HUNTINGTON — A Marshall University football memorial erected in memory of five fraternity brothers who perished in the 1970 plane crash now has a permanent home on the university’s Huntington campus.
The memorial’s former home was in front of the now-defunct Pi Kappa Alpha fraternity house along 5th Avenue in Huntington. After being removed from its base more than a year ago to be refurbished and restored to its original state, the memorial was moved onto Marshall’s campus, between the Recreation Center and the maintenance building.
The memorial is two separate pieces, a sculpture that sits on a pedestal of brick and concrete, each created by a different person. The sculpture of the crouching football player was created by Vernon Howell, a former Marshall football player who served as co-captain of the team in 1958 and was constructed using recycled pieces of a playground swing set. The remaining elements of the memorial were designed by John Bodo, a member of Pi Kappa Alpha fraternity, after the fraternity received the sculpture.
Howell said the new location of the memorial will allow more fans, players and students to remember the five fallen fraternity brothers as well as the other 70 lives lost that November night, and thanked his daughters, Robin and Jennifer Howell, for putting the project in motion before the 50th anniversary of the crash, which took place Nov. 14, 1970.
“This is where it needs to be. Football players walk by here; the band members, countless students will see this every day,” Howell said. “There were other choices of where we could have put it, but this was my favorite.”
Marshall University President Jerome Gilbert said the placement of the memorial adjacent to Joan C. Edwards Stadium, where the Thundering Herd plays football games, couldn’t be more appropriate.
The sculpture sits atop a brick base inlaid with marble plaques etched with the names of the players Jimo Adams, Mike Blake, Pat Norrell, Bob Patterson and Ted Shoebridge, each a member of the fraternity. Bodo, who led the way in designing the memorial, said it’s a testament to the lives those brothers lived, not just that they were lost.
“(Their families) already know they died. What you ought to do is let the families know that you know those that died, lived. The fact that we know they lived is what this (memorial) symbolizes, and that’s the greatest gift we could give them,” said Bodo.
Steve Thomas, a PIKE in the mid-’70s, agreed and said the refurbished statue is symbolic of what the school and community accomplished in the wake of tragedy — reinventing itself to become something even stronger.
“It’s a picture into the past and a glimpse into the future,” he said. “It had eroded so much through the years and I got emotional when I saw the pictures of it being restored; you know, it came back to life — just like when the football team was taken away, the team was rebuilt.”
Though he was not a member of the fraternity until he pledged in 1974, Thomas said he and every other brother who came thereafter knew the importance of the statue.
“This was something we were taught when we pledged to the fraternity. You knew who these brothers were,” he said.