Editor’s Note: This is Part 2 of a two-part story on Rob Wahlstrom’s track career. He was a two-time Class B state champion in the 440 meters and his school records in the 200 and 400 meters have lasted more the 50 years.
Rob Wahlstrom’s scholarship to South Dakota State was an annual $3,000 stipend that pretty well covered his tuition, a housing waiver and a meal ticket to the cafeteria that he and the other freshmen on the track and field team received in exchange for setting up the bleachers and making other pre-game arrangements for football and basketball games. They also cleaned up after the games and put the bleacher back in storage.
Following their freshman seasons, the track athletes remained on the meal plan by helping tidy up the athletic locker rooms three times a week.
Wahlstrom qualified for the NCAA Division II National Outdoor Meet each of his first three years at SDSU. His track highlight was setting the school record of 47.86 seconds while winning the 440-yard dash at the North Central Conference Meet his sophomore year in 1971. The time translated to 47.56 in 1980, when the switch was made to meters. It stood as Jackrabbits’ record for 39 years, or until 2010, and is still second on the all-time list.
As a senior, he won both the 300 and 440-yard dashes at the conference’s indoor meet.
Running on relay teams also was a highlight. His sophomore year, the Jacks’ mile relay team earned All-American status by placing sixth at the NCAA Division II Outdoor Championships. That team also qualified for the finals at the National Outdoor Meet his junior year, but one of the team members tore his Achilles tendon while running the hurdles prior to the relay finals and an alternate was not available.
Those teams’ top times, converted from yards to meters, of 3:12.10 in 1971 and 3:12.30 in ’72, are still third and fifth on SDSU’s all-time 4x400 relay listing.
In addition, he was a member of distance medley relay teams that placed second at both the Drake and Kansas Relays in 1973. The team that beat the Jackrabbits at both meets was made up entirely of foreign athletes.
“I had four great years there, particularly since that’s where I met Jane and made lasting friendships with several teammates and others who were in school then,” Wahlstrom said.
Jane, of course, is his wife. She’s a native of Chester, S.D., located about 20 miles north of Sioux Falls. They were married in the summer of 1973 when both had only one semester remaining to graduate. She earned a nursing degree at SDSU and worked in that field, mostly in Chadron, for 42 years before retiring three years ago.
Jane says she had a variety of responsibilities at the hospital and enjoyed them all.
The couple has two sons, Cory and Michael.
Cory and his wife, the former Bandy Brice of Chadron, live at Firth, Neb., just south of Lincoln, and have three girls and a boy, ranging from a 4th grader to a high school senior. The oldest, Jacey, and the youngest, Ashlyn, are into dancing; Colton, a sophomore this past year, is a receiver on the Norris High football team and he had an 8-0 record and an ERA of under 1.00 last summer while pitching for the American Legion baseball team; and Karlie, an 8th grader, plays soccer and volleyball.
Cory was a good baseball player and golfer while attending Chadron High. He works for Century Link, the high speed internet and telephone company. His parents say the coronavirus crisis hasn’t changed things much for him because he already has been working from home for about 16 years.
Michael is vice president of the health and life insurance divisions of Blue Cross-Blue Shield in Atlanta. He ranks as one of Chadron’s all-time outstanding athletes. He was the Class B all-state quarterback on Dick Stein’s 12-1 state playoff runner-up football team at Chadron High in 1998 and earned first-team all-state and was the leading scorer on the Cardinals’ state championship basketball team that winter.
In addition, Michael placed in the high hurdles at the state track meet as a senior and caught 148 passes for nearly 2,000 yards and earned all-conference honors while playing wide receiver at Chadron State for three years.
Where the Wahlstroms’ athletic ability came from is a mystery, but during a 2009 interview when Rob’s parents, Lee and Virginia, were observing their 65th wedding anniversary, Lee, gave the credit to his wife. He said he ran the mile in high school, but “usually finished near the tail end.” He also played basketball at Oakland High in northeast Nebraska, but reportedly never said much about it.
Virginia, who grew up near Sutton in south central Nebraska, was born way too soon to participate in athletics in high school, but was definitely a sports fan who won her share of the football prediction contests the Chadron Record sponsored the 1960s and ‘70s.
Rob’s only sibling, Cathy, who is two years younger, didn’t go out for volleyball or track, the only sports available to girls when she attended Chadron High. Her brother says she denies that she was blessed with speed.
However, Cathy’s son, Ryan Burrows, definitely could run. As a senior at York High School in 1997, he ran the 800 meters in 1:51.59 at the state meet to set the all-time Nebraska record. The old record of 1:52.2 was set by Scott Poehling of Fremont Bergan in 1976. Burrows’ 800 time is now the third fastest in Nebraska history, behind only the 1:50.82 by Brian Turner of Millard North in 2000 and the 1:51.13 by Jack Lemke of Omaha Benson in 2004.
Burrows, whose father Brad is an Alliance native and played basketball at Chadron State in the 1970s, attended Yale University and was the captain of the Bulldogs’ track team as a senior.
After graduating from SDSU, Rob taught one semester at Dorchester High southwest of Lincoln and then taught math and science and coached track at Dodge High School in the northeast part of the state for two years before assuming those same duties in the Chadron Schools in 1976.
During his 12 years as the Cardinals’ track coach, his athletes placed at the state track meet 21 times and the boys’ cross country teams he mentored qualified for state each of the final six years he coached them. He also coached the Lady Cardinals’ basketball team two years.
While Wally said he thoroughly enjoyed teaching and coaching, in the spring of 1988 he resigned to join his father in the automobile business.
The Wahlstrom family moved from Gering to Chadron in 1961 after, Lee, unbeknown to Virginia, purchased Chicoine Motor Co., which was located at 231 West Second Street and it became Wahlstrom Ford.
A new facility that is located on the east edge of Chadron opened in 1980 and is one of the longest-owned family businesses in the region.
Rob has continued his affiliation with track by helping with dozens of meets through the years. That includes nearly all the indoor and outdoor meets held in Chadron and the Colter Run during Fur Trade Days.
After he left coaching, Rob also helped at Nebraska State High School Meets for 25 years and assisted with the five RMAC Indoor Meets that Chadron State has hosted as well a couple of conference meets at Black Hills State and the indoor meet at Adams State in 2018.
Wahlstrom served as the “clerk of the finish” at nearly all the local meets. It requires having everything in order before each race starts and making sure the times and order of finish are correctly recorded. He notes the duties have become much easier and more precise during the technology age.
The Wahlstrom family has been good for Chadron since arriving nearly 60 years ago. Besides owning and operating an excellent business, they’ve been involved in numerous activities and provided strong support for the community’s educational endeavors.
Lee was on the board of directors of the Chadron State Foundation for about 40 years, including 20 as chairman, served as the area’s Ak-Sar-Ben ambassador and was on the hospital board.
About 10 years after he’d left the school system, Rob was elected to a couple of terms on the Chadron Board of Education and was president of the Nebraska Northwest Development Corporation in 2012. He also followed his father on the Chadron State Foundation board, serving nine years.
In recent years, Wahlstrom Ford has sponsored the unique “Drive One for Your School” program annually. The firm brings several of its newer models to the schools and Ford donates $20 to an assortment of student-related programs after a participant has taken a vehicle for a test drive.
The program also has been used to help the Crawford Schools and raise funds for the Veterans’ Honor Flights. Up to $6,000 has been raised at some of them.
Both Lee and Rob have been Rotary Club regulars and Rob and his parents have been active members of the Methodist Church. Jane also attended there while the boys were growing up, then returned to her roots, the Catholic Church.
Rob admits he’s reached what is usually considered retirement age, but says he hasn’t set any timeline for that to happen.
“We’ve got great help and as long as that continues and Jane and I can travel, we’ll probably keep things going like they are now,” he said. “I enjoy working with our customers and staying involved. Dad was the same way and kept coming to the garage almost every day well into his 80s.”
Chadron High Cardinals track and field records
These are the Chadron High School track and field records following the 2019 season:
100 yards--9.9, Ron Perkins, 1973.
100 meters—10.7, Jackson Dickerson, 2015.
200 meters--*21.7, Rob Wahlstrom, 1969.
400 meters--*49.2, Rob Wahlstrom, 1969.
800 meters--1:59.5, Olen King, 2006.
1600 meters--4:26.99, Bill Simones, 1984.
3200 meters--9:39.15, Bill Simones, 1984.
110-meter high hurdles—14.12, Allan Osborn, 2008.
300-meter intermediate hurdles--39.1, Ben Smith, 1995.
400-meter relay--43.5 (Erik Shepherd, Mitch Barry, Shawn Rogers, Ben Smith), 1997, and 43.53 (Jeff Wahl, Mitch Barry, Mike Wahlstrom, Charles Mann), 1999.
1600-meter relay--3:24.91 (Eddie Reiter, James Mann, Charles Mann, Brooks Hoffman), 1998.
3200-meter relay--8:12.1, (Louie Brezina, Ty Franklin, Drew Pope, Olen King), 2006.
Shotput--58-8, Kail Bowman, 1987.
Discus--172-4, Dave Carrick, 1990.
Long jump--22-11, Ben Smith, 1996.
Triple jump--45-1 ½, Kyle Wigington, 1977.
High jump--6-7, Jon Lordino, 2009
Pole vault—13-10, Keith Mann, 2004.
*Converted from yards to meters.
100 yards--11.5, Karen Briscoe, 1975.
100 meters--12.7--Amy Kubo, 2001, and Angela Osborn, 2004.
200 meters--26.1, Amy Kubo, 2001.
400 meters—57.6, Katelyn Moore, 2006.
800 meters--2:20.13, Katelyn Moore, 2006
1600 meters—5:19.50, Ashley Riesen, 2009
3200 meters--11:41.5, Sara Rhoads, 1984.
100-meter high hurdles—14.6, Angela Osborn, 2006.
300-meter low hurdles--45.4, Angela Osborn, 2004.
400-meter relay--50.5 (Brenda Scholl, Teresa Cockrell, Karla Scholl, Jennifer Amen), 1983.
1600-meter relay--4:01.7 (Cassie Humphrey, Angela Osborn, Sydney Moore, Katelyn Moore), 2006.
3200-meter relay—9:38.01, (Cassie Humphrey, Jessica Johnson, Leslie Foral, Katelyn Moore), 2006.
Shotput--39-3 ½, True Thorne, 2019.
Discus--137-9, Susan Roll, 1984.
Long jump--18-2 ½, Caryn Martin, 1989.
Triple jump--36-6 ¾, Mariah Clark, 1999.
High jump--5-6, Bethanie Clark, 1996.
Pole vault—8-9, Chelsea Foulk, 2006.
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