- Associated Press - Sunday, December 6, 2015

FAIRBANKS, Alaska (AP) - Just a hop and a skip outside Fairbanks on the northern end of Nordale Road exists a small street by the name of Severns Road. The road itself gives no indication of abnormality.

At the end of the road sits a normal house, and in that house lives a couple by the names of Virgil and Anne Severns.

Virgil and Anne Severns have lived most of their lives at the small, quiet home on their namesake road. In the 58 years they’ve owned the property, they’ve raised six children and watched those children raise kids of their own - the course of life.

The walls of the couple’s living room are filled with various paintings, pictures and souvenirs, and tucked in among them is a single framed certificate containing a block of text and an embossed image of North and South America - nothing gaudy or bright enough to turn a head.

But the story of the certificate’s origin reaches far back through the past to a time before the Severns moved to Alaska and before they had children.

Virgil calls it “ancient history,” but even at 86, his lanky form is still noticeable to the casual observer as that of a tall Midwestern boy built to jump and to jump high. The skill took Virgil across the country and around the world, culminating in an appearance at the inaugural Pan American Games in Buenos Aires in 1951.

For those games, Virgil was chosen as the sole United States representative for the high jump, in part due to his collegiate success and in part to his performance at previous international meets in Great Britain.

After the 1951 games, Virgil received a certificate and a record book and went on with his life. But he dusted off his memory of the games last week when he learned of the death of one of his fellow competitors, Mal Whitfield. Virgil met Whitfield, and another athlete, Steve Seymour, on the trip to Great Britain, and the trio became friends.

So, in 1951, when Virgil was struggling to make early heights at the Pan American Games, Seymour and Whitfield were there.

“They got after me,” Virgil said. “They encouraged me.”

With the words of his friends in his ears, Virgil turned it around and eventually went on to earn the gold medal for high jump, reaching the height of 1.95 meters. That height, 0.088 meters short of his personal best, would have put him in the top five at the 1952 summer Olympics had he been able to go. Virgil’s personal best, 2.038 meters, would have given him second place at the ‘52 Olympics, behind only Walt Davis, who broke the Olympic record at that event.

In the early 1940s, while Virgil was in grade school, he and his brothers would compete at the local athletic competition in Norton County, Kansas.

At that time, all the local competitors used a technique called scissoring, in which competitors would jump upright and swing their legs over the bar one after the other.

“It was a very inefficient form of jumping, but it was the only way we knew,” he said.

That all changed one day when Virgil’s older brother came home and said he had to try a new technique called the western roll, in which the jumper puts their body horizontal to the bar and rolls over the top. Like the scissor technique, the western roll would eventually be replaced by a more efficient form, which high jumpers continue to use to this day: the Fosbury flop.

Armed with the newest technique, Virgil attended Kansas State University, where he continued to compete in track and field under coach Ward Haylett. It was there, in a 7 a.m. class on the principles of secondary education, that he met Anne, a fellow sleepy undergraduate trying to make it through the early class.

“It was the most boring class I’d ever taken,” Anne said.

Months later, Anne saw the professor who had taught the class while she was studying in the library.

“I went up to him and I told him that we were getting married over Christmas vacation, and he said ‘I’m glad to see you got something out of that class besides sleep,’” Anne said.

After graduating, Virgil sent letters to every school in Alaska that was on the road system, which at that time was four, he said. He eventually received a reply from Lathrop Principal Jim Ryan, for whom Ryan Middle School is named, offering him a position. So the family packed up and hit the road.

The couple packed their belongings - and two young sons - into a 1953 Chevy pickup truck and 30-foot home trailer and drove 20 days on the Alaska Highway to reach Fairbanks.

Virgil worked at Lathrop for several years before moving to the University of Alaska Fairbanks Cooperative Extension. He remained with Cooperative Extension until his retirement in 1985.

Today, he spends most of his time gardening. In the summer, he can easily be found at the farmer’s market, where he has sold the fruits and vegetables of his labor for the last 30 years and counting.

___

Information from: Fairbanks (Alaska) Daily News-Miner, http://www.newsminer.com

LOAD COMMENTS ()

 

Click to Read More

Click to Hide