June 2022 ~
Butch Lumby (Grant, 1962) found out he was built for speed as a boy growing up in a great era for Grant High.
Sixty years after graduating, he’s just as fast with his recall of those happy days and the outstanding athletics in the city.
Lumby remembers his races, teammates, opponents and outstanding coaches, along with the neighborhood and its schools in the 1950s and early 60s.
“We had it made,” he says. “Good music, fun times, a very calm environment. There was no real pressure on us like the kids today have, with all the outside influences now. We had school, family and sports.”
In sports – football and track and field – Lumby helped make it good for the Generals, but he’s the first to remind a listener that he wasn’t doing it alone. Grant was a huge school blessed with leaders and athletes.
Lumby, who graduated in 1962, pulled off a three-peat in the PIL 100-yard dash, winning the title in 1960, 1961 and 1962. He also claimed the 220 in 1961 and 1962.
And he was just part of a strong sprint corps that included the 1960 state 100 and 220 champion, Craig Nelson, and others.
“It was fun, competitive, not an individual thing for me but a team thing,” he says of running track. “We had many years of being undefeated in dual meets. The streak was never discussed, but with ‘Sully’ leading the group, we just did it.”
That would be the Grant track coach at the time, Denny Sullivan, who turned into a lifelong friend and mentor for Lumby.
Both are in the PIL Hall of Fame – Sullivan inducted in 2009, in 2011.
Sully’s Grant track teams won seven PIL championships, plus the 1961 state title.
“That was Sully in all his glory,” Lumby says.
Sullivan also guided Grant cross country to state crowns in 1957, 1958 and 1963, and was the school’s first wrestling coach.
“He set the standards for what you were going to do,” Lumby says. “He was very calm, with a great sense of humor. The hard work you did you didn’t realize you were doing because of his encouragement and support.
“I wouldn’t be where I am today without him.”
Lumby was born in Portland and lived at Northeast 35th Avenue and Alameda Street, relatively easy walking distance to Grant. He played Little League and Babe Ruth baseball and helped lead Beaumont to three city championships and unbeaten records in flag football, but one day heard that there was going to be a track meet for kids at Grant Bowl. Wearing the tennis shoes of the day, he won the 100-yard dash on the old cinder track “and found out I had a little bit of speed.”
He followed two older sisters who had attended Grant and turned out for freshman football, and went on to be a halfback for a couple of other legends, Frank Buckiewicz at the gridiron helm and Frank Wolf, an assistant.
Sullivan saw Lumby as a potential standout in the hurdles, his specialty when he was a student-athlete at the University of Oregon. Lumby didn’t enjoy the hurdles so much, especially the hitting the hurdles and falling on the hard cinders part.
“By sophomore year, I think I convinced Sully I was not a hurdler,” he says.
A sprinter he had no trouble convincing the coach he was, however.
Lumby ran a 10-flat at Jefferson – a very good time, though, as Lumby points out, “I had no idea then what times meant. I don’t think anybody did.”
Grant swept many a sprint, with Dick Fyock, Nelson and Lumby.
“Just to be able to run against them was really an honor,” Lumby says.
In the PIL 100 finals his sophomore year, Lumby was in an outside lane. “The gun went off. I relaxed and ran,” he says. “I got to the finish line and looked to my left and Craig was behind me. I thought, ‘Oh, my God, what happened.’”
Nelson went on to win the state 100 and 200.
Lumby’s even better days were ahead. In 1961, Lumby placed second in the state 100 and third in the 220, as Grant took its first-place team trophy by more than 18 points over Medford, the runner-up. Grant also won the 880 relay that year, and Lumby’s 9.8 100 served as the PIL record for 3 ½ decades.
Lumby returned as a senior to again sweep the sprints, clocking 9.9 and 21.8.
Two years in a row in the PIL meet, Lumby also held off a gifted athlete from Cleveland, Vern Rentle, who had beat him the week before the district championships (and was the only PIL foe to beat him in 1961 or 1962).
At state, Rentle was second to Lumby in the 220 in 1962 and third behind Lumby and runner-up Dick Funderhide of Tigard in the 100.
All three of those state meets were at Oregon State, but it appeared that Lumby would wind up running for the rival Ducks and follow in Sully’s footsteps in that regard.
A funny thing happened on his way to Eugene, however. Sully arranged a meeting between Oregon track coach Bill Bowerman and Lumby, to take place at the Willamette Relays in Salem. Lumby and Bowerman were in an office when an Oregon trainer came in to inform the coach that one of his distance runners had turned an ankle.
“Stay here, I’ll be right back,” Bowerman told Lumby.
About an hour later, Bowerman had yet to return, but Sullivan came to tell Lumby the Grant bus was leaving and he had to go.
Lumby and Bowerman never got together again, and Lumby never heard anything more from the Ducks.
“I think Sully forgot to tell him what happened,” Lumby said. “Bowerman must have thought I blew him off.”
Months later, Lumby was still at home, planning to walk on at the University of Portland, which was launching a track team. The phone rang, and it was Oregon State coach Sam Bell.
“I understand you’re not going to Oregon,” Bell said. “How soon can you get here?”
Lumby told Bell he didn’t have money or a car.
“How soon can you be ready? I’ll come and get you,” Bell said, and he did, and Lumby was a Beaver.
Four years later, as OSU was beating Oregon in their dual meet at Hayward Field, Lumby was surprised to see Bowerman come up to him.
“Butch, I found out much later what happened” that day at the Willamette Relays, Bowerman said. “But you’ve had a great career.”
Lumby got to enjoy a Northern Division championship with Oregon State and run in the NCAAs. His junior year, he won the division 100 and 220.
Lumby also took advantage of his opportunity at OSU to major in English, geography and history.
“I had a really well-rounded education,” he says.
Lumby taught one year and coached cross country at Jackson High, but for family reasons he moved to Los Gatos, California, where he and wife Timmy have been ever since.
He taught and coached for 10 years in Los Gatos, in the San Jose area, then went into the construction industry, working for his father-in-law while doing some volunteer coaching.
Butch isn’t Lumby’s real first name (it’s Leonard). But he became Butch when he was about an hour old. His father was a meat-cutter, and a friend asked his dad, “How is Little Butch doing?”
Lumby wound up working a summer job at the Lake Oswego grocery store where his dad was a butcher. He would see this one girl come into the store, but he was too shy to approach her.
As a freshman at Oregon State, he saw the girl again – only she was dating a pole vaulter/teammate.
The pole vaulter left after one year, though, and when he was a senior, Butch finally hooked up with the girl – who was Timmy and who, as of June 17, will have been his bride for 55 years.
Lumby, alas, “hasn’t run a single step” since severing an Achilles tendon his senior year. It happened at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, one week before the NCAA championships, as he crossed the finish line in the 100 in a meet with UCLA and USC.
But he has stayed active over the decades, and works out every day at 5 a.m., doing weight and circuit training. He and Timmy also play a lot of golf and love to travel.
“We take at least three big trips a year,” he says.
Most recently, they went to Italy, where a grandson plays rugby.
The injury was rough and very untimely, as Lumby was going to try to make the 1968 U.S. Olympic team. He already had joined the Marines to do his training with them.
“But the injury took care of all that,” he says. “I got an honorable discharge, which kept me out of Vietnam, and with those plans all changed, Timmy and I started being serious.”
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~ Profile written by Steve Brandon (Cleveland, 1972)