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