If Linfield College had its own Mount Rushmore upon which to carve likenesses of individuals whose work and leadership helped create today's Wildcat successes, they would certainly be Paul Durham, Roy Helser, Henry Lever, Ad Rutschman, Hal Smith and Ted Wilson.
Thus, it was appropriate the six former Linfield coaches/athletic directors/Wildcat athletes (Durham, Helser, Lever, Rutschman) and coaches (Smith and Wilson) were enshrined as the first "class" in the new Linfield Athletics Hall of Fame on Oct. 17, 1998.
Some 350 attended the Class of 1998 enshrinement ceremony, held as part of a dinner banquet, on the floor of Ted Wilson Gymnasium in the Linfield Health, Human Performance and Athletics Complex. Helser, Lever and Wilson were enshrined posthumously.
The Hall of Fame was established by the college's athletic department to honor former outstanding athletes, coaches, staff and contributors and preserve memory of their achievements. Each fall, following a Linfield home football game, a similar ceremony will be held during which the newest class will be enshrined. One Hall policy is that 10 years after their class graduates, Wildcat athletes are eligible for enshrinement.
Traveling from his home in Hawaii for the ceremony, Paul Durham enthralled the audience with memories of each of the other inductees. He and Helser were coached by Lever. Durham and Lever coached Rutschman. Durham helped hire Wilson and Rutschman.
Durham was a Wildcat standout in football, basketball and track as a Linfield student. He returned to Linfield as Lever's successor as football coach and then, a year later, as athletic director. For four years, Durham and Helser were men's basketball head co-coaches, then Helser coached the sport solo, before Wilson was hired to direct the sport.
One of the Durham-coached Wildcat football teams played in the "Camellia Bowl." Linfield was the first school from the Northwest Conference to participate in the NAIA national football playoffs, including two national championship games.
One of Durham's many claims to fame was starting "The Streak" as Wildcat football coach. Since the 1956 football season, every Linfield football team has had a winning record, something no other college football program on any level can boast.
Roy Helser was represented by Dorothy Helser, who recalled that her late husband came to Linfield never having played high school sports. At Linfield, where Helser lettered in football, basketball and baseball, he excelled in baseball as a flame-throwing left-handed pitcher.
A fierce competitor, "Lefty" Helser's pitching ability gave him an outstanding 14-year professional baseball career, including with the Cincinnati Reds organization and the Pacific Coast League's Portland Beavers.
As head coach of Linfield's baseball program, his 1966 Wildcat team became the first in the college's history with a national championship to its credit, when it won the NAIA World Series in St. Joseph, Mo.
He was an assistant football coach. As head coach, he directed Wildcat basketball and baseball teams to many Northwest Conference titles.
Two of his basketball teams were in NCAA small college playoffs and another took part in the NAIA national tournament in Kansas City, Mo.
Linfield's baseball field is named for Helser.
Dan Lever noted that his father, Henry Lever, coached "every" sport at the college and loved every minute of it. Those sports included football, basketball, baseball and track & field. He had other talents, too. For example, as a trained engineer, Lever assured that Maxwell Field became the first in the Northwest Conference football venue with grass.
Lever's dedication, determination and work ethic were renown and respected by friends and foes. Those traits carried over to his athletes and manifested themselves in many positive ways, including the 1935 Wildcats winning the college's first ever Northwest Conference football championship.
In 1961, Stadium Street - bordering Maxwell and Helser Field - on the Linfield campus was named Lever Street. The action was taken by the McMinnville City Council with encouragement from Linfield President Harry Dillin.
Ad Rutschman shared credit for his enshrinement with members of the Linfield family, including Joan Rutschman, his wife and colleague who served as Linfield Athletics secretary and ticket manager.
As a Wildcat athlete, Rutschman had few peers in football, basketball and baseball. He was the "Flying Dutchman", an All-American running back on the football field. After college, he pursued a career as a teacher and coach rather than choosing between signing a contract in professional football or baseball.
As head coach, he led his alma mater, Hillsboro (Ore.) High School to state titles in football and baseball and repeated the feat on the national level with the 1971 NAIA World Series baseball title and NAIA Division II football titles in 1982, 1984 and 1986. He is the only college coach at any level to have won national titles in both football and baseball.
As athletic director, Linfield sports facilities took major leaps forward. After his athletic directorship retirement, one of new facilities was named Rutschman Fieldhouse, in honor of Ad and Joan.
Hal Smith was represented by his son, Mike, who recounted his father's love of Linfield. That love was fostered by an association with the college which started in 1938 with a part-time position. At that time, he was an assistant football coach for Henry Lever and taught a biology course at the college.
He returned to Linfield in 1949 and retired in 1980, after serving as head coach in wresting, cross-country, track & field and assistant football coach, as well as chair of health and physical education and director of intramurals.
In 1991, the fitness center in the Linfield athletics complex was dedicated in the honor of Smith, whose pleasant demeanor earned him the fond nickname, "Happy Hal".
Ted Wilson was represented by wife Ann Wilson, who recounted her late husband's 43-year coaching career. The wise and witty Wilson loved developing, fostering and nurturing countless athletes.
Wilson was an Oregon high school coach in La Grande, McMinnville and Beaverton. But, before that, as a Boardman High School student, he was a sports star, including a basketball player-coach. He also helped coach basketball and baseball at alma mater, Eastern Oregon University in La Grande. In 1988, he was inducted into the EOU Mountaineer Hall of Fame as a basketball and baseball athlete. He's also in the NAIA District 2 Hall of Fame.
Perhaps least known is Wilson's service as a Linfield assistant football coach. But, best know in his coaching resume was his tenure, 1961-1981, as Wildcat head men's coach. During those years, his fast-breaking teams were point scoring machines, tallying numerous Northwest Conference and NAIA District 2 titles and earning trips to the NAIA national basketball tournament in Kansas City, Mo. During that time, old Riley Gym was packed with fans, hot and at a fever pitch led by the famous student "South Forty."
In 1989, when Riley Gym was retired, after the Linfield athletics complex was opened, it was only natural that the basketball court in the new complex was named for him.