Tom Ragsdale, one of the founders of the Oregon Track Club’s annual summer All Comers Meets and a key OTC volunteer at Hayward Field’s major meets, passed away May 21 at age 90.
A teacher, coach and innovator, Ragsdale’s OTC membership dated back to the mid-1950s. For his work on behalf of track and field in the Eugene community he was the second inductee into the University of Oregon Track and Field Hall of Fame, and, in 2014, the first recipient of the OTC’s Brathwaite Award for promoting fitness in youth and families.
Ragsdale, who developed OTC’s first All Comers Meets with Robert Newland, based them on the inspiration of Bill Bowerman back in 1954, and wound up directing them for more than 20 years.
Those enduring All Comers Meets, with their images of kids running and jumping and throwing at Hayward Field, are now an intrinsic part of the identity of the Oregon Track Club.
His contributions to young people in the sport also came as a highly successful junior high and high school coach, as a meet director on the local and state meet level and as an innovator.
The chute change-over system now used everywhere to regulate the finish line at big cross country meets was his inspiration. So was the transition from popsicle sticks to sticky tags. The J-heel, used by javelin throwers and high jumpers, was his invention. And Poison Oak Alley, an iconic stretch of the state championship cross country course at Lane Community College, was his routing.
From 1955 through 1991, he was Clerk of the Course, and a lot more, for University of Oregon meets. And he played major roles in staging five NCAA championships at Hayward Field, three Olympic Trials, the Prefontaine Classic through 1989 and numerous national championship meets. He developed Eugene’s first marathon, from Armitage Park, the precursor to the 1971 national AAU marathon and the 1972 Olympic Trials Marathon.
“There are very few people that I’ve met in this world who would be called truly angelic,” wrote his daughter-in-law, Alison Ragsdale. “Tom Ragsdale was one of them. He was the kindest and most generous spirit that I’ve ever met. He took pleasure in other people’s pleasure. He put himself last. He taught, nurtured and supported countless lives in the town that he loved. Seldom could we go anywhere but someone knew Tom, and would tell us of the impact he had on them. He was known, loved and respected.
“Tom left us this week, and there will always be a gap in our hearts that only he will fit. After 90 years of life — and what an incredible life — he’s probably pacing around Hayward Field waiting for the next Olympic trials to begin. He was a man to be admired, to be emulated and most of all, to be remembered.”
Born July 7th, 1924, in Grants Pass, Ragsdale moved with his family to LaGrande in 1932 and graduated from LaGrande High School in 1942. He enlisted in the Navy in 1943 and served in the Pacific as a radioman on the Orion, a submarine tender ship. After returning home, he attended the University of Oregon and graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree from the School of Health and Physical Education in 1950. He continued his education while becoming a student manager for track coach Bill Bowerman. Tom earned his Master of Education in 1955.
Tom began a career as a PE teacher at Cal Young Junior High School. Throughout his career, Tom earned respect as a highly successful junior high and high school coach. In 1967 his North Eugene cross country team won the state title. He inspired his teams by example, training with them.
Tom is survived by his wife, Gayle, his son Robert (Alison) Ragsdale of Virginia, his stepson Steve (Nancy) Ingerson of Salem, OR, his step-daughter Laurie Gregersen of Eugene, OR, his step-grandchildren Andy (Megan) and Mary Gregersen, Julika and Sam Ingerson and many cousins, nieces and nephews. Tom was pre-deceased by his daughter Donia Ragsdale and his son Brent Ragsdale.