Frances K. VanBebber1

M, (27 July 1906 - 12 April 1986)
     Frances K. VanBebber was born on 27 July 1906 at Oklahoma Territory, USA.1 He was the son of Frances Marion VanBebber and Ila Jeffery.1 Frances K. VanBebber married Julia Eleanor Slough, daughter of Frank Slough and Sally Elizabeth [—?—], in 1939. Frances K. VanBebber died on 12 April 1986 at Oklahoma at age 79 years, 8 months and 16 days.1
     Frances K. VanBebber also went by the name of Jack.1 JACK 'BLACKJACK' VANBEBBER (USA) - 1932 OLYMPICS

He vanquished the nation s finest wrestlers seven times, but when Jack VanBebber set out to conquer the world, he had to hitch-hike. At the 1932 Olympic Games in Los Angeles, while awaiting his final bout for the gold medal, VanBebber suddenly learned that the time schedule had been altered and he was due to the mat within the hour, six miles away. No transportation was provided, or available, so he set out afoot. After two miles, a passing tourist gave him a ride to the arena.

Once on the scene, however, his opponent proved no more effective than his earlier victims. And 'Blackjack' VanBebber became champion of the world with decision over Eino Leino of Finland, a four-time Olympian who already owned gold, silver and bronze medals.

VanBebber was undefeated as a collegiate wrestler for Oklahoma State University in 1929, 1930 and 1931, winning three NCAA championships at 155 and 165 pounds. He captured National AAU titles his junior and senior years, then moved to Los Angeles in 1932 and won another.

The only defeat of his wrestling career came in an early round of the Olympic trials, but he rallied to win the trials and successfully defended his 158.5-pound assignment during final challenge in Los Angeles. For more than 50 years he was the only American-born wrestler to win three NCAA titles and an Olympic gold Medal.

VanBebber served four years in the infantry during World War II, three of them in the Pacific theatre. He then joined the Phillips Petroleum Company for 39 years until his retirement, and taught wrestling to sons of company employees and to Boy Scouts.

In 1950, a national poll of U. S. coaches, official and sports editors selected him as one of the country s top 10 amateur athletes in the first half of the 20th Century.

In recognition of his outstanding achievements as a competitor, Jack Francis VanBebber, was honoured as a Distinguished Member of the U.S. National Wrestling Hall of Fame.

by courtesy of USA Wrestling.
From Gary R. Hawpe, ed. and Julia VanBebber, comp., 'A Distant Flame,' Van Bibber Pioneers E-Newsletter, Vol. 5 No. 4 (February 2002), pp. 3 - 10.


The Inspiring Story of Jack VanBebber's Quest For an World Olympic Tile

Chapter 2 - A Cripple for Life?

I was six years old and a first-grader at Whipple, a one-teacher school in Noble County, Oklahoma, that nice spring day when I hear our teacher, Miss Williams, tell the bigger kids they could take a ride in her wagon. She regularly drove to school with the fine spring wagon and team, and all the kids loved her two spirited mares, Daisy and Nellie.

I wanted to ride, too, so joined the race for the wagon, my brogan shoes becoming heavy and my short legs aching before I got there. The rig was packed with at least a dozen youngsters, but I jumped onto the wagon step and held to the side.

One of the kids shouted and Daisy and Nellie eagerly leaped into a hard run for the farm road, their hooves churning up the red Oklahoma dust that filled my nostrils and made it hard for me to see as I gripped harder onto the sideboard of the swaying little wagon.

I heard the boy who was driving, sounding frightened himself by the sudden speed, yell, tWhoa, Nellie! Whoa, Daisy! Whoa! Whoa!A as he apparently leaned back on the reins. Then I felt the light rig make a frightening joltÇmaybe as it bounced over a ditch or something. That was when my hands lost their hold.

I remember screaming as I felt myself tumble under the noisy wagon, then felt the pain I would never forget as a metal-rimmed wheel went over my chest. I gasped for breath as I thought I was being cut into by the narrow wheel against the hard earth. Then everything turned misty, then black.

Late that afternoon I came to. I lay in my own bed at home. For an instant I thought it had been a bad dream, but then felt the nails of pain, almost unbearable, stabbing my chest. Tears stung my eyes, and my nose dripped. I tried to move to wipe my face, but my arms lay beside me like broken wings.

From out in the yard, I heard Houndie, my dog, barking. Then, out on the road that ran near our house, horses snorted.

And in a few minutes Mom, Dad and Dr. Brengle, our family doctor from Perry, came into the room.

Mom wiped my face with a handkerchief, then sat down besides the bed and put a warm hand over my cold palm, easing my agony some.

Dad and Dr. Brengle stood on the other side of the bed, Dad running a hand through my hair and patting my cheek as Dr. Bengle took a small bottle from his medicine kit.

The doctor gave me something for pain that he stirred into a glass of water, looked me over from head to foot and put a bad-smelling poultice on my chest, saying it would take the soreness away.

You re a brave boy, he said, then he and Mom and Dad went out of the room, Mom kissing me before she went out.

I could hear their voices, starting with Dad s anxious questions. Doc, what s Jack s condition uh, you know, his chances???

I didn t understand all the words the doctor used but knew pretty much what they meant.

The violent crush of the wheelsdpushed his breast bone back against his spinal column. That crowded his heart and lungs---both may be seriously damageddthe heart may be bruised or there may be a hemorrhage beneath the lining membrane or interior of his heart.

He said many other medical things I didn t understand; about hemorrhages, the decay of the heart muscle and rupture of the heart, and, after Mom's frightened voice rose above his, he said, If things go well, Jack will live.

I doubt he ll ever be able to play hard or do strenuous workdat the most, probably be able to do only light tasks.

But if complications set in, I heard him say, I could be a cripple for life.

Cripple! Oh, no! It was Moms voice---it hurt me to hear her weep. No, no, no!

I felt sorry for myself and hated myself at the same time as I lay there helpless and shivering with fear, tears streamed down my face. I wished and wished I had never jumped on that wagon. I didn t want to be a tcrippleA ---and I might even die.

But then as I closed my eyes I heard Houndie bark again at something, and somehow felt a little better. I remembered when a horse stepped on him and broke his leg, and we thought he would died. But he got well.

Chapter 21 - The Big Test

Could I make it? Six miles in less than an hour? In this heat? My lungs pumping, my chest aching and my fear mounting with every jogging step, I was back to the critical present. Strange, I thought, how virtually all my past life could sweep before me in just a few desperate seconds.

Even if my strength held out, would I make it to the auditorium by 3:00 p.m.? Would I have enough energy left to wrestle if I did? That and other questions kept crowding my mind as my body kept laboring. Why had my match been moved up an hour? Why had transportation failed to come for me?

Would I become paralyzed as in New York? Exhausted as in Columbus?

A fist-like knot gripped my arms and legs. I slowed to a fast walk. On other days the stretch to the auditorium would ve been a pleasurable training stint. Today it tortured my body throughout. I felt deserted by the rest of the world.

At the hum of every motor, I glanced sideways, stuck up a thumb on one hand, pointed to my Olympic badge with the other and tried to smile. But cars whizzed on by. Maybe the drivers figured my badge was a gag after all, American Olympic contestants normally jogged only in their training areas, and weren t supposed to hitchhike to the finals.

Finally, just as my last strength seemed to go, my prayers were answered. An old black Buick pulled up and someone called out, tHey, Jack, need a lift?A

Surprised to hear my name, I stopped short. Behind the wheel was a member of the Los Angeles Athletic Club.

tSure do,A I said, and hopped in, adding breathlessly, tI m headed for the Olympic Auditorium x must make it by 3:00 or forfeit.A

I ll get you there, the said, tbut why so early/A

Gasping for breath and rubbing sweat from my neck and face, I told him my plight.

tWish you d called me,A he said, then added, tLike the boost The Los Angeles Times gave you this morning?A

I didn t tell him I didn t have a penny to spend on a newspaper. tDidn t read it. What d it say?A

His grin told me he dubbed me a tkidderA but was willing to go along. tIt rates you a heavy chance to win the welterweight crown.A

tI m out to do that,A I said, glancing at my watch as the traffic moved at a lame-dog pace. I scooted to the edge of the seat.

tRelax,A he said calmly as he pressed to accelerator. tI ll get you there.A

Soon he turned off of Santa Barbara Avenue onto Grand and drove straight ahead toward the auditorium. When it came in sight, I loosened up.

Right then all the benefits I d received from LAAC s sponsorship flashed across my mind and I felt grateful.

tGreat backers, you LAAC men,A I said.

tWe like winners,A he answered, smiling.

tI ll try to win for all of you,A I told the Good Samaritan as I edged out and set my feet for the exit just as, four minutes before 3:00, when we stopped at the auditorium.

Thanking him, I jumped out and ran for the dressing room. On the way, boys and girls thrust autograph books at me.

tAfter the matches, after the matches,A I sputtered while forcing a smile and hastening past them.

My heart palpitating and my throat dry, I checked in a the auditorium dressing room one minute before 3:00. A middleweight wrestler stepped off the scales, scratched his head and glanced up at the wall clock. tYou cut it thin, don t you?A he said and grinned.

tThank glory,A I said. tIt s just three.A

As I slipped off my sweaty clothes and weighed in, I heard a contestant singing a portion of the Olympic Hymn.

Your hearts shall beat the stronger,
Your quickened blood shall leap,
In strength renewed to fear
The tyrant s hand no longer
And freedom s truth to keep.

Buoyed by the song, I was further uplifted to see the pointer on the scales hit 158.

The weighing over and no problem, I took a warm shower, and when I stepped out to dry off I met Fendley Collins, then wrestling coach at Michigan State University.

Was I happy to see him! That was the first time we d met since the U.S. Olympic wrestling tryouts in Grand Rapids in 1928. I told him about my hustle to get to the auditorium and about my knotty feelings.

As I threw my towel into a hamper, Fendley reached for a bottle of rubbing alcohol. tHow about a rubdown?A

Without hesitation, I crawled onto a table. I noticed the determined set of his chin as he began the rubdown, which told me I d get a good massage.

tAll right, relax,A he said, tand we ll untie your knots.A

tHave you seen Coach Otopalik?A I asked.

tHe was around here. Heard him say he had some details to take care of,A he said, pressing on the calves of my leg. tYou must feel knotty. They re tight.A

tYeah, overworked, I guess.A I relaxed and kept quite as he massaged.

I heard a masseur at a table a few feet away say the matches would run late. That perhaps explained why they had to be moved up. Matches that ran past midnight didn't give a contestant a fair chance.

When Fendley finished the massage, I told him what I'd been thinking and that I was thankful for the rubdown. 'It relaxed me,' I said. 'I'll make the next round.'

'The next is it, Jack!' he said. 'When your match is called, go out there and win!'

Touched by the encouragement, I stepped outside and took a few bends, then back into the dressing room and laid down on a rubdown table and waited until time for my match.

Soon, it was time.

Praying silently, I felt a surge of energy and of courage, and strode into the Olympic Auditorium for my fourth and final round in the Olympic welterweight matches. In a last effort to completely relax, I breathed deeply.

Five thousand spectators, according to estimates, packed the auditorium to see the wrestlers bring the colors of their nations to victory. My eyes swept the brightly lit auditorium where the flags of thirty-nine nations stood until one captured and held my attention---the Star-Spangled Banner.

I saw Olympic Coach Hugo Otopalik rush in to talk to one of the American wrestling team. I figured that, like the finalists, he felt tense about the matches and would continue to feel that way until the last whistle blew.

Forcing tenseness from my muscles, I hastened toward the mat. A few rows up sat the great Will Rogers.

In the audience nearer the mat sat Coach Ed Gallagher. He came as a delegate-at-large for the Stillwater, Oklahoma, wrestling fans. The sight of him cheered me as it must have the other Oklahoman A&M Olympic team members he'd trained.

I also thought of the super wrestling start Coach Briscoe gave me, and how Coach Gallagher strived to sharpen me for the sport and had helped speed me to this moment on the mat.

At the side, above the mat area, sat the timekeepers and three judges, each from a different country.

I knew that all I'd learned during my amateur wrestling period would be needed in the coming match---a contest limited to fifteen minutes. In that short time, I must wrestle hard for the final victory. Then I saw my opponent, Leino, a sturdy, muscled welterweight, standing in his corner and looking ready. Silently, I asked God for strength.

The mast of ceremonies introduced us. 'Eino Leino of Finland.'

Leino clasped his hands above his balding head, smiled, bowed to the left, to the front and to the right.

My introduction followed and I responded with the same gestures.

Leino's face displayed an agreeable disposition, and the set of his jaw told me he was confident. I could expect an aggressive wrestler and a tough match.

At that moment, I didn't feel I was meeting a superior. I was ready---prepared to wrestle to the bitter end.

The air seemed supercharged with expectancy as I put on a mask of innocence and walked out to shake hands with the resolute-looking Leino. After breaking away, we passed, turned and faced each other. I breathed deeply again.

The referee blew the whistle for the six-minute bout, and Leino and I rushed out. I met him beyond center. Pacing ourselves carefully, yet with no stalling, we wrestled chiefly upright for the whole period.

With trips and catches, I tried to get Leino off balance to head for a take-down. He sparred for the same goal. Neither of us succeeded. He must have decided to content himself with cautious advances and retreats. He demonstrated a huge patience and an unlimited persistency. This didn't bring cheers from the spectators. I felt their eagerness for more action, but I knew I must not throw caution on the tide by diving for a take-down.

A whistle signaled the end of the six-minute period. Neither of us gained the advantage. While the referee and judges huddled to discuss the wrestling, I welcomed a minute of intermission, and inhaled and exhaled a number of times.

Neither Leino nor I displayed a marked superiority during that first period, so the referee, in agreement with the judges, ordered two periods of ground wrestling of three minutes each. Leino and I drew lots. He drew bottom position, and I drew top.

Leino expressed confidence as he went down on his hands and knees.

To destroy his confidence, I attempted to break him down, and succeeded. Then with a grapevine and a crossbody ride of three minutes, I gained time advantage. The noise of the crowd thundered down into the ring.

Then I tried to pin him, but he stood too far back for me to have leverage. The strain of trying weakened me. At that moment a truth slapped me that I wrestled not only brawn, but an iron determination.

The referee's whistle blew again. That ended the first three-minute period. Still neither of us had gained a pin. A murmur of disappointment rippled from the audience.

My heart slapped against my ribs and bubbles of sweat stood out on my body. During the minute's intermission, I stood tall, tried to ignore the crowd, received inspiration from Old Glory and once more prayed for strength.

A whistle opened the second three-minute period of ground wrestling. Leino and I alternated positions. He took top, I took bottom, He held it for approximately a minute and a half while I tried to escape to gain advantage. I tried a step-over, a switch and an arm drag. Nothing worked.

I tried then for an escape and started to my feet, but, in a crushing grip, Leino's arms locked me. Attempting to execute his famous high bridge, he tried to pick me up. That would have thrown me over him and knocked me out before my shoulders his the mat, but before he could lift my feet from the mat, I countered his bridge. I leaned forward with my arms out and pulled him off balance. In a flash I rolled my chest in and threw my arms straight up. With a spin, I fell through his grip. Facing him, I dropped on my knees and tackled him below his knees. He fell back.

The spectators yelled, clapped and stomped.

Then I tried to grasp him with my arms, but they felt numb, ripped from their sockets and I lost my grip. I leaped forward, and, for a short time, rode Leino with my legs.

Speedily, I stood up, then, each of us, fighting on wobbly legs, tried for a take-down before the whistle ended the second three-minute period.

For the third time, the match got judged according to the value of the positions obtained and the aggressiveness and skill displayed.

I reviewed the match. For riding-time advantage in the first three-minute period of ground wrestling, I earned one point. For reversing Leino's advantage, another. But why figure? I thought. The judges and the referee would score the match as they saw it. Some of the audience shuffled in their seats, others on the edge. For me, the wait grew into an eternity.

Moments later, a referee announced the decision for first place and called my name.

For one stunned second, I stood rooted to the mat. My heart pounded and I trembled. The cheers of the audience swept across the auditorium and beat back from the distant walls.

I took Leino's outstretched hand. His sad eyes swept me as we shook hands. Quickly, he withdrew his hand and turned away.

The intoxicating draught of victory gave me a strange, however joyful feeling. In my imagination, I heard the bell in the belfry of Old Central of Oklahoma A&M ring out the victory message.

Filled with both pride and humility and physically exhausted, I walked to the edge of the mat, started down the steps and fell. Spectators rushed forward, lifted me on their shoulders and paraded me through the living lines of the audience.

Refreshed by a night of sound sleep, the next morning I awoke with an assurance in regard to the Olympic experience: the quest for the American welterweight crown would have been worth the effort even if I had not won because I'd taken part and wrestled my best; I'd done the things that my better judgement told me build better men, and, in turn, better nations.

To win first, however, gave me the 'thrill of thrills' that Thursday afternoon in August as, under a sun blazing down from a clear sky, I stood on the Victory Platform in the center of the Olympic Stadium.

Daniel MacDonald had won second place when he defeated Leino late Wednesday night. He should have been on my right, but he then was wrestling a Greco-Roman match. Leino, the third-place winner, was there and stood to my left on the stadium green.

The loud speaker delivered the victory message. The U.S. flag ran up the main. The red and white Canadian flag followed and stopped below the U.S. flag. The white and blue flag of Finland moved up and stopped below that of Canada.

Awed by the sight, I gave thanks for the Star-Spangled Banner of the United States of America, for the heritage of sportsmanship and for the noble sentiment of Olympic Games.

The master of ceremonies announced my name: 'Jack VanBebber, United States of America, welterweight champion of the world.' Then he presented the Gold Medal.

Overwhelmed by the beauty of the moment, I swallowed the lump in my throat, blinked back tears and received it.

And while I clutched that tangible symbol of my intangible wrestling quest, an awareness swept over me. I realized the honor of that hour didn't belong only to me, for I shared it with my family, coaches, Cowboy matmen, teachers and fans. No man makes it alone.

I felt sadness, too. I suddenly knew that the desire to wrestle that had burned in my heart must now go out along with the Olympic torch of the 1932 games. I had followed that Olympic torch---a distant flame, burning in my mind---for eight years of almost continual struggle.

Then I realized something about the future. Somehow for the first time I knew that all of life was a series of struggles, in various ways, for all of us. I undoubtedly would have many more.

Of my first struggle, wrestling, I had treasured every moment.


A Distant Flame, by Jack VanBebber as told to Julia VanBebber -- 1992.
Last Edited=31 Mar 2011


  1. [S2094] Dale Patterson, Patterson Family Tree, online (El Paso, Texas: page last updated 2010) viewed on 31 March 2011.