Whitman Inducts Four as Second Class in Athletics Hall of Fame
WALLA WALLA, Wash. — Two Whitman College tennis greats, along with two coaches whose tenures spanned decades, have been elected as the second class of inductees in the Whitman Athletics Hall of Fame.
The Class of 2004 includes coaches Robert "Bob" Burgess, who led the men's tennis team to 357 dual meet victories over 32 seasons, and Robert "Bob" Thomsen, who sparked Whitman to winning seasons in five of his seven seasons as head football coach and later guided the men's golf team to a string of five consecutive conference titles.
Rounding out the 2004 inductees are a pair of superlative tennis players -- Lynn Greer McKelvey, who dominated women's collegiate tennis in the Northwest during 1980s, and Stephen Ronfeldt, who led the men's team to four consecutive conference titles in the early 1960s.
Both Burgess, 88, and Thomsen, 90, and their wives continue to make their homes in Walla Walla.
Ronfeldt, who also lettered in four seasons of basketball at Whitman, lives in Berkeley, Calif., and maintains a law career devoted to the needs of the less fortunate. Greer McElvey, an investment representative, lives in West Linn, Ore. Both Ronfeldt and Greer McElvey are married to Whitman graduates.
The Whitman Hall of Fame's Executive Board, comprised of former student-athletes and coaches, selected the first class of inductees, based on nominations submitted during the past year.
Among criteria for induction, primary emphasis is given to contributions to Whitman athletics. Other points of consideration may include contribution to the college as a whole and achievements after graduation.
Whitman, a private, independent liberal arts and sciences college of about 1,400 students, sponsors a total of 16 men's and women's varsity teams. A founding member of the Northwest Conference, Whitman competes as a member of NCAA Division III.
For profiles on the Class of 2004 inductees into Whitman's Athletics Hall of Fame, check the links below:
Robert "Bob" Burgess
A three-year veteran of the U.S. Navy during World War II, Robert “Bob” Burgess came to Walla Walla in the fall of 1949 to launch a coaching and administrative career that eventually touched all or parts of five decades.
Burgess made his biggest mark in coaching the men’s tennis team for 32 years, suffering just two losing seasons, and compiling a superlative dual match record of 357 victories against 145 defeats. In the spring of 1951, his first squad produced the conference singles champion in Tim Penrose and the top doubles tandem in Adrian Cibilich and Bill McKay. It marked the first time in a decade that Whitman had swept both the singles and doubles crowns.
In 1961, after placing second at the conference championship tournament for five consecutive seasons, Whitman won the first of six straight men’s tennis titles, posting undefeated dual match records in 1963, 1965 and 1966. At one point Burgess and his racketeers pieced together a 25-match win streak. Beginning in 1958, his players won the conference doubles titles in eight of the next nine seasons.
With Burgess at the helm, the men’s tennis program also dominated the NAIA District I championship tournament for much of the 1960s, winning five consecutive team titles. Competing at the NAIA national championships, Whitman players advanced as far as the semifinals in singles and the quarterfinals in doubles, and the squad finished as high as fifth in the team scoring.
The men’s tennis team captured its final conference and district titles, under Burgess, in 1975. Burgess was named NAIA District I Coach of the Year.
Early in his stay at Whitman, Burgess coached the men’s basketball team for 14 seasons, winning a share of the conference title during the 1953-54 season. That was Whitman’s first basketball title since 1938.
Burgess also served as athletic director for 17 years, acting as the primary planner for the Sherwood Athletic Center, which was dedicated in 1969 and remains in use today. With the opening of Sherwood Center, Burgess served as coach of the men’s swim team for its first seven seasons. In 1975, he added to his resume by assuming the role of athletic trainer.
In 1981, Burgess received Whitman’s Town-Gown award for his longtime service to the local community, which included teaching first aid and CPR classes, and serving on the local Red Cross executive board. Long into his retirement, which began after the 1980-81 academic year, Burgess continued to coach tennis, providing free tennis lessons to local youth during the summer months, asking only that each youngster read one book and learn 20 new words each week.
A native of Edgewater, New Jersey, Burgess remembers paying 25 cents admission at Yankee Stadium to see Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig play. He played varsity basketball and tennis at Springfield (Mass.) College, graduating in 1943. A lieutenant at the time of his discharge from the U.S. Navy in 1946, he completed his master’s degree at Springfield in 1949.
At the time of his induction into the Whitman Athletic Hall of Fame, the 88-year-old Burgess and his wife of 61 years, Eleanor, continued to make their home in Walla Walla. They have five grown children.
Robert "Bob" Thomsen
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.
Lynn Greer McKelvey
The most talented player in the history of Whitman women’s tennis, Lynn Greer McKelvey rolled unchecked through her 1988 senior season, winning singles, doubles and team titles in the Northwest Conference and NAIA District I.
Only a back injury may have prevented Greer from capping her senior year with one or more national titles. With the i njury taking its toll, Greer lost three-set semifinal decisions in singles and doubles (with Stephanie Turner) at the NCAA Div. III national championships. A week later, the injury forced Greer to default in the fourth round of singles at the NAIA national tournament. With her on-court mobility all but gone, she and Turner lost in the NAIA’s second round of doubles.
Final national rankings for the spring of 1988 placed Greer at No. 4 in NCAA Div. III singles. She and Turner were ranked No. 3 in doubles, while Whitman finished at No. 15 in the women’s national team rankings.
Greer, who missed her junior year due to a knee injury, compiled a remarkable 87-10 singles record in three seasons. As a senior co-captain, Greer was the undisputed queen of Northwest collegiate tennis, beating her No. 1 counterparts at Washington State and the universities of Washington and Oregon. Her only losses in singles in a 34-2 senior campaign came in the national championship tournaments.
Greer captured the NWC singles title in each of her three seasons, leading Whitman to the conference team championship in two of those seasons. She twice won NAIA district titles in singles. As a sophomore, Greer lost in the second round of the NCAA championships to the eventual singles champion, and in the NAIA’s fourth round to the eventual runner-up. As a freshman, she lost in the NCAA’s second round.
A math major at Whitman, Greer shared the 1988 Mignon Borleske Trophy, given annually to the top female athlete, with Susan Hubbard Sakimoto, a basketball and track and field standout who was voted into the Whitman Hall of Fame in 2003.
Before enrolling at Whitman, Greer played No. 1 singles for four seasons at Tigard (Ore.) High School, graduating in the spring of 1984 after winning a district singles title. She became the third member of her family to graduate from Whitman. Preceding her were father Everett Greer (’54), a stand-out skier who placed 13th as a senior in the NCAA championships, and older sister Jan Greer Crowther (’85).
After graduating from Whitman, Greer earned a master of business administration degree at Pepperdine University. She married George McKelvey, Whitman Class of 1987, in August of 1993. At the time of her induction in the Whitman Athletics Hall of Fame, Greer and her husband, and four-year-old daughter Brooke, were living in West Linn, Ore., where she was working as an investment representative for Edward Jones Investments. She continues to play tennis for the Mountain Park Racquet Club.
Stephen Ronfeldt capped a brilliant tennis career in the spring of 1964 by winning 22 of 24 matches in singles, advancing as far as the quarterfinals of the NAIA national championships, where he competed for a third straight season. Ronfeldt and doubles partner Randy Jacobs also lost but two matches that season, capturing a Northwest Conference doubles title and then winning a second straight NAIA District I crown.
Ronfeldt came ever so close to advancing past the fourth round of the 1964 national tournament. He and Lornie Kuhle of Pan-American College (now the University of Texas-Pan American) were tied at one set apiece, with Ronfeldt serving with a 5-4 lead in the third set. Ronfeldt let a match point slip away, however, and Kuhle rallied for the victory.
In the 1963 NAIA tournament, Ronfeldt lost to Pan-American’s Ken Lang, the eventual singles champion. In the tournament’s team scoring, Ronfeldt and four teammates (Jacobs, Jim Hite, Ron Witten and Tom McCoy) placed fifth.
Ronfeldt sparked Whitman to NWC team titles in each of his four seasons, winning the doubles championship as a freshman with Hite and as a sophomore with Witten. After missing the NAIA district tourney in 1961, Whitman dominated that competition over the next three seasons with Ronfeldt winning a trio of titles in singles.
As a freshman in the spring of 1961, Ronfeldt made an immediate impact as Whitman won its first NWC championship in three decades. The triumph snapped a string of five consecutive second-place finishes for Whitman.
Beginning late in his sophomore season, Ronfeldt led Whitman to 16 consecutive dual match victories that included a perfect 13-0 dual match season in 1963. At one point the Missionaries won 25 of 26 dual matches.
Ronfeldt, also a four-year letterman in basketball, won the 1964 Borleske Trophy, which is given annually to Whitman’s top male athlete. A 6-foot-2 forward on the men’s basketball team, Ronfeldt scored a career-high 21 points in a game during his junior season. He averaged nearly eight points a game that season.
Ronfeldt, who served as president of the Associated Student Body at Whitman, earned his law degree at the University of California-Berkeley. He was awarded Whitman’s Alumnus of Merit in 1996 in tribute to his career as a legal aid advocate for the less fortunate and co-founder of the Berkeley Community Law Center.
Before coming to Whitman, Ronfeldt earned all-league honors in tennis and basketball at Claremont (Calif.) High School. He and Suzy Muldown, also a member of Whitman’s Class of 1964, were married in August 1965. The parents of three grown children, the Ronfeldts were living in Berkely, Calif., at the time of Stephen’s induction in the Whitman Athletics Hall of Fame. He continues to play tennis, competing regularly in national tournaments, and holds a top 20 national ranking among players over 60 years of age.