Much will be written in the coming year about the great gridiron Harold “Red” Grange, who helped dedicate the University of Illinois’ Memorial Stadium on Oct. 18, 1924, with a remarkable game that included five rushing touchdowns, another scored on a pass , 212 yards rushing, 124 yards kickoff returns and 64 yards passing.
Grange became the first star of the National Football League with the Chicago Bears and later was a radio and television broadcaster.
Less known is Grange’s brief career as a political hitman.
For 26 years after the legendary 1924 game against Michigan, Grange’s name was never associated with UI politics or administration. But suddenly, at the August 1950 Illinois Republican Party convention in Peoria, a group of downstate party chairmen reversed the candidates nominated by a UI Alumni Association committee and replaced the name of Grange with that of Chester Davis, a Chicago banker and lawyer who had previously served as a UI trustee.
Grange wasn’t even at the convention — he was broadcasting a college football game in Chicago that night — but his allies said Davis was just a “yes man” for UI President George Stoddard. The president, a New Deal Democrat who became UI chief executive in 1946, had clashed with Southern Republicans over a number of issues, including his religious beliefs and his association with the United Nations United for education, science and culture.
But an entirely new controversy erupted that night in Peoria when state Rep. Ira Dillavou of Champaign claimed that of the 3,500 faculty on the Urbana campus, at least 50 were “socialist, communist or pink.” He did not name names or offer any evidence, but Dillavou’s accusations echoed those of U.S. Sen. Joseph McCarthy, R-Wis., who had thrust himself into the national spotlight six months earlier when he said he had a list of 205 registered communists. at the US Department of State.
During his campaign for the board of trustees, Grange steered clear of the turmoil, saying only, “All I know is what I read in the papers.”
But the football star proved to be a big vote-getter, helping elect all three Republican candidates to the board that November and finishing first among six candidates with 1.9 million votes, 300,000 more than the top Democrat. Neighbor.
After his election, Grange said his goals as trustee were to build an indoor “sports venue” at the university – the term then used by supporters for what would eventually become Assembly Hall – and to eradicate “pinks” on campus.
“I don’t want any trucks with pink colors. Any good American would feel the same way,” Grange said, adding: “I don’t know if there are any pink people on the faculty. All I know is what I read in the newspapers.
Grange kept a low profile until an oddly timed Friday night trustees meeting in July 1953 in Urbana. During a lengthy executive session that was not on the board’s agenda and at which Stoddard was not present, Grange said trustees indicated they had lost confidence in the president’s leadership. He went 6-3. Stoddard was then called into the room to receive the news.
He quickly scribbled a message: “Chairman of the Board of Trustees – In consideration of the vote of no confidence of the majority of the Board of Trustees, please accept my resignation effective August 31, 1953.”
Although his motion led to Stoddard’s downfall, Grange made no comment on the night of his resignation. Board President Park Livingston denied that the no-confidence vote was related to Stoddard’s order that Dr. Andrew Ivy of the UI Chicago pharmacy school take a leave of absence. Ivy was a proponent of the drug Krebiozen – later discovered to be nothing more than an amino acid dissolved in mineral oil – which was promoted as a cure for cancer.
There is no doubt that Stoddard’s presidency was marked by disputes with politicians, including Republican Governor William Stratton and State Superintendent of Public Instruction Vernon Nickell; broadcasters (beyond IU seeking a television license); teachers and administrators (especially for what they claimed were autocratic methods); community members (due to IU’s rapid postwar growth that included construction of IU-owned housing); and his frequent international forays on behalf of UNESCO.
“The plain truth,” Livingston said about a week after Stoddard resigned, “is that George Stoddard has been a pain in the ass for so many people on so many issues for so long that six of the nine trustees elected by the people of the Illinois got tired and expressed their lack of confidence in him as president of our great university. It’s just that simple.”
Grange, meanwhile, remained mostly silent. The Daily Illini called him “the hatchet man” and Stoddard said he was “the creation of Park Livingston.” Grange’s only public comment was that state legislators–whom he did not identify–always asked him when the board would fire Stoddard.
The reaction to the vote of no confidence mostly supported Stoddard, particularly on the UI campus. Eleven former administrators, members of both political parties, signed a letter protesting the way the Stoddard affair had been handled and complaining that politics had crept into the management of the UI.
“Common decency required an orderly procedure and a fair trial for” Stoddard, the letter read. “Instead, those who instigated the midnight action against Dr. Stoddard did not even inform him or their fellow administrators that this matter needed to be raised for consideration.”
Furthermore, it says, “for many years, the University of Illinois has been kept out of politics. Recently, attempts to use the University of Illinois for political purposes have become all too common and have now culminated in actions that cannot fail to cause great harm. It is an interesting coincidence that two of the administrators who participated in these shameful proceedings have been replaced by candidates recommended by the University of Illinois Alumni Association,” a reference to Grange’s appointment.
In private letters to Stoddard after his resignation (found in the UI archives), administrators who supported him offered sincere apologies.
“I must confess that I was the most naive individual who left (Chicago) on the (train) Friday night to attend the meeting,” wrote Wayne Johnston, president of the Illinois Central Railroad and a Champaign native. “Soon after the meeting was called it was discovered that there had been a well-directed campaign aimed at moving in one direction when the meeting convened, led by Livingston, Grange and Nickell. I suspect that the reason I was not informed about the campaign before the meeting was because those who were generalizing it were under the impression (and rightly so) that they would make no impression on me and that I would probably have something to say that would upset. the apple cart.”
Wirt Herrick, Clinton’s trustee and lawyer, wrote to Stoddard: “As I told you on Saturday morning, I thought you had been treated very badly, and so I expressed myself at the meeting on Friday evening. From what I have learned, this thing was already being considered two months ago, but I had no idea until the motion was made in the assembly.
Council member Robert Z. Hickman, a Danville native who was absent from the meeting, wrote that he would support Stoddard.
“This is for the reason that I regard him and that, over the years that I have been in contact with him, I have increasingly possessed the qualities that I mention, namely courage, honor and frankness,” he said. “These in my mind represent the tone or character that we all want our beloved university to have.”
It is not known whether Grange received letters of support for his “no confidence” motion. None of his correspondence was donated to the university. The only entry of him in the UI archives is a collection of football-related press clippings and photographs.
Grange’s time on the board was brief. Although he was elected to a six-year term in 1950, he served only until January 1955. After Stoddard’s dismissal, Grange missed eight of the next 15 board meetings, eventually resigning due to ill health and announcing that he would move to Florida. He never returned to Illinois. Livingston, who expected to benefit politically from Stoddard’s resignation, ran for the Republican nomination for the U.S. Senate in 1954 but finished fourth of 10 candidates. Stoddard became chancellor and executive vice president of New York University.