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Originally published Friday, July 24, 2009 at 12:00 AM

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Huskies' last surviving member of 1936 Olympic-gold crew team dies

H. Roger Morris, 94, who manned the bow position on the University of Washington crew that won the eight-oared gold medal at Adolph Hitler's 1936 Olympics in Berlin, died Wednesday at his home in Maple Valley.

Seattle Times staff reporter

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The last surviving link to one of Seattle's greatest sports achievements has died.

H. Roger Morris, 94, who manned the bow position on the University of Washington crew that won the eight-oared gold medal at Adolph Hitler's 1936 Olympics in Berlin, died Wednesday at his home in Maple Valley.

Mr. Morris was the only remaining member of the crew, four of whom lived into their 90s. Bonded forever by their come-from-behind victory in the last Olympics before World War II wiped out the Games in 1940 and 1944, the rowers for many years had annual, informal reunions, one with families, the other for themselves only.

"I couldn't help but think, he was going to miss the reunion this year," said Bob Ernst, longtime rowing coach at Washington. "He was all by himself."

Ernst called Mr. Morris "a very humble guy, such a good guy. I don't think the gold medal ever became the focus of his life."

A daughter, Joan Mullen, said her father lived most of his years in the Seattle area. He earned a degree at Washington and became a mechanical engineer, specializing in dredging at Manson Construction.

Mr. Morris grew up in Fremont, attended Lincoln High School, and often walked to or from classes at the UW, his daughter said.

"Fremont was just plain poor then," she said, referring to the Depression era. "One year, he had an old Model-T [Ford] from his father that he was able to drive to school. Then his father needed it for someone who worked for him.

"He'd go to classes, go work out and then walk home. He said he got rides once in a while."

All the members of that Olympics-winning shell were from Western Washington, and none had rowed until going to the UW. Mullen recalls her father being pointed toward the sport by teammate Joe Rantz, who died at 93 in 2007.

The rowers had a phenomenal 1936 season, but had to raise money to help finance their trip. They joined Olympic teammates in New York on a steamship for the eight-day journey to Germany.

There, they conquered adversity. Hitler, three years before his invasion of Poland, was in the stands, and a deafening crowd of 25,000 chanted "Deutschland! Deutschland!" Meanwhile, stroke Don Hume of Olympia had become ill during the Games.

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In the final, the Germans were placed in Lane 1 and the U.S. in Lane 6, where, coxswain Bob Moch told The Times in 2004, "the wind was blowing and the water was rough."

The Americans got a late start and because of the crowd noise, relied on Moch rapping against the boat for cadence.

Legend has grown that Hume had temporarily passed out, eyes closed, but snapped back to consciousness, something Hume disputed in a 1996 Times story.

Last at the 1,000-meter halfway mark, the boat overtook Germany and finally Italy in the last 10 strokes as Moch called for a furious strokes-per-minute rate that he estimated at 44.

"At the time, we weren't a major-league sports city," Ernst said. "We hadn't won a national championship in football or basketball. People identified with the university rowing team.

"They were as good as they could be in the era they got to do it."

Mullen said her father cut grass regularly on a rider mower at his Maple Valley ranch within a month of his death.

He was joined by his three children and most of his grandchildren at a restaurant for his 94th birthday only last week.

He rebuffed any suggestion of moving off his property, she said. "He'd say, 'That's fine,' Ms. Mullen recalled, " 'but I'm not leaving.' "

Mr. Morris is survived by two daughters, Mullen and Susan Hanshaw, and a son, James Morris, all living in the Seattle area; seven grandchildren and eight great grandchildren. A memorial service will be at 3 p.m. Monday at Maple Valley Presbyterian Church.

Bud Withers: 206-464-8281 or bwithers@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2009 The Seattle Times Company

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