WHERE ARE THEY NOW?

WHERE ARE THEY NOW?: Pepe Gonzalez

2013-08-06T19:00:00Z 2013-10-26T14:53:08Z WHERE ARE THEY NOW?: Pepe GonzalezMike Nieto mike.nieto@nwi.com, (219) 933-3232 nwitimes.com
August 06, 2013 7:00 pm  • 

Long before the cartoon mouse of a similar name, the words "Speedy" and "Gonzalez" were known throughout the Gary and in the Indiana prep track world.

The moniker belonged to Marce Gonzalez and his younger brother Jose "Pepe" Gonzalez. In the 1940s, they were the two fastest prep runners at Froebel, Gary and the state in the 100- and 220-yard dashes.

"That's what they called us," Pepe said. "I guess Marcelino was the first 'Speedy' because he was the older one."

The cartoon mouse spelled his name "Gonzales."

Pepe Gonzalez, who is retired after a successful career as an executive with Sears, is facing a tougher challenge than any he had on the cinder track. He has ALS and bladder cancer. Despite the hand dealt to him, he does not dwell on his physical limitations.

"People ask me 'Are you angry about it?' Hell no!" Gonzalez said. "I had over 80 years (83) of great living, running, working and a great family. A lot of people did not have the opportunities and great life that I have.

"I can say, God has been great to me. I can't complain about a thing."

Marce won the 100 and 220 at the 1942 state meet, while Pepe did what nobody had ever done or has accomplished since in boys track. He won the 100 and 220 from 1947-49 and helped the Blue Devils win the 1949 state title. Pepe was also on the 880 relay team and on the 1948 team which set a state record (1:31.4).

Both are in the Indiana Track and Cross Country Coaches Hall of Fame.

"I am very proud of winning those medals and our team winning the state my senior year," Pepe Gonzalez said. "We had the cinder track at Froebel, but we had tough kids and a great coach in Hugh Bergstrom. He was a track guy and we were fortunate to have great teachers and coaches. Froebel was a great school. You had kids from all kinds of nationalities. It really was a melting pot."

The school, located at 15th Avenue and Madison Street, was built in 1912 and at the time was Gary's only integrated high school. Students went there from kindergarten to 12th grade. The Gary schools were world-renown for its education under William A. Wirt's "Work-Study-Play" plan.

Both ran for the University of Illinois and Marce, who died in 2009, had a successful career as a coach and administrator with the Gary Community School Corporation. He coached Tolleston to the 1969 state track title.

Pepe won the 1951 Big Ten indoor 55 dash and the outdoor 220 crowns.

He got his start with Sears at its downtown Gary store in 1957. Being bilingual, helped him get a position with the corporation's international arm and work in Puerto Rico for seven years.

He said the disappointment is not being able to move around, and being a former athlete, that makes it even tougher to handle. He and his wife, Elaine, have been married for 54 years. She grew up down the street from the Gonzalez on West 11th Avenue. The couple have a son, two daughters and three grandchildren.

Gonzalez is just as excited talking about growing up in Gary, Froebel and track as if it happened yesterday. The sons of Spanish immigrants, the Gonzalez family lived in the 1100 block of Harrison Boulevard in a neighborhood that was a United Nations with its various nationalities.

"We had a cinder alley next to our house and that is where we started to run," Gonzalez said. "We had races in the alley and ran up and down Harrison Boulevard. We hung out with kids who were like us -- different nationalities, but their parents were immigrants too. It was a great life in Gary back then."

Gonzalez and world-class sprinter Willie Williams of Roosevelt would become

"Man, were those some races," Gonzalez said. "Willie and I were friends, but we ran neck-and-neck. He couldn't beat me in high school, but when we got to Illinois, he won a few Big Ten championships."

 

 

 

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