Norton community mourns loss of two icons, Jake Durham and Dick Boyd

Rick Peterson Jr.
Jake Durham

Norton is mourning the loss of two longtime pillars of the community whose legacies reach well beyond northwest Kansas.

The town was dealt back-to-back emotional blows in a two-day span last week with the deaths of former Bluejay wrestling coach Jake Durham and Norton Telegram sports reporter Dick Boyd.

Durham died this past Wednesday at the age of 91, and Boyd died just one day later at 83.

“We lost two icons in our community,” said Dana Paxton, general manager and advertising director of the Telegram.

Durham started Norton’s proud tradition as a wrestling powerhouse, coaching the Bluejays for 34 years from 1955 to 1989, while Boyd was known for his unrivaled passion and support for Norton sports during his 50-year career at the Telegram.

“As far as their trades go — Jake in coaching and Dick with sports reporting — they are two men who have been regarded in very high esteem across the state and nation,” current Norton wrestling coach Bill Johnson said. “You’re probably not going to find two guys who are the men of character like them.”

Durham guided Norton to six state wrestling championships (’59, ’62, ’65, ’68, ’70, ’72) and coached the Bluejays to 40 individual state championships.

“Norton was not a wrestling community when he came,” Johnson noted.

That quickly changed shortly after the arrival of Durham, a native of Granite City, Ill., who was an All-American wrestler in college at Arkansas State University.

Durham, who was inducted into the Kansas Wrestling Coaches Association Hall of Fame in 1990, was also known nationally in wrestling circles for frequently writing articles for several magazines, including Amateur Wrestling News.

“He suggested different things, and actually, they adopted some of the weight classes he was wanting,” Johnson said.

Johnson’s coaching career at Norton started in 1991 shortly after Durham’s concluded, “but I knew of him and knew of all his great wrestlers,” said Johnson, who has continued Norton’s tremendous wrestling tradition by guiding the Bluejays to 11 state championships.

“He gave me enough space where he didn’t come into the room that often, but he was always there if I needed to ask him any questions,” Johnson said.

In the early ’90s, the Norton Invitational was renamed the J.R. Durham Invitational, and Johnson started a tradition where past Norton medal winners under Durham would be honored at the tournament.

“Every single one of them had nothing but good things to say about Jake,” Johnson said. “They could recount all the stories, and we would have a reception after the finals of the tournament. … Those guys, you could just sense the pride and the bond that was built among those teams, and I credit that to Jake’s leadership.”

Durham remained active in the community after his retirement.

“Even after he stopped coaching, he organized probably one of the largest Veterans Day parades in all of Kansas,” Johnson said of Durham, a U.S. Army veteran. “In a little bitty town like Norton, it was not uncommon to have 120 to 130 entries into the Veterans Day parade.

“He was very, very active in the Lions Club, and anything else he could get his hands involved with to keep him busy.”

Boyd was a fixture at virtually every Norton sporting event, as well as the State Outdoor Track and Field Meet in Wichita each year.

“He lived, breathed, ate, drank, slept and dreamed of nothing but Norton Bluejay sports,” Paxton said.

Boyd, a native of Mankato, played football at Kansas State University before serving in the U.S. Army. Following his discharge in 1962, he and his wife, Mary Beth, moved to Phillipsburg, where he worked for eight years at the Phillips County Review.

Boyd and his wife bought the Telegram in 1970.

“His passion was so great,” Johnson said. “Mary Beth, his wife, bless her heart, she would go with him to a lot of the competitions that were farther away when we got into postseason competition in football or whatever.”

One of Boyd’s early hires at The Telegram was Vicki Henderson, who still works at the paper to this day in composition, having worked 49 years with Boyd. She was 17 when he hired her.

“I just enjoyed every day,” Henderson said of working with Boyd. “I always thought he was very professional. Of course, he used to cover every event in town.”

Boyd never dressed casually when out covering an event.

“He always wore a dress shirt and a tie no matter where he went, whether it was super hot at the state track meet, or whether it was the dead of the winter at a wrestling tournament,” Johnson said.

“He was always in slacks, light blue buttoned-down shirt and tie,” Paxton said.

“He wore a tie to work every single day,” Henderson added. “Never seen him without one.”

During wrestling season, Johnson and Boyd developed a routine where Johnson would stop by the Telegram at 2 p.m. every Sunday afternoon so the two could go over pictures from the previous tournament and Boyd could interview Johnson.

“I appreciated that he took the time to treat wrestling like a main sport,” Johnson said. “At many schools I know it’s not treated as a full sport. Here in Norton, it’s been ingrained as pretty important in our community, you might say.”

As new technology came along, Boyd, preferred to stick to the old-fashioned way of doing things. He used an antique camera for most of his career and took notes with a pen and paper instead of using a voice recorder.

“Dick, for the longest of time, when he still owned the newspaper, he would type on a manual typewriter, and he would take that typewriter with him everywhere he went,” Johnson said. “When the computers took over, and he had to do things differently, it just frustrated him because he was used to doing it his way — which, you know, obviously if I’d done things that way for that many years, I’d like to keep doing it that way too.”

Boyd, who won several media awards during his career, was known as an ambassador for Norton athletes. He would often go to bat for northwest Kansas players in Shrine Bowl selection meetings.

“You’re not going to find a better human being that cared more about these kids,” Johnson said.

When Boyd and his wife sold the newspaper to Steve and Cynthia Haynes in 2002, Boyd stayed with the Telegram as a sports reporter.

“I told him, I said, ‘Dick, I thought you were going to give it up,” Johnson said. “He said, ‘Bill, I just can’t let go of the sports part.’ ”

He continued to cover sports until he had a partial hip replacement late last year.

On the day of Boyd’s death, Paxton said the Telegram was officially moving to a new set of offices, though those offices remain in the same building.

“The Telegram was Dick’s baby, whether he was owner or not,” Paxton said. “He had so much passion for the paper.”

The Telegram is planning tributes to Durham and Boyd in the paper’s next couple of weekly editions.

“The whole town is pretty much devastated, because either he was there taking pictures of you in school, or your kids, or your grandkids,” Paxton said of Boyd. “He was doing everything possible to provide the best coverage there was. Always willing to offer a smile and a good firm handshake.

“When somebody from Norton would win, he’d be sure to wrap his arm around them and give them a hug really quick and tell them how proud he was. He had great love for this town and this town loved him right back.”

Johnson said the deaths of Durham and Boyd leave a big void in the community,

“It’s a passing of the torch, if you will, to find out whose going to be the next ones to take over,” Johnson said. “They are just going to be extremely hard to replace.”

Durham’s funeral will be held at 11 a.m. Thursday at First United Methodist Church in Norton. Visitation will be from 5 to 7 p.m. Wednesday at Enfield Funeral Home in Norton. Survivors include his wife, Ruth Durham, Norton; two sons, Joseph (Sara) Durham, Cimarron; James Durham, (friend, Sue Ann Stutheit,) Norton; one grandson, Jordan (Victoria) Durham, Mt. Dora, Fla.; one great-grandson, Julian Michael Durham, Mt. Dora, Fla.; one sister, Sarah Carver, Waterloo, Ill.; three sisters-in-law, Paula Hollis, Jonesboro, Ark.; Judy Heaton Robinson, Springfield, Mo.; Amanda Dalton Lane, Germantown, Tenn.; six nieces and seven nephews; other relatives and many friends.

Private family services for Boyd will be held Friday morning at the First United Methodist Church. Visitation will be from 4 to 8 p.m. Thursday at Enfield Funeral Home. A celebration of life will be at 7 p.m. (kickoff) July 10, at Travis Field in Norton. Survivors include his wife, of their home in Norton; his son, Lawrence Alexander (Larry) Boyd, Colorado Springs, Colo.; his daughter, Rebecca Anne "Becky" Allen, London, England; his granddaughter, Emily Iris Allen, London; one sister, Elizabeth Boyd James, Bethesda, Md.; one brother-in-law, Jim Logback, Hill City; one sister-in-law, Diane Boyd, Hill City; two nephews and six nieces; other relatives and many friends.

Dick Boyd