Working on a city magazine is a great way to find out how much you don’t know. To arrive at our final list on p28, we read about Charles L. Tutt, Dr. Caroline Spencer, and Thomas McLaren. We looked at Leon Young and “Mama” Susie Perkins. We discovered Rev. Sherman Coolidge, Gen. Ben Chidlaw, Samuel Melena, Peggy Fleming, Katherine Lee Bates, and a dozen others upon whose shoulders we stand. (If you haven’t toured the The Colorado Springs Pioneers Museum’s 150th Anniversary exhibition, do yourself a favor.)
For example, I didn’t know the “Ent” in Ent Air Force Base was Uzal Girard Ent, Commanding General of the 2nd Air Force in Colorado Springs during WWII. Among many other accomplishments, Ent was competing in the 1928 National Balloon Race when lightning killed his copilot and set the envelope aflame. Instead of parachuting to safety, Ent rode the balloon down in an effort to save his friend. For his heroism, he was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross.
As a boy, I had heard about Bob Matthias. Matthias was a two-time Olympic decathlon champion in an era when that defined the world’s greatest athlete. In 1948, he became the youngest decathlon Olympic champion ever at 17; in ’52, he became first to repeat. He was a successful actor and four-term U.S. Congressman from California. He was also the first director of the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs (on the site of the old Ent Air Force Base).
After all that, the story that left its mark on me is that of Kelly Dolphus Stroud. Stroud was a standout Colorado Springs (now Palmer) High School student athlete. He went on to excel at Colorado College, earning a Perkins scholarship for attaining the highest grade point average. He graduated as the first Black Phi Beta Kappa at CC.
Stroud was also a world-class athlete for the CC track team. In 1928, he broke the record for a round trip climb up Pikes Peak that had stood for 25 years. Later that year, he won a 5,000 meter regional race in Denver, where the winner was promised paid transportation and expenses to the Olympic Trials in Boston.
However, Amateur Athletic Union officials refused to pay Stroud’s expenses. They didn’t say so, but it was understood by Stroud and his coach that it was because he was Black.
Stroud ran, walked and hitchiked the 1,765 miles to Boston. The trip took two weeks; Stroud arrived six hours before the start of the race, broke and hungry. Exhausted, he was unable to finish.
What if Stroud had won the gold in 1928? Which school would be named for him? Who would have played him in the movie? Would he have made our list? We’ll never know.
As we celebrate the accomplishments of those who shaped our city, we should also remember the injustice of Dolphus Stroud. It’s humbling to be reminded that those who forget history are doomed to repeat it.