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“Fifty years later,” former players from the University of Wisconsin gather in Billings



Billings, Montana – It had been over 50 years since the reunion took place. On Thursday, five former standouts in track and field from the University of Wisconsin traveled to Billings to visit an old buddy and relive their golden days.

“We have so many memories,” said Don Bliss, who traveled from Wisconsin. “And the thing about it is, it’s continued through the years. We’ve stayed good friends.”

Their bond has endured over time.

“Some of these guys I haven’t seen since the team retired,” said Bob Hawke, who now lives in Billings. “This is a real treat.”

Via all of it—the war, the marriage, the kids, and everything in between.

“I was just reminiscing with Don about how I ran around his backyard with his daughters who are now mothers,” said Bob Gordon, who traveled from Las Vegas. “I mean it’s like, I can’t believe I’m that old.”

There is a unique kinship among these five men.

“We have (been) nonstop talking,” Hawke said. “It’s great, just great.”

It was their first time being together since they were standout members of the University of Wisconsin track team in the late 1960s.

“When we stepped across the lines to work out, boy,” said Brad Hanson, who traveled from Chicago. “It was amazing to see the work ethic of these runners and these athletes.”

The purpose of the reunion was to cheer up Hawke, who hasn’t been feeling well lately.

“I knew Bob was having a little problem with his legs,” Bliss said. “I called up these guys and said, ‘Hey, I think it’s time for us to get our reunion back together and do it in Montana.’”

The five athletes are quite skilled and have a lot of records between them.

“This group of guys all won the Big 10 championship for the University of Wisconsin in indoor 1965, ’66, and 1967,” said Bliss, who went on to play for the Green Bay Packers. “The outdoor they won in ’68 as well.”

According to Great Falls resident Branch Brady, Hawke is among the best athletes to have ever come out of Montana.

“Every year he’d break his state record and set another one. He’s a national champion. He’s a Big 10 champion. He’s a fabulous athlete,” Brady said. “It was because of him I ended up in Wisconsin. His dad wrote a letter to the coach at Wisconsin and they recruited me.”

They journeyed from all corners of the nation to be together.

“We have a history that’s irreplaceable,” Brady said. “Probably one of (my favorite memories with Bob) was when he was throwing the shot on the lawn at the state capital in Sacramento, California putting big holes in the lawn. We were high school seniors for a national meet. We were out and it was dark and he wanted to warm up a little bit for the shot the next day. He’s throwing it and I’m retrieving it, digging it out of the holes he’s putting in the lawn. That’s a good memory.”

Friendship is one of the best treatments, as the reunion demonstrated.

“This has been more fun than anybody should ever have,” said Brady.

We will always cherish the memories we made at the reunion.

“When I go on my deathbed, I can reflect on moments like this, and I’ll feel good about it all. They mean the world,” Gordon said.

“Don’t get on that deathbed too soon,” Hawke responded lovingly.

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