Staley’s Bears 1920-1921
Richard William “Dick” Barker
Height: 5-9 Weight: 180
Born: 1/6/1897 Sedalia, MO
Died: 12/17/1964 State College, PA
High School: Central (Oklahoma City, OK)
College: Iowa State College, Ames [1916, 1917, 1919]
According to a 2011 interview, Dick Barker’s son Bill told the Midland [Michigan] Daily News that in 1921 George Halas “… sent my dad a telegram and asked him to play [for the Staleys]. At the time, [my dad] had no job and no money.” So Barker came to Decatur and joined the Staleys and started at left tackle in the 35-0 shellacking of the Waukegan American Legion team at Staley Field on October 2nd. He did not play in the next home game but then subbed in the October 16 victory over the Rochester [NY] Jeffersons at Cubs Park. A few days later Barker separated from the team which had now permanently settled into a Chicago hotel. According to the October 21 Decatur Herald, Barker “who was given a tryout by Staleys this fall, but handed his release a few days ago, has signed with Rock Island….” On October 30 he subbed at left guard against Green Bay for the Independents and on November 6 he started at right guard in their victory over the Minneapolis Marines. That was the end of his professional football career but not his relationship with sports nor with the future Bears. It’s possible that Baker ended his pro career because he wanted to be closer to his new wife [he married Genevieve Mckim in Iowa on September 21, 1921]. Almost forty-seven years after his father’s death, Bill Barker reflected, “My dad never really talked about Halas. All I know is that he felt there was no career in playing pro football….”
Dick Barker’s Canadian-born father Martin worked for the railroad and thus the family moved around a great deal when Dick was young, and at one point he and his two siblings lived with their grandparents in Iowa. After attending high school in Oklahoma City, Barker enrolled at Iowa State College in Ames in 1916. He lettered in football in 1916 [All-Missouri Valley Conference honors] and 1917 and then entered the army. He served as a private in the “medical department” from August 27, 1918 until April 18, 1919. He returned to the Cyclones in the fall of 1919 to play football [All-American and All-Western guard] and then was a national champion wrestler in the 175 pound weight class [the only loss of his career came in his first collegiate match, where he wrestled at heavyweight with a broken hand] before graduating. He later received his M.A. from the University of Iowa in 1937.
After briefly playing professional football in Illinois, Barker began a 22-year career in college coaching. He started at Cornell College in Mount Vernon, Iowa in September 1922 as assistant football coach and then introduced wrestling as a varsity sport in order to keep football players from losing their conditioning over the winter. Anticipating the future success of this sport at Cornell Barker told the school newspaper, “There is no doubt that we have plenty of material here to make wrestling a success.” On June 6, 1923 he left Cornell and moved to the University of Michigan in order to start the varsity wrestling program. In the fall of 1925 he moved back to Cornell College, replacing his former Oklahoma high school classmate “Polly” Wallace, and served as the athletic director and head football and wrestling coach for the “Purple” through 1941. In 2002 Barker was posthumously elected to the Cornell Athletic Hall of Fame as well as the Iowa State Cyclones Athletic Hall of Fame. He is credited with helping plan the first NCAA wrestling championship in 1928 and producing five U.S. Olympic Team wrestlers. In 1991 he also entered the College Wrestling Hall of Fame.
In 1942 he moved to Pennsylvania and for the next two years was an assistant professor of physical education and head football coach at Franklin and Marshall College in Lancaster, the school that his college coach Charles Mayser had come from. Baker then began a second career working for the Curtis Publishing Company in the State College area. Curtis published Ladies Home Journal, The Saturday Evening Post, Holiday, The American Home, Jack & Jill, and Country Gentleman. Despite his very brief association with George Halas and the Staleys, Baker was invited to several team reunions and arrived just in time for the November 1956 Staley anniversary game at Wrigley Field.
On Monday afternoon, November 30, 1964, Baker’s car was struck by a train at a crossing near College Park. He passed away 18 days later and was buried at the Spring Creek Presbyterian Cemetery in that town on December 21, 1964. Tragically his first wife committed suicide in Iowa on March 8, 1927. He later married Grace Strite on June 5, 1929 and subsequently they had two children, Richard W. Barker, Jr. and Ann Barker. He was the first person from Iowa State University to play in the National Football League.
Copyright@2018 Mark W. Sorensen