Dr. Robert “Bob” Thomsen, who joined the Whitman faculty in 1952 as a football coach, enjoyed his greatest success during a 17-year span as the men’s golf coach. During one 10-year stretch, from 1963 through 1972, his teams finished no worse than second in the Northwest Conference, winning five consecutive titles beginning in 1966.
Thomsen’s 1969 golf squad posted a 20-2 record in dual match competition, and his 1970 team won that year’s 72-hole NWC championship tournament by a whopping 65 strokes. Whitman players placed first, second and third in the 1970 tournament; the team’s two remaining competitors also finished in the top 10 in the individual scoring. Missionary golfers won medalist honors three times during the school’s five-year title run, which also produced a dozen all-conference selections.
Thomsen led Whitman to a final NWC golf title in 1978. The next year, in Thomsen’s last season as coach, Whitman finished second at the conference tournament by a narrow six-stroke margin. In all, his golf teams finished first or second in 12 of his 17 seasons.
After serving as an assistant football coach in his first three years at Whitman, Thomsen assumed the head coaching duties in 1955, leading the Missionaries to winning seasons in five of the next seven years. His 1959 gridiron team won its first four games, including a victory over Pacific in the conference opener that drew 2,500 fans to Borleske Stadium.
Thomsen also coached cross country for nine seasons at Whitman, in addition to serving as Dean of Men and chairman of the physical education department. Soon after retiring from Whitman in 1979, Thomsen rounded out 50 years of teaching and coaching by assisting with the football team at Walla Walla’s Pioneer Junior High School for five years. His most notable athlete during that final coaching stint was a young Drew Bledsoe, who later starred at Washington State and in the NFL.
After graduating from the University of North Dakota with degrees in mathematics and physical education, Thomsen worked as a high school coach, teacher and principal from 1934 to 1943, when he joined the U.S. Navy and served as both an aerial navigation instructor and with Naval Air Transport in the Pacific. Following the war, after a final stint as a high school teacher and coach, Thomsen completed his doctoral degree in education at the University of Wyoming.
Thomsen, who has been active in numerous Walla Walla civic groups and endeavors, received Whitman’s Town-Gown Award in 1978. A 25-year veteran of football and basketball refereeing, he was honored in 1988 by the Walla Walla Boosters Club with its Award for Service to Walla Walla Valley Athletics. He was inducted into the North Dakota State College of Science Athletic Hall of Fame in 1991.
Thomsen, 90, and his wife Ruth continued to make their home in Walla Walla at the time of his induction into Whitman’s Athletic Hall of Fame. The Thomsens, who have one grown son, celebrated their 64th wedding anniversary in June of 2004.Back to main news release