Ball State football coach Pete Lembo knew Ron Venderly was an extra-mile guy that day in Oxford, Ohio, when the wounded Cardinals were getting all they wanted from Miami and the wind chill stood somewhere between Meat Locker and Ice Station Zebra.
“It was about 42 degrees, which doesn't sound bad by Indiana standards, but with the wind chill it seemed like it was in negative numbers,” Lembo remembered not long ago. “I turn around – we hang on by our fingernails and get win No. 9 – and who's standing there on the sideline?
“Ron Venderly, freezing his ass off with me.”
It was just another case of standing fast for Venderly, a Fort Wayne native who in his 86 years has been military man and coach and teacher and athletic director. And who has always stood fast for Ball State, where he earned his master's degree in 1964 and became involved with the football program a decade ago after striking up a friendship with university President Jo Ann Gora.
That'll be his name, and that of his wife, Joan, you'll see on the Ronald E. and Joan M. Venderly Football Team Complex, an addition to the Scheumann Stadium facilities for which ground will be broken June 19. The Venderlys donated the money for the project, which will include coaches' offices and an auditorium.
And why'd they do that?
“I got old, and I wanted to do something for the school,” Venderly says with a laugh.
Turns out he has been traveling with the football team, home and away, for “seven or eight” years, first during the Brady Hoke era and later as Lembo turned the program into a perennial winner. Somewhere in his southwest Fort Wayne home, in fact, there's a white football signed by the players and coaches from the 2008 team that went 12-0 in the regular season and played in the Mid-American Conference title game.
It's likely not the only memento of a life in full.
First, the military man: Venderly, born into a Waynedale family that first came to the area in the 1850s, served 24 years in the Army, retiring in 1969 as an infantry officer. He was battalion commander of the 293rd Infantry Guard in Fort Wayne from 1965 to 1968 and also spent a lot of time at Fort Benning, Georgia, the Army's infantry school.
“I spent more time there than I ever did in college,” Venderly says.
And he did spend some time in college, earning his bachelor's degree from Indiana and an honorary doctorate from Purdue in 2010 in addition to his master's from Ball State. Somewhere in there, he found time to coach the offensive and defensive lines at Concordia and serve as athletic director at Central High School from 1961 to 1967.
Today, he sits on the foundation board for IPFW and donated money to build the bridge that spans the St. Joseph River between the campus and Hefner Fields.
“Ball State is the one I've had the most to do with, though,” says Venderly, who along with his wife has established a scholarship program to help send Fort Wayne students to the school.
Lembo, meanwhile, knows only that Venderly is a man he can count on.
He got to know him during his first season in Muncie, and the two became fast friends. Before long, Venderly was accompanying the team on road trips – and then came that day Oxford two years ago, when the Cardinals were bidding for their ninth win without star quarterback Keith Wenning and a bunch of other starters missing from the lineup.
“I said ‘You know what, you're coming with me to the locker room,' ” Lembo recalls. “ ‘You're gonna talk to these kids.' And just to stand there knowing how long Ron had been around Ball State and how much Ball State means to him, and getting the chance to see him talk to our kids after a pretty significant win under some pretty adverse circumstances was just really, really special to me.”
No doubt the feeling was mutual.