It is with profound sadness that NIRSA shares the news that Bill Vendl—1990 recipient of the NIRSA Honor Award and Past President of the Association—passed away on Sunday, October 30, just a few short weeks after being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. He was 84. Bill lived a full life: in addition to being an Olympian, he was decorated for his extensive service as an officer in the U.S. Coast Guard and the Reserves, and his storied career in campus recreation spanned the public sector as well as some of the finest institutions of higher learning in Illinois and California. He spent time working as a Hollywood stuntman, served as a college professor and coach, and was an accomplished author and singer.
“Bill was a well-respected member of NIRSA and our profession; all of us who knew him were made better by his wisdom, experience, kind heart, and good humor,” says Janet Gong, retired Senior Associate Vice Chancellor of the University of California-Davis and fellow recipient of the NIRSA Honor Award. Although he passed away in 2000, another former recipient of the Honor Award, David O. Matthews, of the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, thoughtfully summed up Bill’s professional accomplishments when Bill received the NIRSA Honor Award in 1990: “His involvement on the local, state, regional, and national level in recreational sports administration and committee work has certainly been an example to and the envy of his peers.”
A lifelong passion for recreation and sports
Bill began his career in sports as a youth in Cicero, Illinois. As a sophomore in high school, he became a distance swimmer while also participating in soccer and track. He earned 10 varsity letters in these sports. An All-Conference performer in track and swimming, he eventually went on to be awarded All-State and All-American honors in swimming while at Morton High School and Morton College in Cicero.
His athletic achievements and abilities earned him a swimming scholarship to Eastern Kentucky University. After graduating from Eastern Kentucky, Bill joined the United States Coast Guard where his commanding officer entered him into a competition between the different service branches where he competed in swimming, shooting, and cross-country running—three of the five events in the modern pentathlon.
His performance allowed him to participate in the modern pentathlon at the Olympic Training Center; in 1956, he was part of the USA’s modern pentathlon team that traveled to Melbourne, Australia for the 1956 Summer Olympic Games. Although he wasn’t part of the three-man team that went on to claim the silver medal in the event, he made many lifelong friends and kicked off a storied career in modern pentathlon that included qualifying for the 1960 Olympic Summer Games, competing for a stint on the European Modern Pentathlon Circuit, appearing for six consecutive years in the international rankings, and setting 11 world, international, and national records. All of this culminated with his induction into the International Modern Pentathlon Hall of Fame in Stockholm, Sweden, in 1975.
After competing, Bill also had a successful career as a coach and athletic director. While with the Chicago Park District, he served as a physical education teacher and coach. His overwhelmingly winning record (81-7) saw his teams win a state championship and two of his swimmers qualified for the Olympics under his tutelage.
A patriot and a lifelong learner
Bill’s 31-year career as an officer in the U.S. Coast Guard and the Reserves was filled with distinction. He was decorated with 22 medals and awards before retiring in 1984 as a Senior Captain. His active duty assignments included eight patrols in the North Atlantic, one patrol to Korea as a combat officer, two patrols in Vietnam as a combat officer, and one year as the Athletic Director of the Recruit Training Center. He served as Commanding Officer and Group Commander of several different units as a Reservist.
Along the way, he never stopped learning. In a 2014 interview with Morton College, he described a turning point that set the stage for his future accomplishments and achievements: “I was a terrible student in high school,” he said. “In my first educational years, grade school and high school, nobody taught me how to study. It was, ‘Here’s the subject, the who, what, where, when and why.’ It was memorization of facts.” But, he said, “when I got to Morton College, that all changed. The instructors were asking how and why. All of a sudden, you had to think. You had to create images…. It really changed my life.”
After Morton College, Bill went on to earn a Bachelor’s Degree in Physical Education and Geography from Eastern Kentucky University, a Master’s Degree in Physical Education from George Williams College (cum laude), and an Ed.D. in Educational Administration from Northern Illinois University.
Inspired by a teacher who told him not to be afraid to fail, Bill had a penchant for testing his limitations and extending them. Among his many notable accomplishments, Bill also spent some time working as a part-time Hollywood stuntman. He worked on two major hit films of the 1960s: How the West Was Won and It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad World.
A storied career in recreation and significant contributions to NIRSA
While Bill’s career in intramural-recreational sports stretches back to 1954 when he served as the Athletic Officer in Cape May, New Jersey, his first stint working on a college campus was in 1964. Bill joined the Physical Education faculty at the University of Chicago where he served in many roles. During his 13-year tenure there, he would work as an Assistant and Associate Professor, Assistant Director of Men’s Intramurals, Associate Director of Men’s Intramurals, Director of Men’s Intramurals, Director of Coed Intramurals, Director of Sport Clubs, Director of Intramurals and Recreational Sports, and Assistant Chair of the Department of Physical Education.
In the fall of 1977, Bill left to become the Director of Intramural and Recreational Sports at California State University-Long Beach (CSULB). Current Director of Club Sports & Recreation at CSULB Rita Hayes recalls that “Bill was the first full-time professional staff member hired by CSULB to oversee the Intramural Program…. He was responsible for the Intramural Program, Athletic Facilities, and was the advisor to the cheer and dance team.” During his tenure at CSULB, his contributions were many. “Bill was instrumental in developing a comprehensive campus recreation program to include club sports, fitness classes, and a structured intramural program,” says Rita. “He also put CSULB on the map by hosting several NIRSA state and regional workshops on our campus and invited many prominent keynote speakers, including Dr. Dave Matthews, Dr. George Haniford, Bill Thompson, and Gene Lamke among others,” she adds.
But it was his lasting impression on students that is perhaps his most enduring legacy. “Bill was passionate about recreation and wanted to make sure the programs offered at CSULB were affordable and available to all students,” says Rita. “He opened the door for many of us to the possible career options in the field of campus recreation and to family that is NIRSA, regularly inviting students to the NIRSA Annual Conference and encouraging them to get involved by joining one of NIRSA’s many volunteer committees.”
Bill was an active member of NIRSA for 50 years, joining the Association in 1966. As a volunteer, he served on—frequently chairing—dozens of committees, including the Finance Committee, Nominations and Elections Committee, Constitution and Bylaws Committee, and the Proceedings Editorial Board—just to name a few. And he served as President of NIRSA in 1981–82.
As a thought leader, he contributed to the seminal publications of his time, most notably contributing as the lead editor of NIRSA’s Annual Conference Proceedings: Toward an Understanding of Intramural-Recreational Sports and Interpretive Aspects of Intramural-Recreational Sports. He was a lead author for numerous articles in NIRSA’s Recreational Sports Journal (formerly the NIRSA Journal), and presented more than 30 times at various local, state, regional, and annual NIRSA conferences.
In 1990, he was awarded with NIRSA’s Honor Award, the Association’s highest distinction. In the announcement, he was cited for contributions that “have been a stabilizing influence as well as a growth factor in the continuing development of our Association.” Bill was most recently able to join the NIRSA Family at the 2013 NIRSA Annual Conference in Las Vegas, where he was honored as a Legacy Member whose contributions to the field of collegiate recreation have been integral to its legacy.
Director of Intramural Recreational Sports at Western Kentucky University Steve Rey remembers that “Bill will always be remembered for his witty leadership and how it resulted in so many positive outcomes for NIRSA.”
Bill’s viewing will be on Sunday, November 6 from 3:00pm–7:00pm with a rosary beginning at 6:30pm at the Luyben Dilday Chapel. His funeral mass will be held at 10:00am on Monday, November 7 at St. Cornelius Catholic Church. You can sign the online guest book at www.luybendilday.com.
In lieu of flowers, his family has asked that you instead please contribute to Re-Creation USA. Bill is survived by his wife Janice Vendl; sons Bill, David Vendl, and Mike Uraine; daughter Suzanne Vendl and Kenny Jarvis, and granddaughter Kaitlyn Jarvis; and daughter Rhonda Weimmeister.