In the post-World War II era, two University of Oregon students collide under a Bigleaf Maple near what was then called Deady Hall. In The Dutchman and Portland’s Finest Rose, I explore the courtship and marriage of my parents, the late Gloria and Norm “The Dutchman” Van Brocklin, classes of ’46 and ’49, respectively. The book is based on love letters Norm, then a student, wrote to Gloria after she had graduated and returned to Portland to work and plan for medical school. The letters capture the blossoming romance as Norm emerges as a football star and proposes marriage:
September 4, 1946
Football practice is on and one day of it is under our belts and can’t say much was accomplished, except everyone has a lot of sore muscles including me. Good to see all the faces around the campus again but it doesn’t seem right without you honey. I walk by places where you and I have frequented before or even walked past and my heart misses a beat and my mind went blank thinking of you. I love you very much darling, very, very much. More than anything else in the world honey even athletics.
Despite mounting expenses, Norm’s desire to marry never wavers.
September 24, 1946
Hello,” sweety-honey” of mine, I love you with all of my heart. . . . I get so lonesome for you it hurts me honey. God Damit! Let’s get married honey so we can be together all the time. I don’t ever want to be without you and it hurts to think we should be together and we’re apart just ’cause I don’t have sufficient income.
Meanwhile, Norm is frustrated with head coach Tex Oliver and the lack of playing time.
October 30, 1946
I feel lower than a snakes belly tonight honey. This God Damn football team and Tex Oliver has made me disgusted as hell with life . . . Oliver thinks Behrens is a better ball player than I so there’s not much more I can do but sit on my duff and take it, but I don’t like it. I look for USC to beat the hell out of Oregon this week. The way the present attitude of the O’s they’ll get beat if it don’t change.
That November, USC beat Oregon 43-0. But Jim Aiken’s hiring as head coach in 1947 is fortuitous. He wants a QB with a strong arm—and Norm has one.
January 28, 1947
Hi ya’ honey, how’s the love of my life tonite? . . . They tell me this guy Aiken (coach) was around wanting to look me over last weekend and evidently someone has told him of me ’cause he’s interested in me and wants to make a “T” formation QB out of me, Oh boy!
Norm becomes the starting QB and faithfully adheres to Aiken’s demanding practice regimens.
February 18, 1947
Am gonna start working out between 5-6 in the afternoon from here on playing football and doing lots of running ’cause baby our future depends upon my ability to play football this coming season. I just gotta make good honey and I know I can if I am in shape from the start.
Norm and Gloria wed on March 22, 1947. With “The Dutchman” behind center, the Ducks went 7-3 that year and played in the Cotton Bowl after the ’48 season. Norm went on to an NFL Hall of Fame career and Gloria remained his biggest fan. Their lifelong union is commemorated with a plaque beneath that Bigleaf Maple which reads, “It is here we met and here we will always be.”
Karen J. Vanderyt has also written Afterglow and Obsidian Rose. Visit karenjvanderyt.com for more information.