Saturday, February 11, 2006

Al Beeler, Linfield super Wildcat fan

A story about Linfield College graduate and McMinnville resident Al Beeler could be about Al the loyal Elks Lodge member, the drummer in his own swing band, the U.S. Navy veteran, the husband and the father.

But, this story is about Al Beeler, the Linfield super Wildcat fan. Well, it’s also about Al, the former business owner, too.

Born in McMinnville on Sept. 2, 1913, Al attended McMinnville schools and graduated from McMinnville High School in 1931.

At Mac-Hi, he played basketball his senior year and also freshman basketball at Linfield. “I always wanted to be an athlete, but my small size” -- he was a 5-foot-6 guard – “held me back. So, the next best thing was to be a good fan. I have always loved all sports.” In addition to being an athlete, he was yell king in both high school and college. (See photo, Al Beeler, Linfield yell king.)

How did he become a Linfield sports fan? At age 11 in 1925, Al saw his first Linfield athletic event, a football game played on the college’s original athletic field. Linfield football coach for the game was Maurice Pettit, who coached 1922-1925.

Grandstand for the field was on Blaine Street facing Pioneer Hall. “The field took up the areas where Melrose Hall and Northup Library now stand. It extended to Linfield Avenue and faced Pioneer and Riley Gym,” he said. “Since that first time, I have attended almost all the Linfield football home games ever since.”

Linfield went through “many years of being the underdog in athletics, but never gave up,” Al said. And, he never gave up on the Wildcats. While it was sometimes difficult to cheer on the Wildcats on the road, Al did so when possible. For example, at age 14, he rode the train from McMinnville to Salem and back with Linfield students for the Wildcats’ game at Willamette. Unfortunately, the ‘Cats lost.

His list of Linfield football games attended includes all NAIA and NCAA Div III football playoff games in McMinnville and a NAIA championship game in Portland. He attended the 2004 Stagg Bowl game in Salem, Va., where Linfield won the national football championship.

One of Al’s highlights as super Wildcat fan was Linfield’s 1961 Camellia Bowl football game in Sacramento. Al and other fans flew on a chartered DC-3 in and out of McMinnville Airport.

Many Linfield alumni and long time faculty and staff remember the business side of Al Beeler. He was associated with downtown McMinnville’s Hamblin-Wheeler clothing store at the corner of Third and Davis. Nicknamed “The Man’s Shop,” the store featured “Latest Campus Styles” and “Famous Brand Names.”

As a Linfield student, Al expected after graduating with a business degree in 1935, he’d go to work for Oregon Mutual Insurance in McMinnville. But, Hamblin-Wheeler came into play.

In 1932, he began working part-time at Hamblin-Wheeler while as a Linfield student. Later, with college graduation nearing, Harold Elkinton, his Linfield business professor, recommended he continue working at the store, where he excelled in working with the public.

And, as they say, the rest is history. His Hamblin-Wheeler tenure was for 55 years (1932-1987). The store opened in 1900 as Hamblin Clothing Co. After working for it in the 1930s and 1940s, in 1950 Al and Lauretta Wheeler became store partners. They owned/operated Hamblin-Wheeler until they closed it in 1987.

Now you know about super Wildcat fan Al Beeler and a bit about his time as a business owner, too.

Paul Durham, former Linfield athletic director and coach, calls Al a “dear friend. He was the reason for the store’s great success,” Durham said. “He’s always been a backer of Linfield athletic teams and knows many of the athletes. He’s a great man. I really like and respect him.”

Updated 2/9/2006