Ray Wauthier and the “Tiger” Connection- A Champion For Civil Rights

By Larry Weigel

Ray Wauthier died Tuesday at the Meadowlark Hills Retirement Center here in Manhattan.  He was 91.  He was my major professor while I was getting my Master’s Degree at Kansas State in 1968.  I last saw him during June of 2012 when former basketball student manager from our 1964 final four team, Jerry “ Suitcase” Simpson and his wife Barbara (pictured below) came from Kansas City just to see Ray. (This may be the last picture taken while he was still alive.) Ray gave Jerry the name “Suitcase” when he first met him as a student in his class at Kansas State back in the 60’s.  Ray told Jerry that his last name reminded him of a Kansas City A’s baseball player named Simpson who was traded from team to team – as in “Suitcase” Simpson.  Then everyone at K-State started calling Jerry - “Suitcase”. 

Even though Ray was on oxygen at times and slept most of the day in an easy chair in a nursing wing of Meadowlark, he always knew me whenever I would visit. He’d say “how you doin Lar?” And, he was so glad to be remembered by the Simpsons that day when I told him that they had driven from Kansas City just to see him.  My hat is off to Jerry and Barbara for making the time that day -  and for “Suitcase” to tell Ray how much he has meant to him.  It’s a lesson for all of us to go see someone you know and admire before its too late – and the next thing you know, they are gone forever.

Ray will be remembered for his leadership and courage for integrating the Big 7 Conference in 1951 when he was the head baseball coach at Kansas State. He never won any championships for K-State, but he was a Champion for civil rights for black athletes during the early 1950’s.  He offered Earl Woods, (father of Tiger), a scholarship to play baseball at Kansas State - and Earl became K-State’s first black baseball scholarship athlete - and the first black athlete to play

Earl died in 2006 and is buried in Manhattan’s Sunset Cemetery.  Burial arrangements were made from California in secret and even the sexton didn’t know who was going to be buried until a few days before the event. Tiger arrived in Manhattan in his limo and attended the grave side service, but only a few people knew he was in town.  There was no publicity about it or any details in the newspaper.  I was told that it was due to the family’s request because of Tiger’s high profile. There continues to be so much secrecy about the location of Earl’s unmarked grave.  Some of our friends who take walks through Sunset Cemetery know where it is, but I doubt that very few people in Manhattan even know Earl is buried here.  Since Tiger had heard all the stories of his dad’s birthplace, I was told that before he left town, his limo driver cruised the streets of south Manhattan so “Tiger” could see the actual sites where his dad was born and the streets he walked as a young boy.

A year later in 2007 -  during a June teleconference call, prior to Tiger’s appearance in the PGA tournament in Tulsa during August, he told Jimmie Tramel, of the Tulsa World Herald that his dad talked often about Kansas State.  Tramel’s headline read: “Tiger Raised By A Wildcat”.  Tramel interviewed Earl’s K-State teammate Larry Hartshorn in the same article.  Hartshorn told Tramel that the Wildcats were scheduled to play a spring game against a team from Mississippi and their coach took notice of Earl and said his team would play the game only if the black player stayed on the bus.  “Coach Wauthier put everyone on the bus and we just left” said Hartshorn.

Another teammate Gene Stauffer, who also played basketball for Tex Winter, said, “Coach Wauthier would take the team on back roads and they would eat at “dives” off the beaten path to allow all the players to be together.” These comments by former teammates demonstrate how Coach Wauthier stood up for Earl Woods when many white folks in the sports world remained silent -  and taking back roads to find restaurants that would serve the entire team -  and loading his team back up in the bus to send a message to those who embraced the Jim Crow laws of the day -  is how I will remember him.  A man of courage, integrity and character.

Yesterday I was at Wendy’s for lunch and talked to Patty Keck Schrader, a classmate of Earl Woods at Manhattan High School.  Patty is the daughter of Lou and Ilene Keck who owned the famous Keck’s Steak House –east of Manhattan - which was the place to go until it closed in the 1970’s.  Patty said when her class returned for their 50th Manhattan High reunion, she and Earl had a lengthy conversation of what it was like to be black- back in the 50’s -  right here in Manhattan.  During the class party, Earl told her that he had always wanted to dance with her back then, but knew it would not be acceptable.

So Patty told Earl, “well -  let’s have that dance now.”  They had their dance and later she received a thank you note from Earl which she has cherished to this day. Patty told me that Earl was the youngest of six children and both parents died before he was 14.  Patty is age 81, but you’d never know it.  She’s still a very attractive lady with a big heart -  and now I know why “Tiger’s” dad waited 50 years to have that dance.

Now you know the historical significance of Ray’s contributions to Kansas State athletics - let’s honor him with a “Farewell Tribute.”  And , I know many of his former students and athletes who receive our Triangulate News notes will have their own stories of what Professor Wauthier and Coach Wauthier has meant to them as well. Remember – this is what Triangulating is all about – connecting the dots to renew and build relationships and memories before we too leave this earth.  And, knowing that the clock is ticking (I’ll be 69 on Sunday) is what motivates me to keep writing stories.  There are so many good things to tell about other people- just like Ray.

First if all - he was a teacher and a respected faculty member in the Department of Health, Physical Education and Recreation at Kansas State for many years.  Former Big 8 basketball great on Cottons Fitzsimmons team of the late 60’s, and 20 year veteran of the Harlem Globe Trotters, Jerry Venable called me a few years ago and said, “Coach, I want to come see you and Ray Wauthier.”  Venable came to Manhattan and we made a surprise visit to see Ray during better times when he first moved into an apartment at Meadowlark Hills.

Venable came all the way from Staunton Virginia just to tell “Mr. Wauthier”- which is how he addressed him- “thank you-thank you-thank you” for staying after me -after I left K-State - to finish my degree”.  It was a tearful meeting and I’ll never forget how much that meant to Ray that a former Harlem Globetrotter who traveled around the world would one day take the time to thank him for making sure he finished that degree.  I bet there are many other stories out there like this where Ray fulfilled his role as a teacher above and beyond the call of duty -and influenced the lives of hundreds of his other former students –just like he did with Jerry Venable.  For this we are grateful to you Ray.

He was a coach.  He coached Kansas State baseball from 1951 through the 1964 seasons. He coached the men’s golf team in 1977 and again between 1980 and 1986. 

He was a sports official and received a Lifetime Achievement Award in 2004 from the Northeast Kansas Officials Association.  David Ames, a Big 8 football official for many years and now a Big 12 Football Official, who was on the faculty in the department of Animal Science at K-State for many years and now lives in Colorado once told me that Ray Wauthier taught him more about football officiating and knew more about the rules than anyone he has ever met.  Ray spent 38 years officiating football including 16 championship games.

He also officiated high school basketball for 25 years, and at one time officiated NAIA basketball when my father in law Cade Suran coached at Ft Hays State University in the early 60’s and later became the athletic director.  Ray used to tell me, “Well I’m heading to Hays to see your ( papa-in-law ) and do the Fort Hays home game.”  He loved officiating and was later inducted into the Kansas State High School Athletics Association Hall of fame.

And now it’s time to say goodbye ! But above all – Ray was a great guy and a Champion where it really matters – he was loved by many.  We will miss you Ray- but those of us who knew you will never forget you.

To read more about Ray and his surviving family members – visit the <a href=“http://www.ymlfuneralhome.com/YMLObituaryDetail.Asp>Yorgensen-Meloan-Londeen website</a> and you can learn about the funeral arrangements - where you can send greetings to the family - also make a contribution in his memory.

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