Monday, May 7, 2018

Two "Cowboys" – Allie Reynolds and Oliver Willham

by Larry Miller

So....earlier today, I was searching Ancestry for a distant relative who'd attended college in Stillwater, Oklahoma in the early 1950's.  That's when I happened across the 1954 "Redskin," and saw the above photo of Dr. Oliver Willham visiting with one of the school's famous alums, Allie Reynolds.

Who knew?  Back in 1954, when the images above were produced, I was an 11-year-old kid with a passion for baseball cards.  My senior partner in that endeavor was Lawrence Denton.  Together, we begged, borrowed, and ...... well, bought packages of really bad chewing gum, simply to collect the baseball cards inside the package.

Card collectors will know that the '54 Topps cards came out in two releases.  Lawrence and I had amassed most of the first card release before our interest was diverted to baseball, girls, movies, and other activities.  Maybe even a bit of schoolwork.

In any event, Lawrence was kind enough to pass along the collection to his junior partner, and I dutifully retained the collection in an old cigar box, most likely discarded by Jim York, the Denton boarder who was like a member of the family.  But that's another story.

While I readily remember the Allie Reynolds card (#141 above), I could only tell you that I knew he had first pitched for the Cleveland Indians, and that his real career kicked off with the New York Yankees, where he was a standout pitcher from 1947 until his playing career ended in 1954.  I vaguely remembered that he was from Oklahoma, but I didn't know until today – after a bit of research – that he was the son of a preacher and a stellar all-around star athlete at Capitol Hill High School in Oklahoma City.  With a track and field scholarship, he enrolled at Oklahoma A&M in Stillwater.

The legendary basketball coach, Henry Iba, was coaching baseball for the Cowboys, when – giving injured pitchers a break – he asked Reynolds to throw batting practice one day.  The rest, as they say, is history.  Reynolds became team captain and helped the Cowboys win the conference championship his senior year (1938).  After three seasons pitching in the minor leagues, Allie landed a slot with Cleveland, followed by his big break with the Yankees.

While playing professional ball, Reynolds invested in oil and did quite well.  After his baseball career, business would provide him with another successful career.  He died in 1994 at age 77.

Dr. Oliver Willham, President
Oklahoma State University (ca. 1954)
Back in the 1970s, my bride and I moved to Stillwater.  I had taken a job at Oklahoma State University.  Among my more pleasurable tasks was conducting radio interviews for KOSU radio.  One series was called "Faculty Forum."   The interview I remember best was with Oliver S. Willham, a retired president of OSU.  During my time at the university, the presidents were Robert Kamm and then Lawrence Boger.  I knew Willham only by name, but I found him to be a straightforward and even folksy interview.

I've never forgotten his observation about how difficult it had become for a university president to remove a really bad faculty member, which occasionally occurred – even at splendid schools like OSU.  Willham opined that it was a laborious and tedious task for then president Kamm to get rid of any really bad faculty members.  "Much easier," he recalled, back when he was president (1952-1966), although there were still lots of hoops to jump through.

Then, Willham leaned back in his chair and – almost wistfully – remembered long-time president Henry Bennett, who served 22 years as A&M president back in the 1920s, '30s, and '40s.  Willham recalled how Bennett could remove bad apples from the faculty.  "He'd have 'em clean out their desks and be off campus by sundown."

Oliver Willham was the first OSU president to retire while still in office.   That was in 1966.  He was 73 years old when he died in 1974.

Seeing the top photograph of Allie Reynolds with Oliver Willham was a very pleasant surprise.  It caused me to read a little bit more about both of these gentlemen – both very successful in their chosen careers.

Both Allie Reynolds and Oliver Willham are members of the Oklahoma Hall of Fame.

No comments: