St. Mary's Unveils Wedemeyer Exhibit

by Liz Clare
Webmaster, Herman Wedemeyer Home Page

Remarks of Carroll Canfield

On November 13, 1999, my sister Mary and I were privileged to attend the dedication of a permanent exhibit at St. Mary's College for Herman Wedemeyer, St. Mary's spectacular football star and Hawaii Five-O's "Duke Lukela."

St. Mary's College is located in an idyllic setting nestled in the Moraga hills not far from Oakland, California. About 2200 students attend St. Mary's today, many more than when Herman Wedemeyer arrived from Hawaii in 1943 to begin his college education there. He went on to become St. Mary's most famous son and one of the greatest college football players of the 1940s. One of the speakers at the day's event said that Wedey was in charge of the weather for the day. It showed -- he brought us a sparkling warm sunny day.

We started the day's festivities with a lovely and delicious brunch in the gym in McKeon Pavilion, St. Mary's sports center and an appropriate setting. Many former teammates and buddies of Wedey's were present, as well as friends of St. Mary's and fans like ourselves. Most importantly, several members of Wedey's family were there, including his attractive widow, Carol, several of his children, and quite a few of his grandchildren, including Tucker Brown, who is presently a student at St. Mary's. They are a good-looking family with a strong family resemblance.

Also present was his brother Charlie and his wife Lucy. Charlie and Lucy have won the hearts of everyone who has followed their battle with Charlie's ALS (Lou Gehrig's disease) over the years. Despite his disability Charlie's face radiates good humor, intelligence, and a fierce will to live.

There was a lot of energy and good will in the room. We were lucky enough to sit with a gentleman who had been a fan of Wedey's since the 1940s. He was as passionate today about the excitement and talent of Herman Wedemeyer as he was as a youngster way back when. The St. Mary's players had summer jobs as camp counselors at a summer camp in the area. This man shared with us the thrill that all of the kids felt at the prospect of having Herman Wedemeyer for their counselor, leading them in games and fun all day. He vividly remembered how Herman was perpetually late and would arrive in a hurry in his 1937 blue Ford. The car had a special "feature" with its brakes that Wedey used to great effect to impress the kids. After being parked, the car would continue to roll forward for quite a while. Wedey would get out and walk in front of the car at a leisurely pace and appear to avoid being run over only by his own magic.

This man had given a lot of thought to Wedey's career and his position in football history. Wedey was injured most of his senior year at St. Mary's. Though his favorite sport was football, he was also a spectacular baseball player. Wedey only lasted two seasons in professional football -- his small stature led to his being repeatedly injured and beat up until he just couldn't play anymore. After that an effort to restart his baseball career fizzled. In our new friend's opinion, if Wedey had gone into baseball before being injured, he could have had a career that lasted 20 years.

We also met a former teammate of Wedey's who recalled his friend's shyness. All St. Mary's students were required to take public speaking classes. This man told us that for all of the men, many of whom were tough guys just out of the service, getting up in front of their buddies and reciting the poetry of Keats and Shelley was not easy. For Wedey, it was practically impossible! All of his friends were astonished when their shy buddy later became a politician and actor.

The speakers brought love, warmth, and good humor to their remarks. Carroll Canfield, Wedey's roommate and former teammate on the baseball team, shared stories about his ukelele-playing, hula-dancing friend. I was extremely grateful for his mention of the website as well. Ed Ryan, Wedey's football teammate, reminisced about the glorious victories the team shared. They were as close as brothers on the team, and though age has now diminished the former "Whiz Kids" in body, their spirits and emotions are as strong as ever. Brother Mel Anderson of St. Mary's talked about what Herman Wedemeyer meant to this small Christian Brothers school. The school pep band -- which included all ages -- played at the conclusion of the presentations and everyone sang "The Bells of St. Mary's."

After the remarks we had the chance to chat for a few minutes with Herman Wedemeyer, Jr. He is a kind and handsome man who looks very much like his father. I was really touched when he told me he had visited this web site and it had helped him to learn about his father.

Then the permanent exhibit was unveiled. In the center, Wedey's red #11 jersey is displayed, along with some wonderful pictures of him. The jersey was a full body affair that snapped at the crotch. The center display is flanked by two display cases on each side. Some of the memorabilia includes footballs and helmets that Wedey saved from his triumphs, his All-America certificate, which looks like it survived a narrow escape from a cigarette, and his induction certificate for the College Football Hall of Fame.

There were great pictures that covered Wedey's entire adult life. His political career was represented with a great piece of memorabilia -- a pamphlet that read "Put a Champion to Work for You" with a picture of Wedey in his black horn-rimmed "bebop" glasses. Trivia fans, take note: the same picture appears on Duke's ID card in the Five-O episode "Death is a Company Policy." Many of the folks present said that Wedey was on track to become governor before a severe heart attack forced him to quit politics and take up acting. Who would have guessed that this bad luck would lead to TV immortality?

Five-O was represented with a nice picture of Wedey with Jack Lord and several others, and an darling picture of him clowning with James MacArthur from the episode "A Distant Thunder." "Danno" is hamming in his Nazi uniform and Wedey is throwing a mock salute at the camera, looking very happy and silly.

I was surprised to learn that Wedey was also an accomplished artist. One of his oil paintings of a Hawaii scene was in the exhibit. This was a hobby at which he was talented and prolific. Jack Lord was not the only artist on Hawaii Five-O!

The exhibit unveiling concluded with Wedey's grandsons draping several leis over the case.

After the brunch, everyone was invited to attend a football game on campus in which the Galloping Gaels of St. Mary's were facing Cal Poly. The Gaels are strictly a small-time team -- unlike in Wedey's day -- but their hearts are just as fierce as their predecessors. They put in four quarters of hard work and spirit before the buzzer sounded at Cal Poly 24, St. Mary's 21. At half-time, Wedey was honored yet again with remarks from the field, including interesting comments from Randy Andrada, Gaels football expert, and Ron Fimrite, Sports Illustrated writer. Both have written extensively about Herman Wedemeyer. We had a nice chat with George Clark, who produced a video on the St. Mary's Gaels.

After the game, we revisited the exhibit and were surprised to see many, many people excitedly streaming in to learn about Herman Wedemeyer. Not just older folks but young families were exclaiming over the photos and neat old memorabilia. Women were swooning over his pictures and men were swooning over his football stats, and almost everyone seemed tickled to see the Five-O photos. It was really touching to see the impact that this exceptional man had on a small school and how the greatness could still be felt and appreciated today.

Thanks to the kindness of St. Mary's archivist Linda Wobbe, we also had the chance to visit the college archives to learn more about this man and to gather some more great material to share with fans on this web site.

St. Mary's College is a special place. In this cynical time, it's hard not to be skeptical, but here the memories are genuine and sincere. The school showed its gratitude to a man who put them in the national spotlight and brought honor to the school, not only by his great play on the field, but his class and dignity off the field.

I left feeling that, like his fellow Hawaiian and sportsman Duke Kahanamoku, Herman Wedemeyer was a genuine Hawaiian ali'i. Like all of us, he was not perfect and he made some mistakes. But it was clear from everyone we met that people instinctively treated him like royalty and he conducted himself that way. He radiated a special magic that touched the lives of everyone who knew him and many more who were privileged just to be his fans.

It was a special weekend. I encourage anyone who is living or visiting in the San Francisco-Oakland area to make it a point to seek out St. Mary's College and view this exhibit to a great athlete, entertainer, and gentleman. The exhibit is on permanent display in the McKeon sports pavilion on the campus of St. Mary's College in Moraga, California.

   
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