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Campus community and public invited to Glenn Morris Olympic Oak Tree Planting Ceremony May 10

May 4, 2010
By Tony Phifer

A landmark 74 years in the making will finally take its place on the Colorado State University campus when an oak tree is planted to honor 1936 Olympic decathlon champion Glenn Morris.

Ceremony 1 p.m. Monday south of Field House

The ceremony will take place at 1 p.m. Monday on the lawn south of the CSU fieldhouse at College and University avenues. It will feature remarks from:

  • CSU President Tony Frank
  • Paul Kowalczyk, athletics director
  • Morris Ververs, former principal at Simla High School and an authority on Morris’s life
  • Dr. Don Holst, Olympic historian

The event is free and open to the public.

Monument in honor of Morris, '35

“We are pleased to have this opportunity to honor the memory and accomplishments of Glenn Morris, one of CSU’s most gifted athletes,” Frank said. “We are also pleased to create a monument in honor of Morris that the campus community can treasure for many, many years.”

The tree is being provided by Holst, the 1968 Olympic decathlon coach. It is a descendant of the trees given to all gold medal winners at the 1936 Summer Games in Berlin to be planted in their native lands.

Morris, a 1935 graduate of Colorado A&M (now CSU), donated his oak tree to his alma mater and presented the seedling to then- President Charles Lory shortly after completion of the Games. The tree was to be planted on campus near the historic Oval, but there is no record of the planting and its fate remains a mystery.

Second-generation trees from acorns

Glenn Morris (right) at the 1936 "Presentation of Oak" ceremony with University President Charles A. Lory (center) and Bill Wagner, fellow athlete and football standout.

Holst, who lives in Chadron, Neb., has done extensive research on the Olympic oak trees and has grown second-generation trees from acorns acquired from surviving trees around the world.

Four of the 24 trees given to American gold medalists remain alive in the United States, including one in Connellsville, Pa., which produces fertile acorns.

Holst has donated second-generation trees to the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, USA Track and Field headquarters in Indianapolis, and a handful of colleges and universities associated with 1936 U.S. gold medalists.

Colo.'s first Olympian

The tree will provide a living monument to the man many consider the greatest athlete the state of Colorado has known. He was the state’s first Olympian, and his win in the decathlon earned him the title of “World’s Greatest Athlete.” He was named the 1936 winner of the Sullivan Award, given annually to the nation’s top amateur athlete, beating out legendary 1936 Olympic champion Jesse Owens.

Morris' remarkable rise to fame included ticker-tape parades in New York City, Denver, and his native Simla, and he was chosen to play Tarzan alongside fellow Olympian Eleanor Holm in the film “Tarzan’s Revenge.”

He was inducted into the Colorado Sports Hall of Fame in 1969, and he was in the inaugural class of the CSU Sports Hall of Fame in 1988. The Colorado High School Activities Association Hall of Fame inducted him in 1998, and he was added to the USA Track and Field Hall of Fame in 2007.

Climb to international stardom began in tiny Colo. town

Glenn Morris, student-athlete for Colorado State College of Agriculture and the Mechanics Arts (now Colorado State University) on May 5, 1936.

Morris’s meteoric climb to international stardom began in Simla, a tiny farming community in southeastern Colorado. He came to CSU in 1931 and quickly established himself as a star in football and track, helping the Aggies win the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference football championship in 1933 and twice earning all-conference honors as an end. Following the 1934 season he became the first CSU player selected to play in the East-West Shrine Game.

Morris was so popular on campus he was elected president of the student body, and he earned degrees in economics and sociology.

Grueling 10-event decathlon

At one point Morris appeared destined for a successful career in professional football, but a trip to the 1932 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles changed his course. He became fascinated with the decathlon, the grueling 10-event competition designed to celebrate all-around athleticism.

Following his graduation in 1935, Morris began training under the watchful eye of legendary CSU football coach Harry Hughes, working out nearly every day in the Field House to master the many events. He broke the American record in his first decathlon at the Kansas Relays in the spring of 1936, then set a world record (7,880 points) at the U.S. Olympic Trials in Milwaukee.

Morris became a favorite of the German crowds during the Berlin Games, competing at such a high level that even Adolf Hitler became fascinated. Morris won the two-day competition with 7,990 points, shattering his own world record – a mark that would stand for 14 years.

Served heroically in WWII

Following a brief Hollywood career and a professional football career that was derailed by a knee injury, Morris enlisted in the Navy, rising to the rank of lieutenant while serving heroically in World War II. He lived a quiet life in California following the war and died of heart failure in 1974 at age 62.

Contact: Brad Bohlander
Phone: (970) 491-6621