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Van Kirk first Caltech sports honoree class

Caltech, the Pasadena school known for its academic standing, made some news over the weekend for athletic achievements, inducting the first class into its new sports Hall of Honor on Sunday, May 18, 2014.

Larry Stewart

Larry Stewart

Among the inductees was prominent Arcadia resident Dick Van Kirk. There were nine athletes, including Phil Conley, one world’s top-rated javelin throwers in the late 1950s, one team (the 1969-70 conference champion wrestling team), and the coach of that wrestling team, Tom Gutman. “Last but certainly not least is Dick Van Kirk,” said Betsy Mitchell, the school’s athletic director.

The longtime Arcadia resident still holds the school record for long jump and was the conference leader in total offense in football. Van Kirk was all-conference in track and field three times and once in football. He was later a world-ranked long jumper with the Southern California Striders. Also, at graduation, he was named winner of the Frederick W. Hinrichs award which goes to Caltech’s overall outstanding member of the senior class. A former president and CEO of Special Olympics Southern California from 1995-99, Van Kirk is now on the board of directors for the Special Olympics World Games coming to Southern California in July/August 2015.

Dick Van Kirk with his immediate family, from left: daughter Karen, wife Janet and sons Doug and Rick. Photo courtesy of Caltech. Larry

Dick Van Kirk with his immediate family, from left: daughter Karen, wife Janet and sons Doug and Rick. Photo courtesy of Caltech.

Van Kirk is a former member of the board of directors for Arcadia’s Methodist Hospital of Southern California. Before joining Special Olympics Southern California, Van Kirk was a management consulting partner for Ernest & Young. He spent 28 years with the professional services firm. Other individual inductees included, in alphabetical order, were Fred Anson, class of 1954, basketball; C. Alan Beagle ’70, wrestling and football; Conley; Glen Graham, ’26, Olympic silver medalist in the pole vault; Lynn Hildemann, ’80, swimming and diving and volleyball; Fred Newman, ’59, basketball, baseball, football and soccer; and Celia Peterson, ’81, cross country and track and field. A special pioneer award went to 1996 graduate Angie Bealko, who played on the mend basketball team before starting a women’s basketball club program which played a major role in the creation of the NCAA program the school has today. — By Larry Stewart What follows in Van Kirk’s acceptance speech:

I am very proud to be an alumnus of Caltech, the number one university in the world. And, I am honored to be here today and to receive this tremendous recognition. It is a special honor to be included with this outstanding group of athletes. This is a major highlight and milestone for me, and a day I will treasure.

Here today to celebrate with me are my amazing wife, Janet, and the other members of our family. Rick, Betty and Jackson, Karen, Andy, Abby and Nick, Doug, Sharon, Gregory and Timothy. Our granddaughter Allison couldn’t be here because she is finishing her school year at the University of San Diego. Thank you all for being here. Also here are several friends who have honored me by their attendance, and I thank them for their friendship and support. I also see some of my teammates here in the audience.

I consider the greatest accomplishment of my life was convincing Janet to marry me. The greatest pride of my life is the family that has grown from that marriage. Today’s ceremony ranks a close second on both counts.

I want to thank Betsy Mitchell and the Athletic department coaches and staff for making the Hall of Honor a reality. I believe it will serve a useful purpose in the future, informing and inspiring Caltech’s athletes and recruits. And, I want to thank the person or persons that nominated me. I appreciate your support.

Dr. Thomas Everhart, the sixth President of Caltech, said in his inaugural address: “The heritage of the past is the foundation upon which are based the achievements of the present and the vision of the future.” This Hall of Honor will provide a direct link to Caltech’s athletic heritage.

Caltech should be very proud of its athletic programs and teams. It seems to me that we have a good sense of balance about it. We strive hard to practice and to compete, but we know that this is only a part of who we are. We are not identified by one dimension alone.

It’s true that we lose more often than we win. But some would say that winning is over-rated. Martina Navratilova was a world champion tennis player. But she knows the value of balance. She said, “The moment of victory is much too short to live for that and nothing else.”

Baron Pierre de Coubertin, founder of the modern Olympics, put it this way, “The most important thing in life is not the triumph but the struggle. The essential thing is not to have conquered but to have fought well.”

On my 18th birthday I set foot on the Caltech campus for the first time, as I arrived from Phoenix to register and to attend Frosh Camp. In high school I was a puny distance runner until my senior year, when I grew a little and learned I could run fast and jump, and earned my one and only varsity letter, managing a fifth place in the Arizona high school state meet in the long jump.

I came to Caltech with two classmates from my high school. One was an all-state football player and one was a starting guard on our state champion basketball team. When we got here, we agreed to go out for the other guys sports as well as our own. So I played football and basketball in addition to track, and somehow found time to play on the freshman baseball team too. It turned out that I was able to compete for spots on all the teams, and so I kept at it. Each year I was a bit more successful. It was a classic case of opportunity meeting desire. And Caltech was the only place where I was going to get that kind of opportunity.

At Caltech you are given the opportunity and the challenge to do your best academically, and also in athletics. My best academically was good enough to get me through to graduation. My best in athletics turned out somewhat better. I am grateful to have had the opportunities in both areas. I learned from my athletic activity things that helped me later in my business career and life in general. I learned about teamwork, competition, not quitting when you are behind, knowing when to lead, when to follow, and when to step aside. Without my experience in sports I would not have had the career I did.

And so, with great respect, I am thrilled to be a part of this milestone ceremony. I want to end with my thanks and appreciation, and for Caltech’s current and future athletes, I want to remind you of the words that sent the ancient Greeks into the Olympic arena so many years ago, because I think they apply here at Caltech, “Ask not for victory, ask only for courage. For if you can endure, you bring honor to yourself. Even more, you bring honor to us all… Thank you.

Longtime Arcadia resident Larry Stewart is a blogger for and an occasional blogger. Stewart was a sportswriter for Los Angeles’ two major papers for nearly 40 years – the old Herald Examiner for nine years, the Times for more than 30.


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