April 2, 2013
SEATTLE - Upon first glance at a flip card, any football fan can break down the roster and coaching staff. These are the names and faces of the program, but what is missing from this information are the people in the background.
In 1963, then 19-year-old Donald Kilgore joined the Husky Football family as a student manager, a role which would prove to be invaluable.
Born in Tillamook, Ore., in 1944, Kilgore developed Perthes Disease in both hip sockets when he was five. Perthes is a disease in which the blood supply isn’t properly getting to the ball part of the hip joint.
He spent his entire first grade on crutches, and doctors told Kilgore he wouldn’t be able to play contact sports. He was devastated. As an avid sports fan he wanted to play with his friends, so Kilgore knew he had to play a different way.
He admired the 1961 and ‘62 Rose Bowl teams, and knew he wanted to be involved once he got to Washington. Kilgore started classes in 1962 and began working with the men’s basketball team under head coach John Grayson. As the season progressed, Kilgore realized his true love was football.
He spent five seasons as a football manager, including three as head manager under head coach Jim Owens.
With Perthes Disease, walking was enough of a challenge for Kilgore. But being a football manager requires a lot of physical work, such as moving water coolers and 60-pound tackling dummies multiple times a day. He never struggled, nor told anyone of his disease.
‘Problem solver’ would have been a more fitting title for the manager. Kilgore spent the majority of his time figuring out solutions to problems. Even hypothetical problems. If the bus was late, he would re-arrange travel plans to make sure the players got adequate sleep. If the field lights weren’t on during practice, Kilgore would find the facilities manager to turn them on. As long as Kilgore was one step ahead of everyone else, the program functioned flawlessly.
During his tenure, Kilgore witnessed future All-Americans, Heisman Trophy winners and Hall of Fame inductees. He was a part of the 1964 Rose Bowl team against a Dick Butkus-led Illinois squad. He was a part of three Apple Cup victories and several wins over perennial powerhouses.
Kilgore graduated from the UW Business School in 1967 with a degree in international marketing. He then attended graduate school at Thunderbird Graduate School for International Marketing in Glendale, Ariz.
With his degrees in hand, Kilgore started working for Citibank in NYC. In the midst of the Vietnam War, Kilgore wanted to get involved. But he knew he couldn’t serve because of his hip condition. Kilgore transferred from Citibank to American Express to manage a branch in Vietnam.
Slowly, he worked his way up to become the Manager of the Military Banking Branch in Chu Lai, Vietnam, headquarters of the 23rd Infantry Division. Chu Lai was a United States Marine Corps base from 1965-71.
Kilgore took up photography as a hobby while on assignment in Vietnam. He would take pictures of his friend, an Air Force Major, in various remote sites. His photography portfolio is archived at Texas Tech University for the public to see, along with other Vietnam War memorabilia.
Fifty years have passed since Donald Kilgore became a part of the Athletics Department. Kilgore and his wife Rita have lived in New York City for the past 35 years, but they look forward to watching the Huskies play when they retire to the Pacific Northwest.