For many of us the most fascinating reads in the newspaper are obituaries, and every so often there are those that just stop us in our tracks — like the story of Fred Wendt.
In fact, as we were putting together Thursday's newspaper our Assistant Managing Editor Jeanette Nash started reading aloud Wendt's obituary. Here's the passage she read: "He lettered in track and football, setting both local and NCAA records, many of which still stand. He is a member of the El Paso Athletic Hall of Fame and the UTEP Athletic Hall of Fame."
Now through the years, I've learned that if there are two things people exaggerate it's military service and sports accomplishments. I'm sorry, it's just my nature.
So, as Jeanette read the bio I had to look into this a bit more, and sure enough we had a legendary west Texas half back living among us here in Kerrville.
Fred, along with his Doris, moved to Kerrville in 2001 after he retired from work in oil and gas in Odessa for many years. He later returned as a consultant in New Mexico to CO2 plants, but he still enjoyed his time in Kerrville.
Fred Wendt died on May 18. He was 95.
It was his accomplishments on the football field that piqued my interest and sure enough they are incredible. In fact, you could argue that even the obit is a little bit understated.
After returning from service in World War II, and then bypassing an appointment to the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y., Wendt returned to El Paso to play football at the Texas College of Mines — the forerunner to today's University of Texas, El Paso.
His accomplishments are still enshrined in the UTEP record book, earning All-American selections in 1947 and 1948. He set a single-game rushing record of 328 yards in a stellar game against New Mexico State, where he scored six touchdowns — also a university record. In that 1948 season, he rushed for 154 yards per game, which still stands as a UTEP record.
The 328-yard performance remains a school record. He also holds the UTEP record for most points in a season, he's fourth in all-time points. He also handled the kicking duties and his points-per-game average of 15.2 has now stood for 71 years.
In fact, his name appears 71 times in the UTEP football media guide.
Wendt and his College of Mines teammates formed a devastating rushing attack in 1948 that finished the season 8-2-1 with losses to Texas Tech and in the 1949 Sun Bowl against West Virginia. Teamed with tenacious fellow running back Pug Gabrel, the Miners rushed for more than 3,000 yards that season.
In the 1949 Sun Bowl, Wendt scored on a fourth quarter 60-yard run that put him over 1,500 yards for the season — making him the first back in NCAA history to rush for that many yards in a season. That record stood until Southern California running back O.J. Simpson topped in 1969.
A versatile athlete, who also played quarterback and punter, Wendt also lettered in track and field, but his accomplishments in that sport are not as well documented as his exploits on the football field.
Injuries sidelined a career in the NFL, but instead, and most importantly, he married Doris in 1950 and the couple raised four children.
In 2005, Wendt was inducted into the UTEP Hall of Fame — a rightful place based on his achievements. Consider the fact, that Wendt's athletic career started in 1942 and was then interrupted by World War II, where served in the Pacific.
The thing I love about communities like Kerrville are hidden stories of people like Fred Wendt, and the only sad part is that we didn't get to write this before he died.
We're pretty certain there are other things that Fred Wendt probably considered to be just as important. Things like this, which are highlighted in the obituary:
"He was an avid golfer, fisherman, hunter, bridge player and joke teller. After playing golf for more than 70 years, he finally had a “hole in one” at Scott Schreiner Golf Course in 2007. He could be found most mornings visiting with his friends at the Donut Palace on Sidney Baker Street.
"He was always an active member of the Methodist Church wherever they lived and served as an usher for more than 50 years in various churches. He has been the song leader in the 21st Century Class at Kerrville First United Methodist Church for several years and also served as president."
Fred is survived by his wife of 70 years, Dorris; and his family: daughters Janie Love of San Antonio, Nancy Williams and Steve of Hammond, Louisiana, and Pat Roberts and Jeff of Naples, Florida; grandchildren, James Love of Seattle, Washington, Brian Love of Ogden, Utah, Ashley and Carlos Salazar of Petaluma, California, Kelly Williams of South Portland, Maine, Michael Williams of New Orleans, Louisiana, Denise Wendt of Chandler, Arizona, Allison Wendt of Odessa, Texas, and Heather and Scott Geiring of St. Lazare, Quebec, Canada; and great-grandchildren, Hayden Wendt, Mateo Salazar, Santiago Salazar and Aiden Geiring; and foster great-granddaughter, Jordyn; as well as many nieces and nephews and a host of friends.