Jessie Owens Speaks In McHenry

In the spring of 1957, the McHenry Rotary Club held its second annual sports banquet. For the previous year the event only allowed the parents of the athletes and Rotary members. The event was so well attended that the club decided to open up the event to the public and sell tickets. Also, the banquet was held in the high school cafeteria so they could have more attendees. With the proceeds from the ticket sales, the Rotary could afford to hire a great speaker. The speaker they were able to get, was none other than Olympic gold medal winner Jessie Owens.

Jessie Owens competing at the 1936 Olympics in Berlin. Compliments of the Library of Congress.

Widely known for his athleticism, Mr. Owens was also very involved in the community after his retirement. His focus was helping at risk youth, helping develop the Boys Club in the south side of Chicago and was an executive of the Illinois Youth Commission. His work caught the eye of President Eisenhower who commissioned Owens to be America’s “Ambassador of Sport” at the 1956 Summer Olympics in Melbourne, Australia. He traveled to Melbourne, with the American Olympians as Eisenhower’s personal representative. While there, Owens visited youth centers and met with counselors to help in his work here in the states.

Jessie Owens (R) presenting Martin Kinnerk with a trophy at the Sports Banquet. Photo appeared in 28 Mar 1957 addition of the McHenry Plaindealer.

The event itself was to feature awards for basketball & wrestling. Winners received different awards: Basketball players received mini-basketballs, wrestlers medals and the members of the cheer-leading squad mini-megaphones. Local businesses provided special awards. Althoff Hardware sponsored a trophy for the basketball player with the most rebounds and McHenry State Bank presented a trophy to the wrestler with the most points for the season. The highlight of the evening though was Olympic legend, Jessie Owens, presenting an inspiring talk to McHenry’s young athletes.


“Famous Athlete To Speak In City.” The McHenry Plaindealer. 7 Feb 1957: 1. Web. 18 Apr 2019.

“Rotary Sports Banquet Tickets Are Now On Sale.” The McHenry Plaindealer. 28 Feb 1957: 1. Web. 18 Apr 2019.

“Registration Deadline Nears For Sports Dinner.” The McHenry Plaindealer. 7 Mar 1957: 1. Web. 18 Apr 2019.

“Jesse Owens To Address Banquet Guest March 26.” The McHenry Plaindealer. 14 Mar 1957: 1. Web. 18 Apr 2019.

“Honor Young Athletes At Second Annual Sports Banquet Of Rotary.” The McHenry Plaindealer. 21 Mar 1957: 1. Web. 18 Apr 2019.

“Awards At McHenry Rotary Sports Banquet.” The McHenry Plaindealer. 7 Feb 1957: 1. Web. 18 Apr 2019.