Evy and Peg Mullen left a huge legacy in Iowa
Two Iowans that I tremendously admire passed away in the month of October. They were as different as night and day in any way you want to measure it except for one – the courage of their convictions.
One was a legend in the world of sports, the other a legend in the world of fighting for one’s principles. One I met briefly, the other I only read about.
They are Forest Evashevski and Peg Mullen.
Evy lived in Iowa for about twenty years but made an impact that will never be forgotten as long as sports are played. He died on October 30 in Michigan and rated front-page coverage on almost every paper in Iowa.
Margaret Mullen, who went by Peg, was an Iowan all her life, and made an amazing impact in an area far removed from sport. She gained national attention in her quest for the truth about the death of her son, Michael, as a soldier fighting in Vietnam. She died October 2 in her hometown of La Porte City, and she also was on nearly every front page in the state.
Evy was 91 and Mrs. Mullen was 92. They both enjoyed long, productive lives and served as inspirations to millions of Iowans, and Americans.
In 1970, Michael Mullen “died in a foxhole in his sleep, hit by shrapnel during an errant U.S. artillery barrage,” reported the (Waterloo) Courier on Oct. 5 in its front-page story. “The Mullen’s anti-war stance and quest for information surrounding Michael’s death spawned national publicity in the ‘70s. That included C.D.B. Bryan’s best selling book (Friendly Fire) and a 1979 television movie staring Carol Burnett and Ned Beatty as the Mullens.”
She is buried in the cemetery at St. Mary’s of Mount Carmel Catholic Church in Eagle Center, which is a very special place to me. My wife, Bev, and I were married there on August 31, 1968 – and our infant daughter Kimberly is buried there.
Peg Mullen was an indefatigable advocate for peace in the world and truth in the military, two vitally important ingredients in a civilized society. Those who knew her say she never got over the anger and angst from her son’s death and the cover-up controversy that surrounded it.
In 1995, she wrote her own book entitled Unfriendly Fire. For decades, veterans of the Vietnam War sought her out to talk with her and share their own horror stories.
“For 30 years she got calls from veterans at midnight, two in the morning, angry veterans who were ready to put a gun to their head,” said her daughter, Mary DeJana, in a story by Reid Forgrave in the Des Moines Register of Oct. 8. “She talked them down. She helped them….”
What an incredible legacy for a woman from the cornfields of Iowa. As a veteran myself, I appreciate her efforts. May she rest in peace.
FOREST EVASHEVSKI may be the best football coach in the history of the state, although Hayden Fry would certainly give him a run for his money and Kirk Ferentz could be in that class before he hangs up his earphones.
I was a young kid living in Waterloo when Evy accepted the Iowa football job in 1952 – for a whopping $15,000 a year! That was a tremendous salary back then, and Evy faced a daunting job as Iowa was considered one of the worst football schools in the nation.
Evy grew up in Michigan and first made national attention as a tough-as-nails blocking back for the University of Michigan. He played with Tom Harmon, who was runnerup to Nile Kinnick for the Heisman Trophy in 1939 and won it in 1940. Evy was on the field twice against Kinnick when Iowa played the Wolverines.
He came to Iowa after a stint as head coach at Washington State. The Hawkeyes struggled during Evy’s first two years, and then they exploded on the national scene. During his nine years as head coach, the Hawkeyes won three Big Ten titles, two Rose Bowls and finished in the AP’s top ten on five occasions.
In 1958, the Hawks were second in the final AP poll, taken before the bowl season; after the bowl season, Iowa was voted national champion by the Football Writer’s Association of America! It is the only national title ever won by Iowa in football.
In 1960, Evy’s last year as coach, Iowa finished 8-1 and was again voted second in the nation in the final AP poll.
Evy retired as football coach in 1960 and became athletic director at Iowa. He left the school in 1970 and retired to the upper peninsula of Michigan. He was voted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 2000.
My brother Brian and I wrote Evy’s biography, called Evy and the Hawks: The Glory Years, in 1983. We traveled to Evy’s hometown of Petoskey, Michigan, to interview him for the book and spent several days in his home. It was a real treat for the two Chapman boys who had grown up idolizing the legendary coach.
The book was published by Leisure Press. The company went out of business shortly after the book came out and it never sold many copies. I only have one myself and they are exceedingly hard to find.
I never saw Evy in person after our interview at his home, but I thought of him often over the years.
On page 237 of the book, we wrote: “Forest Evashevski’s impact on the University of Iowa, and on the entire state, was staggering. He came to a coaching graveyard in 1952 and he brought not only respectability but overwhelming success.
“Pride was a by-product of the Evashevski era, and it was a pride that would be felt the length and width of the state. For nine long years, Iowans could walk proud in the fabled area of collegiate athletics. Perhaps no other endeavor, rightly or wrongly, provides a stage with a greater sense of awareness and well being than does college sports.”
Forest Evashevski is a true legend in Hawkeye sports. He deserves to be remembered fondly for his efforts on behalf of the State of Iowa, just like Peg Mullen for her efforts on behalf of American troops.
(Mike Chapman is the publisher of Iowa History Journal. Born and raised in Waterloo, he retired from a 35-year newspaper career in 2002. He is the author of 21 books and is a public speaker. He and his wife, Bev, live in Newton.)