Walter Vance Carlson, 92, of Hays, passed away peacefully on September 17, 2018, surrounded by family at the Good Samaritan Home in Ellis. Vance was born on November 14, 1925, in Falun, the son of Walter and Helga Alice (Blomquist) Carlson. Their lives changed forever when the family moved to McPherson in 1942 after the U.S. Government declared eminent domain to construct Camp Phillips, a training facility for World War II soldiers and internment camp for German prisoners of war. Over 72 square miles were used to build the military facility, some of this acreage included the Carlson farm and relatives that farmed nearby, all of which were homesteaded by their grandparents who were immigrants from Sweden. Vance held his Swedish heritage close to his heart and brought smiles to friends and associates with Swedish humor. His gratefulness for his heritage was exhibited through working as a board member at the Bethany Home, Lindsborg, KS for fifteen years.
Vance excelled in education, sports, and music. He graduated from McPherson High School in 1943 receiving All-State honors in basketball. He originally entered McPherson College in the fall of 1943, only to interrupt his education and enter the U.S. Air Force in 1944. Upon his return to campus, after advancing to the rank of lieutenant during World War II, Vance earned All-KCAC basketball honors in 1947 and graduated in 1950. His collegiate career came to a premature end when, after signing a contract with the New York Yankees professional baseball club in 1946, he was declared ineligible to compete in intercollegiate sports. He would go on to have a 10-year minor league career in professional baseball both as a pitcher and manager, accumulating a win/loss pitching record of 54-67. His best year was his first, when he went 17-8 in 216 innings for the Twin Falls Cowboys and Kansas City Blues.
With his college eligibility ended, Vance began his high school and small college football and basketball officiating career to supplement his income. His love of sports led to the decision to accept a football officiating position with the Big 8 Conference in 1958 and three years later, opening Starlite Lanes in McPherson as a bowling lanes proprietor. Vance would go on to be known as one of the leading football referees in collegiate football, working a record 270 conference games, among those were 15 bowl games including two times each in the Sugar Bowl and Orange Bowl; three times each in the Cotton Bowl and Sun Bowl; and once each in the Bluebonnet, Independence, Holiday, Peach, and Aloha Bowls. Three of those games were for the national championship – the 1971 Orange Bowl (Nebraska-LSU), 1978 Cotton Bowl (Notre Dame-Texas) and 1983 Sugar Bowl (Penn State-Georgia) as well as the Thanksgiving 1971 “Game of the Century” between Oklahoma and Nebraska, at one time the most watched televised football game with 55 million viewers. In basketball, he was selected to officiate in two NAIA national basketball tournaments and basketball games between the Wichita Vickers and Phillips 66ers, both members of a semi-professional basketball league in the 1950’s.
Vance became the first football official to receive a three-year extension beyond the Big 8 Conference mandatory retirement age of 57, which required unanimous consent by the head football coaches, and the first individual to be inducted in the Kansas Sports Hall of Fame based on his 39 years as an athletic official in 2003. Named to the Kansas Baseball Hall of Fame in 1988 and Kansas Collegiate Officials Hall of Fame in 1993, Vance managed the McPherson’s Ban Johnson baseball team to three state championships and one state semi-pro runner-up finish between 1956 and 1959. In 1975, he directed the McPherson American Legion team to a state title. He was an avid golfer and bowler, accumulating nine holes in one; three at the Smoky Hill Country Club and three at the McPherson Country Club. A former member of the McPherson College Board of Trustees, he received the College’s Citation of Honor in 1984 and after 26 years as owner and manager of Starlite Lanes, Vance retired to Hays, Kansas. As he said many times, “Keep’em Rollin”.
Vance is survived by his wife, Margaret (Brungardt) Schmidt-Carlson, Hays, his children; Susan (Steve McCall) of Goodland, Marty Carlson (Deborah) of Snoqualmie, Washington, Neal Carlson (Yunhee) of Kenmore, Washington, and his former wife, Marilyn Carlson of Goodland. His step children; Robert Schmidt, of Lenexa, Donald (Cheryl Baldwin) Schmidt of Lawrence, Lori Schmidt of Dallas, Texas, Jon (Cindy) Schmidt of Leawood, Christa Walter of Gaitersburg, Maryland, and Melissa Schmidt of Hays his 6 grandchildren; Megan and Jena McCall, Zachary and Gunnar Carlson, and Cody and Jacob Carlson, his 8 step-grandchildren; Hannah (Daniel) Brockway, Erin (Drew) McDermott, Jacob (Jessica) Schmidt, Graham Huey, William, Isaac and Andrew Schmidt, Neil Walter, and his great-step-grandchild; Max Schmidt.
Funeral services will be at 10:00 am on Thursday, September 20, 2018 at Trinity Lutheran Church, 2703 Fort Street, Hays, with Rev. Marie Sager officiating. Burial with military honors by the United States Air Force funeral detail will be at 2:30 pm on Thursday in the McPherson Cemetery, McPherson, Kansas. Visitation will be from 5:00 pm until 7:00 on Wednesday at the Hays Memorial Chapel Funeral Home, 1906 Pine Street, and from 9:00 am until service time on Thursday at the church. Memorials are suggested in Vance’s memory to Trinity Lutheran Church or the Kansas Sports Hall of Fame, in care of the funeral home. Condolences and memories of Vance may be shared with the family at www.haysmemorial.com