On his 100th birthday last year, Dan Bulkley, the long-retired track coach of Southern Oregon University, was feted at a party at Roxy Ann Winery, where he announced he was going to run the 100-meter dash and if anyone wanted a piece of his birthday cake, they would have to run it with him.
“There were over 200 people at that party, all the students and friends from his 67 years in Ashland and two-thirds of them ran it with him,” said his widow, Marjorie. “He trotted and jogged. It was running. They measured it off in the parking lot. It was a grand time.”
Bulkley, a famous master’s athlete and pioneer of SOU’s physical education programs and Mt. Ashland Ski Area, died Sunday evening. The Phoenix resident was 101 and, said his daughter, Dani, of Bend, “His philosophy was that the less you do, the less you do — and the more you do, the more you do. His secret was to keep moving He fractured his back a year ago, and he thought ‘Why am I here if I can’t do the things I love to do?’ He was basically done.”
If anyone had a full life, it was Bulkley, says Marjorie.
He was born in Bangkok of a physician father, partly grew up there, played football and track at Pomona College, joined the Navy at the start of World War II and, as part of the Office of Strategic Services (forerunner of the CIA), trained men in fitness for the resistance in Thailand.
Arriving in Ashland in 1950, he created the track and field program and, although humble and “laid back,” never one to overtrain himself, she said, he amassed skill sets in badminton, steeplechase, decathalon, tennis and ski racing — and was a founder of Mt. Ashland Ski Area in 1964. He started the Ski Patrol there and was a director or member for 28 years.
“He loved competing but was very unassuming about it,” said Marjorie. “When you praised him, he would never know how to answer. He was very kind and thoughtful.”
Fellow teacher Sally Jones, now retired, said, “He did so much for SOU and the community for so long. He will never be replaced. He did a lot of cross-country skiing nationally and in the world. He was very into competition and was a warm-hearted man. I credit his long life to an active lifestyle — and he was a member of the Lions and would volunteer for ACCESS Food Bank and Habitat for Humanity.”
His track teams won seven conference titles and fielded 81 champions. He was inducted into the NAIA Hall of Fame in 1977 and the SOU Hall in 1989.
It was after retirement, starting at age 70, that Bulkley created a new model for fitness in older age.
At the World Masters Track and Field Championships in Melbourne, Australia, he won five gold medals and set a world age-group record in the 300-meter hurdles.
At 80, in the Hayward Classic masters track and field meet in Eugene, he competed in shot put, discus, javelin, high jump, 80-meter hurdles, 300-meter hurdles, 800-meter run, 1,500-meter run and 2,000-meter steeplechase.
He amassed over 470 medals and trophies, is in four halls of fame, and had the new SOU track named for him.
He was recognized at the annual Southern Oregon Sports Commission banquet last February as the first “Spirit of Competition” winner. The award was named for him.
“One time, Dan said, ‘What I’m doing is realizing my potential,’” said Marjorie. “The key was that he trained by never overtraining, never gained weight, took good care of himself, ate the right food, always exercised and because he was a track coach, he did what he needed to do to compete.”
Bulkley’s memoir, “My Century in Motion,” was published by Blurb.
A memorial will be held this spring, when the family can gather here, with details to be announced.
John Darling is a freelance writer living in Ashland. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.