George Remsberg remembers well when his family’s love of sports took root.
The three brothers — Jim was the oldest, then came George and then little brother, Dale — hadn’t really given much thought about football or basketball.
Their father, Ralph, grew up in the heart of the Great Depression, and competing in sports was barely an afterthought.
“He always wanted to, but couldn’t,” son George noted. “It was way different for him.”
But as his sons aged, the elder Remsberg decided to take them to their first football game.
“I was 7 or 8,” George recalled.
The Iola Mustangs were ready to take on an unnamed foe at the Riverside Park football stadium.
“When the lights hit the field, it just felt magical,” George said. “I’d never seen anything like that before, when the Mustangs ran out onto the field in their bright yellow uniforms. I thought, man, this is what I wanted to do.”
It must have been quite a game.
The Remsbergs soon were old enough to take the field themselves, and they jumped at every opportunity
Over the next decade, ending in 1956, the Remsberg brothers left their imprint on Iola High School athletics.
All three suited up for whatever sport was in season. Football in the fall, basketball over the winter, and track and field in the spring.
Jim, who graduated in 1950, earned eight athletic letters in his time at IHS. George, a 1952 graduate, earned the maximum nine (three years of the three major sports), as did Dale, a 1956 alum. (Remember, this was before freshmen were eligible to compete in varsity athletics.)
That’s 26 letters in all (out of a possible 27), which begs a question George couldn’t answer.
Has there been a family of siblings as prolific at lettering as were the Remsbergs?
“We didn’t know then,” George said. “I still don’t.”
Regardless, the Remsberg family’s imprint on athletics extended well beyond the halls of Iola High, and that’s why George Remsberg, who moved to upstate New York after retirement, fielded a recent phone call from a Register reporter.
George, 88, is all that’s left of the Remsberg brothers.
Jim, the oldest, died in December at age 89. Dale, the youngest, was 83 when he died in September 2020.
THE REMSBERGS grew up on their father’s dairy farm on South Kentucky Street.
“It was really subsistence farming,” George said. “We barely made it. The Depression had made things really tough, and our family never had much money.”
As such, they were hardly deterred from playing football, even though football was a luxury the family could ill afford.
“We made a football by wrapping up a burlap sack and tying a clothesline around it,” George said. “That was the kind of environment we grew up in. We were competitive, yes, and fought like brothers do. But we loved each other deeply. Our parents were wonderful people. They’d let us do anything we wanted to do — as long as it was legal.”
Ralph Remsberg was a lifelong Iolan, retiring in a house barely a mile from where he was born, but his grandparents had come from overseas; one even moved to Kansas in a covered wagon.
MOST kids grow up dreaming of being an athlete, or an astronaut, or a cowboy.
Jim Remsberg had a different plan, George noted. He wanted to become a petroleum engineer.
“None of us even knew what that was,” he said. “But Jim did. He had an ability to focus like nobody I ever met.”
For example, if the Remsbergs went fishing, Jim wasn’t content with a simple bamboo pole. “He tied his own lures. Then he decided to play golf, and he became a good golfer. His concentration was amazing. My dad once said that if Jim was reading a book, you could fire a shotgun and he wouldn’t hear it.”
After school, Jim followed through on his engineering plans, but first came a two-year stint with the Army during the Korean War, where he worked as a radar specialist.
Following the Army, Jim earned a degree at the University of Kansas. He then joined Slawson Drilling Company, Inc. in 1965 and then launched his own firm, Argent Energy, in 1986. He was a member of the Petroleum Club, the Kansas Independent Oil and Gas Association (KIOGA) and was inducted into the KIOGA Hall of Fame in 2021.
Tacked on to his many civic awards from the Wichita area was perhaps one of his proudest achievements, when he earned the Distinguished Engineering Service Award in 2014.
LIKE GEORGE, Dale was a standout on the Iola high football squad, and later signed on to play at the University of Kansas.
Dale’s intellect was something to behold, George said.
“I use the term ‘elegant solution’ when I think of Dale. He was able to come up with solutions to whatever problems arose in a manner that was simple, but with nothing extra. In and of itself, it was an elegant solution, not because it was fancy, but because it was perfect. I’ve always considered Dale an elegant solution to life.”
Dale translated that intellect into a lengthy coaching career at Butler County Community College. He was a member of the Butler football coaching staff for 30 years, and a part of the track and field team coaching staff for 20.
He was inducted into the Butler Athletic hall of Fame in 2004.
“Dale Remsberg, arguably more than any other coach in Butler history, lived and breathed the purple and gold throughout his life,” a dedication on the school’s website read.
He was a part of Butler’s 1981 national championship coaching staff, and served as an unsanctioned coach in the 1998 championship run.
“He is a guy who has forgotten more about football than most of us will ever learn,” longtime Butler Coach Steve Braet said. “He taught me so much about how to deal with players, how to coach them the right way and how to be a defensive coordinator. He was so smart, so level headed and taught you so much about the game of football and life.”
GEORGE was a crackerjack athlete in high school, shaped in part by head coaches Leo Berger and Pete Stith.
“Coach Berger was such a wonderful coach and a good man,” George said. “He would be stern but fair. Coach Stith was a good coach, but you would never, ever get his praise. He would never say ‘good job.’ But you certainly heard from him when you didn’t.”
George’s days at KU were enjoyable, but tough, he admitted.
His first two years with the Jayhawks were with Jules Sikes.
“Man, what a sonofabitch,” George said. “He was awful. Profane. He would scream at his players constantly.”
The profanity was so intense that a group of KU alums approached him after practice. The constant barrage of insults had to stop.
“And it did,” George said. “For about two days.”
Sikes was fired after the 1954 season.
“I was delighted,” George recalled.
Sikes’s replacement, Chuck Mather, who had success at the high school ranks, was worlds apart from his predecessor in terms of demeanor.
“He was just a different kind of guy,” George said. “He would tell jokes, and have all sorts of sardonic comments.”
Perhaps the most memorable part of Mather’s tenure was the new coaching staff’s grading system for defensive players.
“He’d walk around with these long stacks of IBM paper reports,” George said. “If you lined up right, you’d get two points. If you left on the snap, you’d get two points. Did you run in the right direction? Two points.”
Each player then was graded on a percentage of total possible points at the end of each play.
Problem was, a player could score really well, and still not be a part of the tackle, George recalled.
“All of my buddies from Kansas got really crappy grades,” he noted. “We’d never heard of it. All of the players he brought with him would score well.”
Not that it offered much solace for George, but tht system didn’t translate much to on-field success.
“He was a terrible coach,” George said. “We were terrible. We ran a split-T offense, and he was good at coming up with wide runs, reverses, double reverses. We just could never run forward.”
The Jayhawks went winless during George’s junior year, and struggled mightily when he was a senior.
“It was miserable,” he said. “Psychologically, mentally, emotionally. We worked hard, but the harder we worked, the worse we got.”
There was a bit of salve at the end of the season. Despite their struggles, the Jayhawks ended the year on a roll, winning three of their last four, headed into a showdown with arch rival Missouri.
George suited up as a linebacker on defense and a fullback on offense as KU won in dramatic fashion.
“I played all 60 snaps,” he recalled. “That’s a great memory I have.”
Another game, which didn’t really count, also stands out.
George was back in his hometown, about the time Dale was about to graduate, when he was invited to partake in an alumni football game at Riverside Park.
“I went back with absolutely no intention of playing,” George recalled. “A lot of my ex teammates from school were all fat and punchy and out of shape. I thought, ‘If you guys can play, I can play.’ Against my better judgment, I played.”
He lined up alongside his younger brother. George at linebacker; Dale at defensive end.
“It was a great game, just a wonderful time,” George said. “I was so impressed with Dale and how he had matured, and how he was so confident in all of his moves. One of the highlights of my life was to play that one game.
“Of course, I woke up the next morning, and couldn’t move,” Remsberg laughed. “Everything I moved hurt. It took several days to recover.”
DURING college, George considered briefly pursuing a coaching career, before thinking twice and instead pursuing a business degree.
“I realized that on any given Saturday, half the coaches would win that day, and half the coaches would lose,” he said. “If you lose too many, you get fired.”
After college he worked briefly for Southwestern Bell, then served in the military for a few years.
He returned to Ma Bell, and was content there until an old friend invited Rembersg and wife Sue to visit one fateful day in Santa Barbara, Calif.
The landscape was decidedly different from the Kansas plains.
“Oh, my God,” he recalled. “This is heaven on earth. If you’ve never been there, you don’t realize how absolutely gorgeous it is. You have the mountains and the ocean. Flowers bloom year-round.”
Long story short, Remsberg soon shipped out to California to work for a real estate developer.
But his dreams of utopia didn’t turn out that way.
“It was not a great place to raise children,” Remsberg recalled. “There’s so much money that a large segment of the population would move out there to retire, so they didn’t have to work. At the other end, you had the segment that was so poor, they would do menial jobs, just to be where it was beautiful. But it wasn’t a good situation.”
A friend had opened a savings and loan in Lancer, Wyoming, and invited George and family there to work
Sue would design the homes, while George worked on financing.
“We sold our house, which gave us enough money to last us for two years,” he chuckled. “Sure enough, that’s about as long as it lasted. We just didn’t make any money out there and my wife missed the ocean.”
Sue took a job with United Airlines in Menlo Park, Calif. George soon became a mortgage broker, and finished his professional career in Palo Alto.
They stayed there until their daughter moved to New York to find a career.
“She moved out the day after 9/11,” George recalled. “She was able to find a job, and then she got married.”
With that came an offer to George and Sue about seven years ago. After they retired, they could move in with her in upstate New York.
“We’re here,” he laughed. “We sure didn’t come for the weather. To go from where it’s gorgeous year round to brutal winters and hot, steamy summers. But all in all, it’s been good.”
A DESIRE to learn about his family’s legacy, and hearing his elders talk about emigrating from Europe or crossing the country in a covered wagon led to an epiphany.
While their childhood may not have been as colorful as arriving at Ellis Island, or watching an endless herd of buffalo stampede through the Great Plains, the Remsberg brothers still had some fun yarns to spin.
“Jim was talking to me on the phone one day, and said, ‘You know, we always talk about the good old days, and our daughters are always asking how it was like to grow up on a farm.”
So the three Remsberg boys decided to do something about it.
Each took about a year to write his memoir of growing up in Iola.
There were certain ground rules. Each brother could write as much and for as long as he wanted. No story was off limits. And none of the brothers would compare notes along the way.
“We’d just stay in touch to make sure it was still proceeding,” George said.
The next year was magical.
“One of my fondest memories is writing that book,” George said. “I was living at the time in California. Dale was in Cassody, and Jim was in Wichita. Writing that book brought us back together by virtue of our memories we were collecting.”
George was amazed, but hardly surprised, at reading his brothers’ thoughts.
“Dale’s writing style was just like Dale,” he said. “He was simple, direct, straight-forward. His character came out to me in his writing. It was simply eloquent.
“Jim’s writing was economical,” George continued. “He was precise in his words and how he said it, with no embellishments. Just like an engineer would write.”
Their stories became “The Remsberg Boys,” which was published in 2012, primarily for family, but also available for anyone wanting to learn about life in Iola in the first half of the 20th century.
“It was written for our family,” George noted. “We hadn’t even thought of publishing it.”
But as others read the stories, it soon became clear that the book was more than a simple autobiography.
“One of my classmates from KU got Alzheimer’s late in life. During that process, after the book was written, I was talking with his wife. She’d heard somewhere that we’d written it. So she read the book to him. He’d listen, and his eyes would light up. I’ve had a few other people tell similar stories.
“Not to get too weird about it, but it was a simpler time,” George continued. “We weren’t worried about going to school and having some idiot shoot at us. The book wasn’t ever meant to be a story or history of that period of time, or a story about farming. But it provides a bit of nostalgia.”
“The Remsberg Boys” is available for perusing at the Allen County Historical Society, or can be purchased online at https://www.blurb.com/b/4763810-the-remsberg-boys
The Remsbergs make nothing from the sales.
“It’s just a convenient way to get it distributed,” George said.