Almost 40 former members of the Chuck Rohe Era University of Tennessee and Furman University track teams gathered in Orlando last Friday (August 9, 2019) to honor our former coach with a surprise 88th birthday party. Counting spouses and friends such as Coach Doug Dickey, the total group of party-goers came to at least 55. Coppley Vickers, Bill Selmer, and Hardee McAlhaney took the lead in conspiring with Dana Rohe to organize the event, while Coach Rohe remained totally in the dark. He claims he almost had a heart attack when he walked into the party room at the Isleworth Country Club, and everyone shouted, “Surprise!”
He said he might imagine something like this for a 90th birthday, or some other special anniversary, but that he was in shock that it happened for a mere 88th! We are all so grateful that he is still in such sound mind and good health and that we could honor him in this way. Many people remarked that he taught us life lessons by his good example. Every day, he showed us how much one can accomplish by working hard and carrying through life a positive “what a day” philosophy. What better college education could one receive?
Remarkably, everyone arrived at least 30 minutes early to honor the coach, despite Orlando having perhaps the worst traffic of any place east of the Mississippi. Coach Rohe was fashionably about 15 minutes late. Of course, he thought he was just going for a quiet dinner with his wife. Coppley Vickers did a fabulous job as master of ceremonies. Gaylord Morse was recognized as the person who came the farthest(Sacramento, California), although Pat Pomphrey also came a long way (from Anthem, Arizona). Jerry Wilson, age 79, received the prize for being the oldest of the former Rohe era athletes in attendance. (He says he was recruited out of the fraternity houses as a senior in 1963 to fill the roster of athletes for Chuck’s first varsity team in Knoxville). It was nice having Toby Tyler and Bobby Lloyd (as well as Coppley) present to represent those who competed for Furman in Rohe’s pre-UT days. Doug Dickey made a very nice speech, telling us that Chuck Rohe was one of his heroes, and that he was grateful for Chuck’s role in recruiting so many great athletes for football as well as track.
Coach Rohe received a ton of birthday cards from those in attendance and others who regretted not being able to come. The coach may have been surprised, but he took the microphone for at least 30 minutes, thanking everyone for being there for his best birthday ever. The food was fantastic, and a highlight of the evening was the coach cutting the large, two-layer birthday cake. Appropriately, the cake had orange and white icing, with a Power T, an image of Smokey, and stick figures of runners, throwers, and jumpers. Instead of 88 candles, it had one large flaming candle, which the coach, wisely or unwisely, tried to blow out. Everyone had a great time visiting with their coach and old friends. Let’s hope we can have many more reunions like this in the years to come.