Republicans in the primary, then ran third in the general election among 12 candidates for the six at-large seats on the City Council.

"It was very gratifying...much better than I expected, especially as a candidate of what is a minority party," Wedemeyer says.

How much did his athletic reputation have to do with his showing?

"Well, as I said, no doubt it helped...gave me an edge. How much I don't know. Don't forget, though, it's been years since I played, so my name might have had little effect with a great many voters. I do know it took a lot of work, whatever advantage I might have had."

What about Herman Wedemeyer, City Councilman--what are his views on being a part of government?

"It's bound to be exciting and challenging, with things moving so fast and the City undergoing so many changes. Generally all I can say--as trite as it sounds--is that I want to do my best for what's best for the City and Hawaii.

"When it gets down to specific programs or issues...it's really not possible to predict or look ahead. I've kept reasonably abreast of things...studied and prepared myself as well as I could. But I don't have any hard, pre-conceived positions. I'll have to take things as they develop."

Like in a football game?

"Something like that. You can practice and train and get yourself as ready as possible, but you don't know for sure what you'll do until you get your hands on the ball."

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