Rudy Lavik coached more than sports


Erik Ketcherside

A photo from the late 1960s of a picnic in Papago Park shows Rudy Lavik (center, in hat), Bill Kajikawa (front right), Charlotte Lavik (behind Kajikawa) and Margaret Kajikawa (second from left). Image courtesy of the family.

Rudy Lavik

Former Arizona State Teachers College coach and athletic director Rudolph H. Lavik

The name of Rudy Lavik is honored in the Sun Devil Sports Hall of Fame. His five-year tenure in his highest-profile position for Arizona State Teachers College, head football coach, wasn’t nearly as long as those of fellow hall of famers, Frank Kush and Bruce Snyder. And his win-loss record from 1933 to 1937 was 13-26-3.

Away from the field of play, however, out of the Valley’s glaring gameday sun, Rudy Lavik made two coaching decisions that had long-lasting effects on ASU athletics and the university’s future, and even its stature among higher education institutions in the Southwest.

Breaking the color barrier

In 1937, Lavik accepted a transfer student from Sacramento Community College onto his roster. Emerson Harvey (BAE ’39), who would soon be starting at blocking back and defensive end, was the first African-American athlete to compete on a varsity team at the university.

Emerson Harvey

Emerson Harvey graduated from Arizona State Teachers College with his education degree in 1939.

In his book, "The Sun Devils: Eight Decades of Arizona State Football," Dean Smith wrote, “Arizona in the 1930s was almost as Jim Crow as Alabama or Mississippi.… The concept of a black man playing football and actually tackling a Caucasian or drinking from the same water bucket with him was unthinkable.”

Harvey endured appalling emotional and physical abuse on and off the field. In 2016, University Archivist Rob Spindler told The State Press, “Harvey received threats and taunts from the players on the opposing teams in those days.” When Coach Lavik took his Bulldogs, as the squad was named then, to Texas to face teams there, Harvey stayed in Tempe; black athletes were not allowed to compete with whites in that state.

Lavik’s grandson, Jack Funk, remembers the story his grandfather told him of an away game the Bulldogs played in Page, Arizona. Their bus stopped for dinner on the way back to Tempe, where the owner of the roadside diner told them Harvey wasn’t welcome in the dining room; he could eat in the kitchen. With no other food to be found for at least two hours, Lavik told the team, “Everyone back on the bus.” Funk recalls, “When my grandfather told me that story, he remarked what a difficult burden that kind of singling out had to be for Harvey, simply because of the color of his skin.”

Even on the walkways and in the classrooms of his own campus, Harvey had to ignore racial slurs and indignities, Spindler said. “In 1937, Arizona State Teachers College did not allow blacks to eat in their dining halls with the white students or to share living spaces in the dormitories of the Teachers College.”

Through all of this, Harvey carried a near-4.0 grade point average in his business administration major, earning his bachelor of arts in education degree in 1939. “As a result of Harvey’s attendance at the school,” Spindler said, “over time those [segregation] rules were in fact relaxed.” When Emerson Harvey graduated, he became an industrial arts teacher and coach in the Phoenix public school system, serving in that district until he retired.

Courage under fire

When Rudy Lavik welcomed Harvey onto his field in fall of 1937, he didn’t know that in a few years he would be defending a member of his own coaching staff from similar race hatred and discrimination.

William “Bill” Kajikawa (BAE ’37, MAE ’48) had played for Coach Lavik his sophomore through senior years, after his all-state years at Phoenix Union High School. When Kajikawa graduated with a teaching degree in 1937, Lavik hired him to coach his freshman football squad. It was the beginning of a celebrated career that would last 41 years.

Kajikawa would later tell the Arizona Historymakers Oral History Project, “It was quite an opportunity because during that period, and even several years after that period, it was very difficult to obtain a position teaching,” said Kajikawa, who married Margaret Akimoto in June of 1941. “So I was very happy that I played for Coach Lavik. He was a disciplinarian and yet a humanitarian, a man of high ideals. He gave me the opportunity to stay there.”

It was an opportunity that would prove more valuable than Kajikawa could have imagined. After the attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, backlash was immediate for Japanese-Americans. In the book, “Arizona Goes to War: The Home Front and the Front Lines During World War II,” Andrew Russell wrote, “As in California, the FBI had arrested some leaders of the Arizona Japanese community during the early hours of the war. The government had frozen bank accounts, imposed curfew orders and travel restrictions on Japanese-Americans, and ordered ‘enemy-alien’ families to turn in all cameras, radios, maps, firearms, and other types of ‘contraband.’”

On Feb. 19, 1942, President Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066. The order created Military Area No. 1, a huge zone that included the western halves of Washington and Oregon, the entire state of California, and southern Arizona. All Japanese-Americans were ordered to leave MA1 or be involuntarily relocated to government camps. The boundary cut through Tempe along Mill Avenue and Apache Boulevard. Bill Kajikawa and his wife of only six months lived north of the line, but 9066 prohibited Japanese-Americans from entering the exclusion zone. And while their residence was initially excluded, that didn’t mean Bill and Margaret were safe from relocation — or reprisals.

Russell wrote, “Many of the Japanese families of the valley found themselves on the wrong side of the line, and those in the free zone also had reasons to question their future fate. They soon learned that two massive relocation camps would be built in the Arizona deserts to house tens of thousands of Japanese-Americans who were being removed from the West Coast. This news caused more problems for the Arizona Japanese by making the general population more suspicious and hostile.

“For Japanese-Americans,” Russell wrote, “Arizona had become a land divided. Stark differences separated past and present, the free and restricted zones, the camps and the outside world, the ‘Japs’ and everyone else….” Adding to the uncertainty for the Kajikawas, Bill’s family had moved to Phoenix in 1929 from California — now fully within MA1.

Christine Wilkinson is senior vice president and secretary of Arizona State University, president and CEO of the ASU Alumni Association, and managing director of the Trustees of ASU. She is also the daughter of Bill and Margaret Kajikawa. Though not yet born at the time of the relocations, she remembers the family stories.

“When Executive Order 9066 was announced,” she recalls, “Howard Pyle, who was a radio broadcaster at the time, came on the radio and said, ‘Margaret and Bill Kajikawa, remember you have friends out there.’” (Pyle would later become the ninth governor of Arizona.) But as the person who hired Bill Kajikawa, it was Rudy Lavik who was most public — and at risk — in attesting to the Kajikawa’s loyalty during this divisive time.

Kajikawa demonstrated that loyalty himself when he enlisted in the 442nd Regimental Combat Team under the 100th Infantry Battalion. This all-Japanese-American unit became the most-decorated American unit during the war, participating in major campaigns in Italy, France and Germany. It was during his deployment to Europe that Bill and Margaret learned the degree of support they had from Rudy and Charlotte Lavik.

Christine Wilkinson says, “The Laviks offered to have my mother stay with them when Dad joined the 442nd that fought for the U.S. even as their families were in camps. Mother instead went to Utah to be with her parents until Dad returned from war.” Margaret thanked the Laviks in a letter, writing, “Dearest Coach and Mrs. Lavik — I know I’m the luckiest girl in the world. For what girl could have two sets of wonderful parents? My own and you two.” She closed, “We’ll be thinking of you always and we’ll be waiting for that day when we can come home to stay in Tempe.”

When that day came, Bill returned to his coaching duties at the college, also earning his master's degree. His entire career, with the exception of his years in the Army, would be devoted to ASU. He became a professor. He coached freshman football for nine ASU head coaches. He was head basketball coach from 1948 to 1957, earning him a place in the Arizona Basketball Hall of Fame. And he was head coach of ASU's club baseball team from 1947 to 1957. Longtime head football coach Frank Kush said no one better represents Sun Devil athletics than Bill Kajikawa.

Christine Kajikawa Easter egg hunt

Christine Kajikawa (now Wilkinson, right) at the Lavik family annual Easter egg hunt. From left are her sister, Carol, and Judy Fireman. Image courtesy of the Lavik family.

Throughout his career, the friendship between the Kajikawas and the Laviks continued. In fact, it was more than friendship, says Wilkinson. “Coach Lavik was a mentor to my dad, and I think he was like a father figure, as my dad’s own father passed away when he was a child.” And for Bill and Margaret Kajikawa’s two daughters, “Rudy and ‘Lots’ Lavik were like an extra set of grandparents,” Wilkinson says. “They had one grown daughter who lived out of state, so I think they adopted us — or we adopted them — as a family. We shared birthdays, anniversaries, holidays, graduations, all with them and a few other close family friends. Lots was known especially for her baking and the Easter egg hunt in her backyard.”

Legacy for a legend

Rudolph H. Lavik came to Tempe, to then-Arizona State Teachers College, in 1933 to be the men's athletics director. He accompanied the college’s new president, Grady Gammage, both of them leaving the state teachers college in Flagstaff. Lavik would also serve as a professor in the Department of Health and Physical Education, a role he maintained after giving up the athletic director position in 1948. As a coach at the university, he ran the football program (1933–37) and basketball program (1933–35, 1939–48), also coaching baseball and track. He retired from the university in 1962.

When Rudy Lavik died in 1979 at the age of 87, Frank Kush said, “I had a great deal of respect for him, not only as an individual but as a teacher.” Lavik was inducted into the Sun Devils Sports Hall of Fame in 1983, one year after Bill Kajikawa. ASU’s Rudy L. Lavik Memorial Award is given to student-athletes based on academics, community service, campus involvement and leadership.

Soon after his death, an endowment was established with gifts from friends, family and colleagues. The endowment funds a scholarship awarded to physical education students at ASU. When Charlotte Lavik died in 1987, the Lavik family arranged for her name be added to the endowment.

Rudy and Charlotte Lavik’s daughter, Ruth, had four children: Bernice, Katherine (Kay), Mack and John (Jack). Through their support of the Rudy and Charlotte Memorial Endowment, they’re ensuring that the memory of their grandparents’ contributions to ASU remains strong, and that Rudy Lavik’s example of equity and decency will benefit Sun Devil athletes for generations.