I spent a few moments the other day rummaging through boxes in my garage trying to find one of the squeeze coin purses Frank Harkenrider gave to me in the late 1970s.
You know the one, purple and gold in color, made from plastic or rubber, advertising Frank’s Union Oil business and carrying the football schedule of his beloved Hermiston Bulldogs.
Many people in Hermiston, no doubt, still have one or two of the small, old-fashioned relics tucked away in a shoebox or junk drawer.
I couldn’t immediately find mine, I think I have one from 1977 or 1978, but I enjoyed the pursuit.
It helped bring back a lot of wonderful memories about hanging with my friend “Harkie,” while also mourning his recent passing.
I don’t think there is a person on the planet who loved “Hermy” more than Frank Harkenrider, but he was more than just Hermiston’s No. 1 sports fan to me.
As the young sports editor of The Hermiston Herald in the late 1970s, I, too, loved sports and Frank was one of my early supporters.
I am grateful that his encouragement, knowledge and friendship helped make my new job and new community seem a lot less scary. There was no one more loyal to me.
He always called me “Billy,” and was a tremendous guy to have in my corner as I embarked on what was quite a learning experience in the newspaper business.
And, in the end, Frank definitely helped make my stay in Hermiston, from 1976-85, some of the best years of my life.
We immediately bonded over sports, and had a lot of terrific visits and conversations. He would talk Hermiston sports with anyone who would listen.
Sometimes I felt he just wanted to know if I knew something he didn’t.
Chances are I didn’t.
Frank, with his unbridled passion and complete devotion to high school athletics, was everywhere and at everything sports-related during my time at The Herald.
With his loud voice, infectious smile and laugh, and outgoing personality, he was definitely a big part of the ballpark experience.
It didn’t matter if that park was in Hermiston, Boardman or Echo.
Frank, wearing that Union Oil shirt and hat, was rarely sitting down, always mingling with friends and fans no matter the sport, and usually giving the umpires/referees a hard time.
For decades, win or lose, he always kept coming back.
He had a detailed memory of seasons, good and bad, going back to his days as a Hermiston High School student in the early 1940s.
Sadly, with Frank’s death in late July at age 90, the sports scene in Hermiston just won’t be the same anymore.
He will be saluted by the community on Saturday, Sept. 9, with a celebration of life set for 11:15 a.m. at Hermiston High.
One of my favorite “Harkie” moments came in the aftermath of Hermiston’s history-making football win at Pendleton in 1984.
After the Bulldogs scored their first victory over the Buckaroos since 1922, Frank and his buddy, Dan Rodriguez, met at midfield of the Round-Up Grounds and toasted the 27-14 win by sipping warm champagne they had smuggled into the stadium in a plastic jug.
They were simply two of the happiest sports fans I’ve ever seen.
Cheerleader, super fan, community favorite, venerable public servant, Frank will be forever a Bulldog.
I never did get a chance to tell him he also had a positive impact on my life as a sports writer.
His amazing support early on helped launch me on a nearly 41-year career in the newspaper business, and I can’t thank Frank enough for what he did for me when I was first starting out.
He always had Hermiston’s back – and mine.
His personal touch helped inspire me and I will always cherish my relationship with him.
Now, maybe we all should be working on building a statue of him somewhere in return for his fervent support of all things “Hermy” and for leaving us a trail of memories behind.
First things first, though, I’ve got to go find that coin purse.
Bill Bighaus was the sports editor for the Hermiston Herald from 1976 to 1985 and is now semi-retired from journalism and living in Billings, Montana.