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They don’t write obituaries like they used to. “The booming voice, the ponderous form is stilled. Ralph Young is dead,” read the Lansing State Journal obituary for Ralph Young upon his death in 1962.
In place from 1923-1954, Ralph Young was more than Michigan State University’s longest-serving athletic director. During that time, he shepherded a fledgling athletic program into a national powerhouse before he left the post for political office in the Michigan House of Representatives.
In order to preserve the memory of Ralph Young and the impact he had on MSU, his daughter, Janet Young Hines, produced a 47-page memoir chapbook titled “As My Dad Used to Say.”
Young Hines was joined in the effort by local journalist-author Tina Lonski, who happens to be the partner of Young Hines’ son, Keith.
“I honestly didn’t know a lot about Ralph Young until I began the project,” Lonski said.
Two years ago, Lonski said she was having a conversation with Young Hines when she mentioned that a friend of hers, Jane Wilson, had written a book about her father, Jim McClintock, a longtime Lansing resident.
Lonski said Young Hines told her she’d like to write a book about her father too. The author encouraged Young Hines to write her own book.
“’I’m not a writer,’ she told me,” Lonski writes in the new book.
The partnership was sealed. Lonski began poring over extensive records in the MSU Archives, interviewing Young Hines and delving into family memorabilia.
“The Archives has 8.2 cubic feet of papers relating to the career of Ralph Young,” Lonski said.
It is detailed, according to Lonski, and contains items as obscure as a letter of Young’s ordering a suit for his “ponderous” frame.
“Janet made it clear however that she didn’t want the book to be a sports memorabilia book. She wanted stories,” Lonski said.
And there are some fantastic stories in the short tome.
There are tales of Young's being mistaken for gangster John Dillinger while on a trip to a track and field meet, how MSU came to be known as the “Spartans,” the inspiration behind MSU’s “The Spartan” statue and stories of Young’s legendary eating habits.
For example, we learn from Young Hines that Mama Leone, a famous New York restauranteur, called him “the last of the great eaters.”
In recognition of that inclination, at his MSU retirement party in 1954, he was given a brand-new Oldsmobile and a 147-pound ham and cheese sandwich.
Lonski said that the book would have been much longer, except Hines Young became ill and died in March, leaving a lot of stories untold.
The book may have been left unfinished, but when Lonski visited Young Hines in hospice, she knew she had to finish the book.
Lonski went to her printer and asked for three printed copies of the book to show Young Hines on her deathbed.
“When I showed it to her, it was one of the most moving things I’d experienced,” Lonski said. “It was Janet Hines. This is her story,” she said.
However, we do learn about the amazing career of Ralph Young and his own athletic prowess in track and field. As indication of those accomplishments, his name is on MSU’s track field.
Young not only participated in track, he played football at the University of Michigan under Fielding Yost during the war years, which allowed members of the Armed Forces to play intercollegiate football. While on the team, he helped Michigan defeat the Michigan Agricultural College.
During his own coaching career, he led Kalamazoo College to an undefeated season and several championships in track and baseball. While playing football for the University of Chicago, he was under the tutelage of the legendary coach Amos Alonzo Stagg.
Stagg, unable to attend Young’s retirement dinner, sent an inspirational voice recording, which was included in the four-hour ceremony.
Young ended his career in the Michigan House of Representatives, dying while in office in 1962.
Lonksi is scurrying to make the book available soon in local bookstores and on Amazon. Those interested in the book can email Lonski at firstname.lastname@example.org