By Leigh Morris
During the train trip to California, Art Dufelmeier and his teammates had plenty of time to ponder their status as a 14-point Rose Bowl underdog against the UCLA Bruins.
Once on the West Coast, the Illini were afforded some enjoyable distractions such as meeting Bob Hope and Bing Crosby on the set of a movie at Paramount Pictures.
Then came the game. The Illini crushed the Bruins 45-14. Los Angeles Times Sports Editor Paul Zimmerman wrote: “Into defeat with the Bruins went most of the so-called grid experts, including yours truly, as the Fightin’ Illini lived up to the fullest meaning of their name before a startled and wild-cheering capacity throng of 93,083 spectators.”
Dufelmeier went on to be drafted by the Chicago Cardinals (now the Arizona Cardinals), but he was not destined to make his mark as a National Football League star.
Instead, Dufelmeier would make a far more important contribution as an educator and football coach. This humble man from Beardstown would shape and mold countless boys and young men.
Dufelmeier’s coaching career began at Western Illinois University, where he was named head football coach in 1960. During his tenure with the Leathernecks, Dufelmeier compiled a record of 37-39-2.
Beginning in 1972, Dufelmeier coached the Havana High School football team for a total of 17 years, compiling an impressive 85-74-1 overall record. His record was punctuated by five playoff trips for the Ducks, including four consecutive appearances beginning in 1978.
While the crowds cheered the victories, his former players, associates and the community remember Dufelmeier as the one who helped turn boys into men by teaching them to always do the right thing.
Reporter Dave Kane of The State Journal-Register wrote about Dufelmeier a few days after the coach’s death. Among those quoted was Marc Radosevic, a 1979 Havana graduate who had been a running back for the Ducks. Radosevic said this about his coach:
“He was just quietly powerful. He wasn’t the kind of guy who’d browbeat you to death. He didn’t have a wild intensity that was audible. You could just see it.
“We hung on every word he said. Everything he said meant something.”
Another former player, Darren Hartry, noted that Dufelmeier went through a lot in his life. “But the way he looked at it, it was just what you do. He didn’t talk about it. When we played for him, we didn’t know anything about him being a POW or playing in the Rose Bowl,” Hartry said.
The people of Havana loved their coach and teacher, so much so that in September 2003 the Havana High School football field was renamed in Dufelmeier’s honor.
Dufelmeier lost his wife, Janice, on Aug. 2, 2008. A son, Mark, also preceded him in death.
In 2010, Dufelmeier had undergone hip replacement surgery. After returning home, complications set in. He returned to Mason District Hospital in Havana, passing away the morning of Feb. 4 at age 86.
His death stunned the Havana community. After all, the Flying Dutchman was indestructible. And he was, for his indestructible legacy lives on in all with who he came in contact. The legacy of this man who believed in doing the right thing will continue as those who learned from Dufelmeier pass on his lessons to the next generation.