Local recalls encounter with Thorpe

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By The Staff

Submitted by Henry Sanchez

former mayor of Las Vegas

Dr. Jay Jones and his wife, Lillian, have been in Las Vegas since 1977, retired and made this community their permanent home.

Jones ran the Northern New Mexico Rehabilitation Center for 12 years until he retired. He is a graduate of Columbia University, majoring in anthropology. Lillian was a professor at Highlands University. Both are in their 80s and still very active in their community.

Jones wrote and shared a recollection of his own:

Jim Thorpe was a Sac and Fox Indian, born in Oklahoma around 1888. He attended Carlisle Indian School in Pennsylvania and played football there, coached by the famous "Pop"  Warner. In 1912, he made All-American in football and in the same year won the pentathlon and decathlon at the Olympics held in Stockholm Sweden.

In 1950, he was voted Athlete of the Half Century by some 400 sportswriters. He was also one of my heroes while I was growing up.  

There was a full-page picture of him in his football uniform in the coffee table book, "Walter Camp's All Americans" that I used to study  when I was 10.

My father was a school superintendent in Wallace, Idaho, in the 1930s, after being a coach for many years. He brought Jim Thorpe to his school to lecture on Indian culture and told me to come to his office to meet the great man after the talk. By the time I got there, Jim Thorpe had already arrived. He was immense. My hand was lost in his when I was introduced and I know now that he'd gained weight  after he retired from sports, but he wasn't fat, just big.

While he sat back down, my father asked him, "Jim, do you remember playing a semi-pro team in Spokane, Washington?"

"Oh, yeah," he said. "That was a tough game. There was one guy I kept running into, no matter what I did."

"That was me,"  my father said, and the two old rivals laughed and  talked about incidents in the game as if they had happened the week  before. To a 10-year-old who thought his dad was the greatest man alive, this was proof. You have to know that when they played there were no helmets and no padding. There were also no forward passes. All plays ran to the right, and all players were on both offense and defense. My father was the right halfback and lead blocker on offense and left linebacker on defense. No wonder the two men kept smashing into each other.

My other memory of the visit was when my father paid him for the talk.

"Sorry about this, Jim," he said as he placed 50 silver dollars on his desk. "This is a hard-rock mining town and the banks don't carry paper money."

"It don't much matter," Thorpe said. "It all spends the same," and stood up to pocket $25 with one hand and another $25 with the other.  

He shook hands with my father, nodded at me and left. I've never forgotten it.