Straight Shots to Straight Teeth
a chat with Dr. Bruce Holman - September 2012
by Dennis Schmidt, The K-State Bay Area Alumni Club, CaliforniaCats
a chat with Dr. Bruce Holman - September 2012
by Dennis Schmidt, The K-State Bay Area Alumni Club, CaliforniaCats
I have been privileged to interview six K-Staters for these CatChats. All six have been wonderful experiences. I met Bruce Holman at a Watch Party in the late 1990’s and got reacquainted when President Schulz visited with us in early June. Speaking with Bruce I knew he would provide a very interesting ‘chat’ about his days playing basketball for K- State in the 1940’s and his life after K-State. Bruce proved that you can be ninety years young, not old. Enjoy.
Dennis Schmidt – My first question always seems to be ‘Where did you grow up’ because of its meaning to our readers so let’s start with ‘Where did you grow up’ Bruce Holman – I am asked about that often and I like to say I was born and raised in Central America, Kansas. That usually brings a laugh. I lived in several cities growing up. I was born outside of Wichita in Sedgwick and spent a year in McPherson and a year in Newton, but most of the time at Powhattan in northeastern Kansas in Brown county about 60 miles north of Topeka.
DS – Somewhere along the way in high school you became a solid basketball player, which started to open opportunities for you to consider college and where you might go.
BH – Basketball was very important in my life. It got me started and got me into Kansas State. It afforded some good growing up in grade school and high school. I was fortunate I feel in going to a very small school where I got to compete in everything at school. We had an excellent basketball record and schedule at Powhattan for a little school. In those days there were just Class A and Class B, not five classes, so yes it was important.
My folks when I was a junior in high school moved to Phoenix, Arizona and I stayed in Powhattan and finished my last year of high school with a cousin on a farm. I didn’t want to go to Phoenix because there was only one high school in Phoenix. Phoenix Union High School was the biggest high school in the whole United States in 1939. Five thousand students and I could see myself sitting on the bench and I didn’t want to do that. The next summer I played park basketball with the star basketball player for Phoenix Union and I could beat him in a one-on-one game so I knew I wouldn't have setting on the bench. Kansas was a good basketball area to grow up in those days. You could only put five men on the floor as the story goes and that is what we were always told that we were just as good as another five. We struggled. Any sport makes one humble, as you always want to do better than you did. Better than you wanted. I think sports are wonderful to compete just for that reason. There are other reasons too, but it sure teaches you humbleness.
DS – What was college basketball recruiting like in 1940?
BH – I still have two recruiting letters from Phog Allen. I think every basketball player that grew up in the 1930’s wanted to play basketball for Phog Allen at KU, me included. As I had two letters from him, he expected me to enter and when I left home to enter college I too thought I was going to KU, but I had promised that I would stop and talk to Jack Gardner at Kansas State before I enrolled anywhere. I kept my word. Gardner got me a job, he got me a room and he walked me into a bank and the banker lent me enough money to enroll - $78 as I recall. I didn’t know what Phog would do for me. I had written Phog and I said “Phog I don’t have any money”, but that was the condition of everyone in those days, no one had any money in the 30’s and 40’s. Since I didn’t know what Phog would do for me I stayed at Kansas State and enjoyed every minute of it.
DS – I believe K-State was part of the Big Six then?
BH – It was. In fact in my period of playing, before and after WW2 the last year that I played was the last year that the league was the Big Six.
DS –What was the Big Six like when you played?
BH – Kansas State was struggling to keep up with other schools at that time. Kansas State was one of the smallest and Kansas State even today is one of the smaller ones in their league. It was just beginning to catch on. Jack Gardner had been at Kansas State only one or two years before I got there and he was a big plus to it.
DS – What position or positions did you play?
BH – I was a forward. We played a triangle offence just like Tex Winter used. It was back when you didn’t need to be seven foot to play. In fact, I got a few tip-ins and I was only 5’11”.
DS – What was it like playing in Nichols gym?
BH – You know back in those days in high school you had all kinds of gymnasiums. I could tell a lot of stories about Kansas’s gymnasiums. Nichols gymnasium would hold 2,800 people and that was about half of the student body and they would stand in line. I can remember, Dennis, going in for a set up and landing on people. Landing on people because they were on the line. In those days the backboard was only two feet inbounds instead of today where it is four feet. You would go in and lay the ball up and you would land right on people. They would catch you. We new we needed a new gymnasium like a lot of people. KU’s basketball court was a stage and all of there audience was on one side at that time. Ours was no different from many I guess in those days.
Once a year Kansas State would invite the legislature to one of their ball games and as usual the fans were on the rafters, and on the separate goals and just hanging all over. At half time they pushed this dummy off of the rafter and plop down just to demonstrate to the legislature that we needed a new gymnasium. That was quite an experience.
DS –What are your favorite memories of playing for Jack Gardner?
BH – Jack Gardner was an All-American for Southern Cal when he was a sophomore. He was quite young when we traveled on trips. He fit right in with us. They didn’t know who was coach and who were the players. Good-looking man. I think one of his strong points in coaching was when he went recruiting after somebody he usually got him. He could talk an iceman into buying a refrigerator. I don’t know that he was such a good psychologist and I think that is what Phog Allen was back in those days, a real psychologist. That is important.
DS – Did you work while going to school?
BH – The athletic scholarship I had in 1940 they just found you a job and you were happy to have a job. Gardner got me on at the Palace Drug Store, which all K-State new. That was a favorite place. It was real popular in those days. On the low times I even got to jerk sodas. At the high time to watch a good soda jerk work at that Palace Drug store was something to watch. He was real good.
DS – Was your education interrupted by WW2?
BH – I had two and a half years at Kansas State. Being a state school we had compulsory ROTC (Reserve Officer Training Candidates) so we could at least march. I could see what they were doing to my friends, sending them to ninety-day wonder school, making them a 2nd Lieutenant and then right up to the front in Europe. I thought, “Gee, you know maybe I wanted to do something else”.
DS – What year did you go into the army? Was it the army?
BH – Early, early in 1943. I was married to Audrey Somers three days before I entered the Army Air Corps in February 1943. I was in the service just over three years.
DS – Where was your stateside training?
BH – I entered in St. Louis at Jefferson Barracks and they weren’t ready for us. I think it was the worst station I ever had to stay. It was deathly cold. I remember I didn’t change my long underwear one day in the three weeks that I was there. We all had bad colds when we left and I went up to CTD (College Training Detachment), which was just a place where they put cadets until we got down to San Antonio, Texas for classification. They sent me to Albion, Michigan, to little Albion College just outside of Lansing. I was there five months. It was a good training area. We would strip down in shorts and play ping- pong all night. Hank Greenburg was our captain and CO. Hank Greenburg was a good ol’ Jewish boy playing for the Detroit Tigers. We just loved him.
When we were in San Antonio they made the smarter ones navigators and bombardiers and the rest of us they made pilots.
DS – What are some early memories from the Army Air Corps?
BH – I wasn’t in there long. I didn’t feel like I did too much as a B-24 pilot by the time I was trained. We picked up a new plane after we had picked up a radar man in Langley Field Virginia and trained with him for a couple of months so we had an extra officer on our crew, five officers instead of four. Then we picked up a new plane out of McClellan Air Force Base near Sacramento and flew it to the south Pacific and Okinawa where we were flying missions hitting Japan and the China coast when the war ended.
DS – What are other memories from the Army Air Corps?
BH – I never thought that I was an important part of the war. The big boys had the tough job done for us ahead of time. I get a kick out of telling we were right there on Okinawa when both Hiroshima and Nagasaki were hit. Nagasaki was supposed to be the mission that finished the Japanese war, but our squadron hit a railroad station just south of
Nagasaki the next morning. We were dropping back down from 12,000 feet to 10,000 feet our bombing altitude and just passed Nagasaki the next morning at six o’clock it was so dusty you couldn’t see anything at that time. We like to tell, and think, we ended the war not the Nagasaki bomb. We were happy to get home. Being a newer crew they broke us up and I was stationed in Tokyo at a little fighter strip named Chofu. I had a B25 and an A20 that I flew around Japan. I had two tech sergeants that all they had to do was keep those two planes in good flying order for me to fly. That was the only time I was in the service that I wasn’t told when to take off and land. I enjoyed flying.
DS – Upon your return to Manhattan what type of team did you have?
BH – There were so many athletes returning to college in ’46-’47 that it was just a revelation. I captained that team, not because I was the best player, but because I was a senior, I was the only senior starter on that team early in the season. We had a fair season, I think; we won 14 games and lost 10 - a little above average. The next year without me, Howie Shannon came in and started and they went to the Final Four with the same players. I like to tell that to show the load I was on the team. They did real good the next year. A K-State 1995-96 basketball media guide said, “The 1947-48 team was considered the beginning of the modern era of Kansas State basketball”.
DS – Bruce, when you came back to Kansas State to play basketball after being away for three years was it especially challenging to maintain your skills?
BH – Being in the Air Corps you were busy. If you were a pilot you were doing things and when you came back it was different. I think I lost half a step. Every elbow jab felt a little harder. It was tough, more competition, but I think I was one of the best before. Let me give you an example. I was the leading scorer as a sophomore and this was five months after the bombing at Pearl Harbor and we went on a road trip to Seattle. We played Washington University one night and Washington State the next night. Missouri was there to play the other game. I was featured in the local papers so my picture was shown. A cousin of mine called, because he saw the picture and got in contact with me. I had never met him. I am bringing this up because forty years later our daughter had gone to Seattle to enter the University of Washington for a Master’s degree and she entered a hotel and didn’t have enough money to check out. I can’t recall why I couldn’t wire her money, so forty years later I called this cousin and he went and paid her bill and got her out of the hotel. It is funny how some things happened there. It was a big change when I came back it was harder, you felt the knocks. I think you lose a little of your eye. I think the year went on I played less and less. A younger classman had come in and Gardner could see that I wasn’t going to be around the next year.
DS – Were there rule changes in basketball?
BH – That was the year the backboard was moved from two feet inbounds to four feet. In every court in the nation in ’46-’47 was resurfaced and painted. We opened the season at Iowa University. I was shooting free throws before the game and I called Gardner over and I said “Jack this is the longest free throw line I’ve ever seen. I watched him walk it off. After the game I happened to be walking out of the field house behind Gardner and Pops Harrison, the coach of Iowa at that time and I heard Jack Gardner say, “Pops, I bet you a straw hat that free throw line is off”. We were travelling by train and stayed at a hotel that night and a friend of mine who was a PhysEd major, like me, at Kansas State before WW2 was going to Iowa and I came up to the hotel and I was telling him about this. Would you believe it that a week later he sent me an Iowa Collegian paper telling us that we played that whole basketball game with the free throw line seventeen feet from the basket instead of fifteen feet.
DS – What are the biggest changes that have impacted basketball the most since you played?
BH – Basketball went through a lot of changes when I was there and since. I remember when I was a freshman in high school in 1936-37 was the last year there was a center jump after every score and the time was not stopped. They lost a lot of time doing that. It sped the game up. That was a great change when they did not have the center jump. That was a big change.
Gardner was one of the first that would allow one-handed set shots. We got proficient and could fire faster, could shoot quicker with one-handed shots. I remember on of our trips to Hawaii, John Shupe was on our squad and he came back from Europe where he was a navigator and lost his left arm as he was shot up with flak. He still had his left arm but could not use it at all. He was the Dean of the School of Engineering at Hawaii University. We both played golf and were seven handicappers at the time. He played with his right hand. He shot better, he putted better than me. He said, “Bruce it’s just like basketball you can do better with one hand”. Now, there are no shots taken where both feet are on the floor. The players are all up in the air when they are shooting.
The number of free throws was cut down. I remember watching Kansas State play Colorado, which Colorado joined the league the year after I left to make it the Big Seven. I can remember Kansas State coming to Boulder and they shot 100 free throws in that ball game. How long would it take to shoot a hundred free throws? That was at a time the last two minutes you could take the ball out of bounds, if you wanted, rather than shoot the free throws.
DS – Is it true that you were asked by Coach Gardner to be his first Assistant Coach?
BH – Yes it is. Tex Winter came in as the first full assistant coach for Jack Gardner in 1947, but people don’t realize that I was offered his job before he came. I wanted to take the job, but my wife didn’t want me to take the job. 34-48 Gardner evidently liked some part of me to ask me to be his assistant. Why would he do that?
Number One - I was always concerned about my grades and he must have appreciated that because he liked to bring California players and have them room with me if he could. Number Two - I was the one who caught the free throw line was off.
Number Three - The last game that we played was at Bradley in Peoria. Riding home on the train, Clarence Brannam who was our 6’-5” center. Rough, I mean rough. He was
going to go to the AAU team in Denver to play (in a tournament) and I said don’t go out there, you won’t be eligible to come back here next year. I went to Gardner and told him that Clarence Brannam was going to do this. Gardner went to Dr. King who was the head of the Chemistry department and represented Kansas State on the Big Six Athletic council and he said if he checked out of school and then went to play in the AAU Tournament then he could come back, which was wrong. Clarence went and when he came back and played, and he was an important part of the next year’s team, Phog Allen had a fit, but because Dr. King had told them to do that the athletic conference let him play. Things like that I think Gardner liked. I think I would have enjoyed coaching, but you know Tex Winter came in then and I would never had been accepted like Tex Winter was at that time. He did so much for that team and Gardner that next year and as you know Tex Winter went up to Marquette and came back and spent a long time at Kansas State. He did a real great job.
DS – Do you still watch college and pro basketball today?
BH – I like college basketball and it thrills me to watch Kansas State I can’t wait to see what Bruce Webber will do there at Kansas State for us. I like what I hear about him. I think he will do a great job. There are a bunch of sissies playing pro ball. I got a kick out of one coach who said ‘yea I’ll be the coach of the team if I can have one dollar more than your star player being paid. Of course he wasn’t hired.
DS – Going back to the forties. What was the atmosphere like on campus after WW2?
BH – It changed. I can remember going to a lecture where there had to be five or six hundred in one class where you were expected to sit down and get something out of a lecture, which was new to us up until that day. We always had smaller classes. There were a lot of changes in education and in sports.
DS – Why did you choose to go into dentistry and where did you go to school?
BH - I had looked into coming back from the service, like all of us, we had the GI bill. I had four years paid. It didn’t pay it all, but it did pay a big chunk of it.
We looked around and thought maybe I didn’t want to coach all my life and looked into some other fields. I looked into several things including Optometry. I don’t know why I had the idea of going to dental school. All schools were difficult to get into at that time. It was difficult to get into dental school I will tell you. Dentistry looked appealing so we went to the Kansas City Dental School where you had to do two or three times the amount of practical work that many of the other schools did. They said ‘looking at your school classes it looks like you need just a few classes for pre-Dentistry. Go ahead and get those and get your degree and we let you in the next year”. That was the plan. Gardner sat out in the car and talked to Audrey and I for two hours trying to talk me out of dental school. I said “Audrey look there isn’t a high school in all of Kansas who wouldn’t like to have this job”. I said, “we have been married four years, no kids and you will have to work four more years, no kids”. She said “I don’t care, this is what I want you to do”. She new better, I’d had a heart attack. I wouldn’t have lived to ninety years old like I am if I would have taken the job I’m sure.
DS – Where did you open your general dentistry office?
BH – Philipsburg, Kansas. The pharmacist at the Palace Drugstore when I was going through Kansas State had moved while I was in dental school to Philipsburg. Philipsburg had a physician lady that was well known. Rex Rankin, the pharmacist, moved out there because she was well noted and she kept his pharmacy going. He gave me a call because Dr. Mary Glason was building a clinic and they wanted a dentist. I could plan my own office and go out there. I knew I would have plenty of patients. That’s why I picked Philipsburg, Kansas.
I practiced five years in general practice and liked it. I think I had something to do with sending a couple of players to Kansas State, Wally Frank and Stutterheim was another. Sports at that time in Phillipsburg was so interesting because both the basketball coach and football coach I had trained as a PhysEd major, so I could talk to the coaches after their high school games. I knew the players and I knew the parents. It was really
DS – What did you do after working in Phillipsburg?
BH – I worked so hard as a general dentist that I said I don’t want to work this hard my whole life. So I went back to the Kansas City Dental School and asked Gene Thompson, an instructor in the dental school, if I might be able to get into the orthodontic school. He said “Bruce at this time I don’t want to recommend the orthodontic department in Kansas City”. That surprised me. To know about this you have to know what was going on in the field of orthodontics. Half of the orthodontists thought that you shouldn’t extract any teeth in a treatment and the other half thought that many times you should. Edgewise technique was coming in, which means we have better control of each tooth. We just didn’t tip the teeth, but we could move the roots of the teeth better. There was a big fight in the field of orthodontics and Gene Thompson said “Bruce, give me a week and give me a call”. He knew a man who had become an edgewise man and was teaching school as St. Louis University. He would fly there from Kansas City and teach two days and come back. He recommended me and it was hard to get into orthodontics school, a class of six. When we got there our class of six realized we had a good school but the properties were so poor that we said we had to do something about this when we get out. While we were there training as orthodontists we had the Jesuits help us and we formed a foundation. This foundation became very helpful because when we got out of school we started the habit of treating one orthodontic case a year and the parent would pay the foundation instead of us. For years this went on until that school and foundation grew and became too important in the financing of a new school building and the ability to hire the best worldwide instructors that were available. It is funny in life, Dennis, how things work out. This is one of the things that happened in my lifetime that I like to remember that I had a little part in changing.
DS – Where did you practice Orthodontics?
BH – We lived in Denver, Colorado that is where I had my practice and raised my family of four kids.
DS – When did you relocate to California?
BH – When I retired in 1984 my wife and I moved to Chapala, Mexico where it had (arguably) the best year around climate in the world. We lived nineteen years in Chapala on a golf course. Playing golf was important for us. We had two daughters who lived in California and we always had our address in California. Our boys lived one in Milwaukee and one in Tampa, Florida.
DS – What has been the value been to you of being a Life Time Member of KSU Alumni?
BH –Kansas State treated Audrey and me well when we were there. Let me tell you, I told you that Gardner walked me in for a loan for $78 in 1940. When I came back after the war my wife worked for that bank. The president of the bank called me in one day and said “Bruce maybe you ought to pay that $78 back” (laughing). I had never been billed for it or anything so I paid it.
DS – Do you have any other stories you would like to share?
BH – I’ve been Blessed by the Lord in many, many ways. First given me talent enough to get into Kansas State. I can remember Ernie Barrett who was an All-American for Kansas State from Wellington, Kansas. He was a recruiter and money raiser for Kansas State and he would come into my office in Denver and he would say, “Bruce, I got you down for this much this year”. He would always get it out of me. His hand was twice as big as mine (demonstrates the size). His hands were so big. He just loved to shake hands.
DS – Bruce, thank you for sharing these wonderful stories of your life.
BH – Thank you for your interest in a ninety-year old man’s story.
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