Archive for Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Woodling: It’s time to honor Houk

September 30, 2008


Now is the time for Lawrence to do something to recognize a nearly forgotten native son.

I'm talking about Ralph Houk, a man who did nothing but distinguish himself in major-league baseball and, more important, as a combat soldier in World War II.

Most of Houk's baseball success came with the Yankees, both as a field manager and general manager. In fact, he was a major-league manager for 24 years and, believe it or not, was never fired.

Houk should have been one of the many honorees during the ceremonies that commemorated the last game at old Yankee Stadium a week or so ago. He wanted to attend, but his mobility is limited.

"It was too bad I couldn't go," Houk told me by phone from his home in Winter Haven, Fla., "but I have problems with my legs, and at my age it's hard to travel."

Now 89, Houk has battled circulation problems after having had both knees replaced.

"I had to give up golf because it hurts to play," he said, adding good-naturedly: "I live on the course, so now I sit outside and tell my buddies how bad they look as they go by."

Traveling has been such a chore that Houk can't remember the last time he visited Lawrence. He was unable to return in 2003 when his brother Cliff died. Brothers Harold and Russell died earlier, meaning Ralph is the last of the four Houk boys who grew up on a farm near Stull.

Harold, Russell and Cliff farmed in these parts all their lives. Ralph was the anomaly, the Houk brother who left Kansas and became a household name in New York City during his days with the Yankees.

We should not forget, either, about Houk's exploits in the European Theater during the latter part of World War II, when he received the Purple Heart, Silver Star, Bronze Star with oak leaf cluster and four campaign stars. Houk went to Europe as a sergeant and left the U.S. Army as a major.

Ralph Houk was inducted into the Kansas Sports Hall of Fame in 1977 and to the Lawrence High shrine in 1996, yet he has been out of our sight and out of our minds for so long now that we've overlooked him.

I asked Houk to list one memory he had of Lawrence, and he mentioned the time his youth baseball team paraded from downtown to South Park.

"I walked the whole way with my spikes on. They had yellow shoe laces," he said. "I was the only one wearing spikes. Everyone else had more sense, I guess."

Houk's mention of South Park made me think about the street that runs along the north edge of the park where the baseball diamonds were once located. The street's official name is North Park Street. Wouldn't it be great if the city renamed it Ralph Houk Street?

Or, for that matter, if the city named the portion of the park west of Massachusetts Street after Houk. We would still have South Park, but we would have Ralph Houk Park, too.

And why couldn't Douglas County fathers dub the county road that begins at Kanwaka Corner and runs to Stull (DG 442) as Ralph Houk Way.

Lawrence has many streets named after people, some alive and some dead - Bob Billings and George Williams come to mind - and a tangible way of honoring Ralph Houk is long overdue.


Clickker 9 years, 7 months ago

Long overdue. Ralphs son Walter has also been a long time Lawrence baseball booster. Perhaps we could do a street after him too.

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