When I was working the other day on the post about the crowd at a 1956 basketball game I got interested in one of the Rice players, Temple Tucker. Tucker was a star for the Owls in the late ’50s and was inducted into the Rice Athletics Hall of Fame in 1999.
If you click on the image below you can read about him and his career:
What jumped out at me here was the Billy Wohn Award for the most valuable player that Tucker received after his senior year. This rang a tiny bell in the back of my mind. I couldn’t immediately place who Billy Wohn was but the date gave me a pretty good idea. The fastest way to check if my hunch was right was to head over to the RMC and look for the plaque. And there, sadly, I found him:
The Rice Institute was still a very small place in the summer of 1953 and it’s almost impossible to imagine the impact of such a tragedy on this little community. I went back to the alumni scrapbooks to see what might be there and came upon this newspaper article about the creation of the Wohn Award:
The donors who created the award were Wohn’s classmates, most, maybe all of them now gone themselves. Jay Weidler was a survivor of the crash that killed the other ten.
If you look closely at the plaque you’ll note that it was presented by class of 1955 forty-five years after the crash, in 2000. That’s a long time to be thinking about the loss of so many promising young men and a testament to the lingering sorrow that so many carried for all those years. At Rice’s 2001 Veteran’s Day service Rear Admiral Austin Scott, Jr. ’55 spoke movingly about these deaths and about our duty to remember our dead. Here’s a link to a post I wrote about this but I’ll reproduce his moving remarks again here:
Bonus: Here’s Billy Wohn, number 20, driving for a layup. December 30th, 1952.
A very fine piece of historical journalism.
Typo on the first line of the plaque: “friday.” I hate it when that happens.
Temple Tucker was 6′-10″ tall. We overlapped two years at Rice. He was primarily the reason for the NCAA rule changes regarding the free throw lane for the 1956-57 season because of his exploits during his sophomore year in 1955-56. He was also a good guy and a real student, graduating on time with a B. A. in Business Admin. in 1958.
Check this link. lhttp://www.orangehoops.org/NCAA/NCAA%20Rule%20Changes.htm#:~:text=The%20free%20throw%20lane%20is%20increased%20from%206,visitors.%20Grasping%20the%20rim%20is%20rule%20unsportsmanlike%20conduct
As you can see from the Memorial-Center plaque, Bob Dixon from El Paso was one of the ten lost in the NROTC accident. Bob’s roommate at Rice at the time was Forest Ralph, who moved to El Paso after graduating from Rice. Forest stayed in contact with Dixon’s parents, and undoubtedly was a comfort to them. Later Forest endowed a scholarship to honor Bob Dixon. As far as I know, it is still given to an engineering student every year.
Forest was a good friend, although not until after our days at Rice. He died last January. Here is a link to his obit.
Thanks for the link to Forest’s obituary. I did not know that he had died. Forest, the Page twins Ruth and Martha, and I were very good friends in high school. My father was instrumental in bringing Forest to Rice in 1951. And Forest and I were roommates our freshman year.