Gratitude to Herb Yamanaka: Integral Inspiration for “The Dutchman”
Apr 7, 2021
Dad once told me to consider myself a lucky person if at the end of my life I could count on one hand my true friends. I am proud to claim Herb Yamanaka, aka Herbie, from the University of Oregon, as one of them.
In Fall 2011, Mary Jo Byrnes, a mutual friend in Eugene, set up a tour of the UO with Herb as our guide. We had never met, but he knew Dad and shared, “I see your dad’s photo every day at work.” As he showed us around the football facilities, the Jaqua center, the UO Hall of Fame, and Autzen Stadium, where a plaque of Dad is displayed, I shared my idea of writing a book about my parent’s love story based on the love letters Dad had written to Mom in 1946 while a student. Herb was enthusiastic about my project and encouraged me to pursue it.
A few years later, knowing I had begun work on my book, he set up a luncheon at the Eugene Country Club and organized subsequent interviews with Bill Green (’48 football team manager), Ted Larsen (son of Eugene funeral home director, “Digger” Larsen, who employed Dad while a student athlete), Jack Crabtree (’58 QB at UO), Norval Ritchey (UO Athletic Director ’70-’75), and Joseph Gonyea (son of Will Gonyea, a UO donor). These voices from the past provided flesh to the bones of the story developing in my mind. That afternoon, I knew my book had a future.
Herb provided a tangible connection to my parent’s era, as well as a bridge to the future. Born and raised in Hawaii, Herb came to the UO in 1952 with the encouragement of one of his high school teachers. Coincidentally, Herb majored in Biology, the same as my mother, Gloria Schiewe, even studying under Dr. Clancey, Dr. Soderwall, and Dr. Siegerseth. Both did their thesis research on reproduction, and both worked at Sacred Heart Hospital, which is where my sisters and I were born. Somewhere along the way he became a ticket manager, concessionaire, security coordinator, and excellent fundraiser for the UO. He’s fond of stating, “I worked my way up from ticket taker to where I am today,” which is Associate Athletic Director.
Dad completed his college studies as Herb was beginning his, but their paths intersected some years later when Dad came back to Eugene to interview for the position as Athletic Director. Herb, on staff with the Athletic Department, picked Dad up at the airport, showed him around campus, driving by Mac Court and Hayward Field where the Ducks used to play their football games. Norval Ritchey became the new AD, and Dad went on to coach the Atlanta Falcons.
It was a proud day when I finally forwarded a copy of my book’s first draft to Herb to read and share comments. I felt like a kid looking for validation and hoping for praise. And Herb, in his inevitably positive manner, did not disappoint, telling me, “Your book was captivating. I could not put it down. The professors, the classes, the campus and others involved brought back many poignant memories.” My heart sang!
I will always be indebted to Herb for his positive energy, his encouragement, and his belief in my ability to write. Words, as well as deeds, have meaning and power. They can inspire and lift us when we are down, and they can wound and scar when thoughtless and hurtful. I have lived a lifetime struggling with some of the words and actions of sports writers, particularly as they pertained to Dad’s professional football career. In some small way, that’s why I wrote my book. This was not necessarily to set the record straight, but to go back to a time, before the fame and the conflict of personalities, to basic values like teamwork, dedication, and honesty.
My parents and the Duck football team of ’48, whom I write about in The Dutchman and Portland’s Finest Rose, reflect these qualities. Still today, the best ambassador the University of Oregon could ever have, Herb Yamanaka, is walking proof that people of integrity and heart inspire and lift us all.
To my dear friend, you are the best!