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Lamb Brothers

The Lamb Brothers: They Weren’t Sheepish and Could Pull the Wool Over Faculty’s Eyes

In 1978 Jack Laugen, director of Alumni relations at Coe College, approached Harris Lamb about recording his memories from the 27 years he spent on Coe's campus. Lamb got a tape recorder and on vacation taped seven cassettes of history, personality profiles, tall tales and bits of delightful Coe history. These tapes were then transcribed and for the college’s quasquicentennial were published by the Development Office in a small book entitled The Four Lamb Brothers of Coe College, a publication which serves as the primary source for the following profiles.

Harris was one of the four Lamb brothers from Boone, Iowa who attended Coe: Clyde, '23, Ray, '23 and twin brother Willis, '27.  All the boys worked their way through school with a variety of odd jobs. Clyde and Willis ‘hashed’ at Mrs. Dane’s tea room and Ray washed dishes for Mrs. Novak. On his last day of work, right before he traveled to Vinton for the first day of his teaching position, Ray introduced his brother Harris as his replacement. Ray got out an apron and showed Harris how to clean the sink of potato peelings and get the grease off the pans properly. As Ray stood back and prepared to leave, Mrs. Novak said to him: "Lamb. You know that basement hasn’t been cleaned out. Why don't you go down and clean up that basement?" Ray said, "Fine, Mrs. Novak." He never once complained and finished the job. He then left for Vinton after lunch.

These odd jobs were necessary in the 1920's, as there was no housing or meal plan for male students at this time. Left to fend for themselves, many men took up residence in town or with families or joined one of the numerous fraternities on campus. They were able to work for food in small restaurants such as Terrace Gardens cafeteria where both Willis and Harris worked for 50 cents an hour, which paid for two meals a day.

Following in the footsteps of Clyde and Ray, Harris and Willis left their mark on the college through their fun loving and dedicated personalities. As pledges to the Beta Phi Omega fraternity, Willis and Harris gave a concert on the lawn of Voorhees with their other pledge brothers. "Our group carted a piano over there in that little grove of trees in front of Voorhees Hall," Harris recollects. "Of course, the girls were notified…and sure enough, you'd look up and you could see all those windows filled with the girls looking out." One of the pledges played the piano while the rest sang; Harris recited the Robert Service poem "The Shooting of Dan McGrew" which he still, fifty-five years later, knew from memory.

The twins were interviewed for the March 19, 1925 Cosmos for an article on twins, as there were three sets in their class alone. “‘The worst thing about the business of being a twin is that you never can remember which one you are,’ so say Harris and Willis Lamb. . . .The advantages of having a double far outnumber the disadvantage, however, according to the boys from Boone. ‘Whenever I want to purchase a new hat, I merely try it on Willis,’ said Harris. ‘He makes a perfect living model. All I have to say is ‘Here, put this on Willis; I want to see how I look.’” The Cosmos reporter admitted he was completely befuddled by their lightning chatter and asked which was which. Harris responded, “The one with that dumb expression on his face is Willis. The one bearing the look of supreme intelligence is always Harris.”  In the interview, the Lambs insisted that they were double-crossed early in life. “‘The nurse got us mixed up when we were babies,” they recited in duet. ‘We are really not Willis and Harris at all, but are Harris and Willis.’”

The Lamb brothers are perhaps best remembered for their participation in Coe Athletics. After having his nose broken in basketball, Clyde, the eldest, turned his attention to track, in which he lettered. Nicknamed “Ike,” he focused on field events, placing first in the pole vault with a height of 10 feet, 6 inches at both the Cornell and Iowa Conference meet. Clyde was also a remarkable sprinter, running second leg in the 1921 mile relay team. The men placed third at the Drake relays with a time of 3:26 3/5. “An interesting feature of the meet from a Coe stand point,” according to the 1923 Acorn, “was the fact that in the mile relay the Coe runners, Holt, Lamb, Brown and Frentress, made an average of 51 3/5 seconds for their respective 440-yard dashes. This is the best time any Coe mile relay team has made in the track history of the college.”

Brother Ray, also at Coe at this time, competed in basketball and football. Ray’s first year at Coe he played guard on the Kohawk basketball team. The December 17,1920 Cosmos reported that “Ray Lamb, a member of last year’s state championship high school basketball team and picked by critics for the high school all-state team, was chosen as captain of this year’s freshman basketball quintet this week. Lamb is classed as one of the best freshman guards in the state.”

Ray also played guard and end in football and managed a terrific touchdown his senior year against Knox. The 1924 Acorn gave a summary: “The game was played on a lagoon of mud that prevented the Coe offensive from reaching top speed. Coe lead 7-0, at the end of the half, a pass to Lamb scoring a touchdown.” Ray lettered in both football and basketball, serving as the secretary-treasurer of the Clan of C in his third and final year at Coe. 

Both Willis and Harris played basketball and football for Coe and used their identical looks to the team’s advantage numerous times. In one particular basketball against Carleton, Harris was wearing a kneepad. During a time out, Willis ripped it off and tossed it over to the bench, as it was all that distinguished one brother from another. This simple action was enough to confuse Carleton, allowing Harris to get open and make a clear game-winning shot.

Their antics, however, were not always humorous. Harris tells the story of an infamous basketball game against Cornell.

I had several fouls called on me on that first half. Willis had one. We went to the dressing room at the half. Bert Jenkins, our coach, always had us take off our jerseys, and the manager would come down the line, wipe us off with damp towels, then come by and dry us real good, and then we'd put back on our jersey. Now, the reason we did that in those days was that we played with wool jerseys. They don't do that today. But, anyway, our jerseys were off. We were about ready to go back. Willis was next to me on the bench down in that dressing room. I reached over for my jersey and Willis says, 'Here, take mine, You've got some fouls, I've got only one.'

So they got on the court, but the scorer was from the Lamb's hometown and knew the boys from one another. The official went to Harris, who was jumping for the ball and asked; "Who are you?" "I'm Harris." Harris honestly responded, and the game went on, the brother's playing in opposite jerseys.

The boys could have laughed it off, but even in Harris' book, The Four Lamb Brothers of Coe College, printed in 1978, he apologized for their actions. "There wasn't a player on our team that knew we had switched jerseys, but we did, and I regret that we did that because it made Bert Jenkins look like a crook. The fans, the conference coached all around the conference, didn't blame us. They blamed Bert Jenkins and that wasn't right." [Note this quote is jumbled; it needs to be checked.]

It was perhaps due to Lamb brothers positive athletic experiences at Coe which inspired all four to pursue coaching after graduation. Clyde, the eldest, coached basketball in Vinton for a few years, then at Nashua and later become physical education director at Ohio Northern University. When Harris, who also coached at Ohio Northern, left his position to coach at Coe, Clyde took over some of his duties. This included coaching football. Harris said this proved a bit difficult, as "(Clyde) didn't really keep up on his football." While Clyde served as Harris' assistant, Harris said he "would come to practice with (his) big bird dog….and disappear with that dog into the meadows and behind, into the cornfields." Once appointed head coach, however, Clyde traveled to different colleges to work with coaches and learn different methods and strategies. He managed to master a new blocking system and revive his football skills so well that he was named to the Helms Coaches Hall of Fame for his work as both a coach and athletic director at Ohio Northern.

Ray, the second eldest, coached football for Vinton and Clinton high schools, later returning to Boone to coach and teach Junior High science. Ray primarily coached football, but was given different sports assignments from time to time, including tennis and golf, which was right up his alley, according to brother Harris. "You walk across his back yard and you're on the fairway of #6 (in the Boone golf course)." Since he had summers off, Ray was able to play the course and had time to study different players and strategies of the game. Harris said he knew the course "backwards and forwards and he could shoot right close to par, day after day."

Willis coached for various high school teams, returning to Coe in 1939 as head basketball coach. He led the team to victory at Coe's first Midwest Conference basketball championship in 1941. March 5 of that same year the Cosmos did a story on one of Willis’ new coaching tactics. He had purchased a ‘fly gun,’ which propelled pellets by rubber bands instead of powder. The article explained that “the target is set up in the hotel room and the boys turn their attention to the little celluloid ducks instead of worrying about the coming game.” Guns were a favorite hobby.  Willis assured a reporter that he often combined this hobby with fishing, another favorite pastime: “shooting a wall-eyed pike or muskie when it reaches the side of the boat . . . is a very effective method.” Willis became athletic director with his brother Harris in 1943 and they served together until Willis left Coe in 1949 to become vice-president of United Life and Casualty Insurance.

Harris coached high school for two years and then became head basketball coach for Ohio Northern University, where he remained for thirteen years. He then returned to Coe as assistant coach under Moray Eby, who had coached both Harris and Willis throughout their time at Coe. It was in 1943 that he became athletic director with his brother Willis. He later became director of physical education and intramurals - having coached ten years at Coe, twenty-five years total.

It was at this time, 1952, that Harris put on a program for his 25th class reunion. He was called into President Brooks' office and offered a new position. "Harris," he said. "we need an alumni director. You're the one I'd like to have. You have the qualities." Harris responded that "I didn't know beans about alumni work. I was a coach. Well, I thought it over. I had lost my wife. I was alone. Marv (his son) was in the service. Nancy (daughter) was in nursing. So, I said, 'I don't know what you want me to do, but I'll do it.'"

It was Harris's honest and genuine approach that enabled him to become a remarkably successful alumni director, nearly tripling the number of alumni donors and creating approximately sixty alumni clubs across the nation. Harris had the ability to remember names (maiden and married) as well as graduation dates and various accomplishments of alumni. Harris’ secretaries, Virginia Holmes and Dorothy Dukes, helped him learn names and prepare master lists for each alumni dinner.

Beginning his career as alumni director under President Brooks, Harris then traveled the nation with Presidents Gage, McCabe and Nussbaum. He also attended a variety of American Alumni Council conventions, often times sharing a room with Paul Scott, alumni director for Cornell College. The two came to know one another quite well and became good friends, sharing experiences and stories with one another. They also knew one another's routine. Knowing Scott (Scotty) preferred to sleep late in the mornings, Harris woke up early and fixed a tape recorder to play the "Coe Loyalty Song" and fight song to wake Scotty up. "Well, Scotty will never forget it," Harris recalls. "(that's what) he said at my retirement dinner, 'I didn't mind rooming with Lamb, but…talk about dedication. That darn guy started out every day with the 'Coe Loyalty Song.'"

After 19 years of service as alumni director, Harris retired in 1971. Because of his faithful service to the college and dedication to alumni, he became known as "Mr. Coe". All four Lamb brothers were forever grateful to Coe not just for their memories in athletics, but also for their education in the classroom. "It isn't bricks or mortar that makes a college," Harris stated. "It's the professors and the students. So judge a college not by bricks and stones, but by the product that's turned out of that school. When you do that, Coe College rates with the best of them."

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