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.

Kirby and Herbie

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.

Old Oregon magazine, February/March 1961

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!

Donna and Herb Yamanaka, 2007

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!

6 Comments

  1. Rick Wallace on April 8, 2021 at 2:40 am

    I also consider Herb as one of my special friends. He is truly one of the finest gentlemen I have ever met.

    • Karen on April 11, 2021 at 12:15 am

      He is a gem and aren’t we blessed to call him friend!

      Best,
      Kirby

  2. Jim Hodges on April 9, 2021 at 3:09 pm

    I am a long time friend, and sometime golf partner, of both Kirby and her late husband Bill. When Kirby told me about her latest book, “The Dutchman and Portland’s Finest Rose” I was not expecting much….How much can two “kids” really accomplish in 3 plus years at the University of Oregon? However, the basic premise of their love story leads to a fascinating look about many interesting and historical topics: the hard work and determination of families surviving the depression; the stresses of young men ( mostly) fighting in and returning from World War 2; the women that entered the workplace and the advanced educational degrees and careers that ( albeit slowly) opened up post war; College football and the early days of Pro Football; a heartbreaking family tragedy and its aftermath; and of course a great love story. If a reader has any interest in even one of those many areas…. then this book is for you. Well written, very hard to put down, and a lot of laughter ( and some tears)…. congratulations Kirby!

  3. Lynn Monroe on April 10, 2021 at 2:57 pm

    This is such a sweet tribute to such a great guy!!! Well deserved! I remember him when I was a cheerleader in 1976/77 and the only pictures I have from then were taken by him!!! So glad to reconnect with Herb through Molly Sanders!

  4. Tony Lum on April 10, 2021 at 4:09 pm

    Truly, Herbie is a friend I can clutch in my right hand. Since meeting him in 1970 when I purchased a life insurance policy from him for my newly born daughter, and working on security and crowd control events events for many years, I’ll never forget his firm and warm handshake he had for me when we met. I still have a fishing fly rod which he made for me in the late 70’s that tends me of his indelible friendship I have for him. Aloha nui; GO DUCKS

  5. April on April 13, 2021 at 12:46 pm

    Thanks for all the inspiration.

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