DALLAS TWP. — It’s not every day that the president of someone’s alma mater drops in for a visit. But then, again, it’s not every graduate who is 100 years old and the oldest living student-athlete alumnus of the school.
And Thursday, June 9 was not “every” day. President of Mansfield University Fran Hendricks stopped in at the Village at Greenbriar in Dallas to visit with centenarian Bob Dolbear – just for a chat.
Actually, Hendricks brought along some Mansfield swag and a plate of homemade chocolate chip cookies that his wife baked that morning. And he presented Dolbear with a “graduation coin.”
“We started this new tradition at Mansfield in 2014,” Hendricks explained, pointing out details on the oversized coin that had special significance for the class of 1938. “Every graduate gets one at commencement. And this is one that was made for your graduation year.”
Dolbear was a graduate of what was then Mansfield State Teachers College, where he played baseball and studied to become a social studies teacher. He did have a tryout with the Philadelphia Phillies at the time.
“But I didn’t make the team. I was just too slow,” he said.
One story he tells is about being on the bus on the way back from a road trip with the Mansfield team and passing a cemetery. He said he asked one of the guys to jump off the bus and go into the cemetery to get him a good pair of legs.
But baseball clearly wasn’t in his future. Instead, he returned to the Wyoming Valley and took a job teaching in the Dallas School District. He fell into coaching football when the district needed a coach and the got him an emergency certificate for coaching while he took classes at East Stroudsburg State College to get certification for that as well. In 1948, Dolbear instituted the annual “Old Shoe Game” between Dallas and Lake-Lehman high schools.
Hendricks said he read about Dolbear in his quest to meet alumni, especially those who don’t attend the school’s reunions and alumni weekend events. He actually got a two-fer with the visit, because Dolbear’s daughter, Gloria Williams, of Trucksville, also a Mansfield graduate, was on hand.
Then the conversation really got started.
The men discussed economics, comparing tuition rates. Hendricks told the family it now costs about $9,000 for a semester’s tuition at the school. Dolbear said his tuition bill in the mid-1930s was $9 a week. And because his family was struggling to come up with that princely sum, he got a job as a waiter in the dining room that paid $4.50 a week to help with school costs.
They reminisced about buildings on campus and Hendricks told about some that have been renovated. They talked about famous firsts at Mansfield, like the first football game under the lights in 1892. The students themselves contacted the General Electric company. The company hauled in huge generators and the students hung strings of light bulbs around the field for the game.
And the men swapped tales about their military service. Dolbear told about his draft deferment for three or four months so he could finish coaching the football season. The last game was on Thanksgiving in 1943 and the following day, he was on the train to Camp Meade in California. Just after he arrived, the Commanding Officer assigned him the job of teaching a bunch of recruits from the South who couldn’t read or write.
“He said he was giving me a month to teach them how to write their names so they could sign for payroll,” Dolbear said.
Then he became a military cryptographer in Ashville, NC, something he never really discusses but did mention the first message decoded was from Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower to President Franklin Roosevelt.
And he talked about marrying one of his fellow teachers from Dallas who enlisted in the US Army and was headed to North Carolina the day after he himself left for California.
“She was a Second Lieutenant,” he said. “I was an NCO, a sergeant. We had to get permission to marry because she outranked me.”
Hendricks, who retired as a Brigadier General after 33 years of service in the US Air Force, countered with his own military service that took him all over the world, including being on hand to help smash down the Berlin Wall in 1989.
The stories could have gone on for hours, but Hendricks had to get back to Mansfield.
“I just love meeting these people,” he said. “I tell my secretary it’s my way to get a day off work, but in reality, I like to visit alums like this. I make it a point to seek them out and visit them. It’s a great way to spend an afternoon. And I get to learn so much.”