The University Record, April 8, 1998

Trueblood's portrait finds home

By Joanne Nesbit
News and Information Services

Guests at a reception to honor T.C. Trueblood symbolized his contributions to the University as a golf coach and speech professor. Attending were, from left, Erik Fredricksen, chairman of the Department of Theatre and Drama; Jack Weidenbach, former athletic director; Claribel B. Halstead, professor emeritus of speech; and Fritz Seyferth, senior associate athletic director. Photo by Bob Kalmbach

He was affiliated with the University for 67 years, lacked a graduate degree but at one time was the highest paid member of the faculty, founded the University's Department of Speech, and served as golf coach for 35 years. But there is no massive arena or stadium named for him, just a small, sometimes obscure theater, hidden in the bowels of one of Central Campus's less auspicious buildings.

Thomas Clarkson Trueblood was billed as professor of oratory for his Shakespearean recitals that included a repertory of Hamlet, Julius Caesar, and Macbeth; lectures titled "Hamilton," "Lincoln," and "Webster;" and special addresses on "Qualities of a Good Oration," and "Literature and Vocal Interpretation." He has come to prominence once again, thanks to a recently rediscovered portrait that has been installed at the U-M Golf Course.

When the native Hoosier founded the speech department in 1892, it was the first such unit in any major university or college in the country. He also established the first credit course in speech at any American university. "There is no easy road to speaking success," he told his students.

And Trueblood took no easy road himself. In 1884 he came to Ann Arbor as an itinerant lecturer on public speaking intending to give a six-week course. The next year he was invited back. At the time he also was lecturing at Missouri, Kentucky and Ohio Wesleyan, and working out of a speech school in Kansas City. But the U-M wanted him. And he came. And he stayed.

As faculty tennis champion, it was a surprise to Trueblood that his doctor recommended he give up that game because it was too strenuous. Reluctantly he took up golf, and enjoyed success in that sport, too. "I took it up in August and in October I won the Ann Arbor Golf Club championship," he said.

Golf became a collegiate sport at the U-M in 1901 because of Trueblood. During the years Michigan was out of the Big Ten, opponents were difficult to find because few colleges had golf teams. But in 1922 golf came into its own as a collegiate sport. Trueblood's team won 20 straight matches starting in 1927 and extending into 1930. Seven times during his tenure, they won all their matches. The coach and his teams enjoyed five consecutive conference titles, 1932­1936. And Trueblood became known as the "father of golf" in the Big Ten.

The fact that he was one of the first men to steer speech away from the impassioned "Patrick Henry" oratory style to the direct style of business oratory didn't hold him back when it came to impassioned cheers for Michigan's sports teams. In 1903 Trueblood devised the University's famous "locomotive" cheer while returning to Ann Arbor on a train from a Big Ten football game.

The portrait that has brought Trueblood back to the forefront was painted in 1920 by Merton Grenhagen and hung first in Alumni Hall (now the Museum of Art) and then in the Theater Library in the Frieze Building. With the closing of that library and the incorporation of its holdings into the University Library collections, the Trueblood portrait became "homeless." Known as "Chief" to his teaching associates and "Trueby" to his students, Thomas C. Trueblood now resides among U-M's golf history.