Everybody knew his name: Don Page synonymous with River Falls and area sportsWhen George Field was chancellor at UW-River Falls from 1968-85, he said the university didn’t need a public relations department or advertising agency to promote the school. “We had Don Page,” Field said.
By: Bob Burrows, Hudson Star-Observer
When George Field was chancellor at UW-River Falls from 1968-85, he said the university didn’t need a public relations department or advertising agency to promote the school.
“We had Don Page,” Field said.
Page died last Tuesday, Sept. 14, after a long bout with cancer. He was 83.
His son, River Falls dentist David Page, said he can’t go anywhere in the state of Wisconsin without someone asking him if he is Don Page’s son. Turns out the legend of Don Page has even spread to New York City, where David’s daughter and Don’s granddaughter, Gretchen, attends graduate school.
“She called Friday night and said she was in the subway with her Bucky Badger logo on her backpack and an old guy tapped her on the shoulder and asked, ‘Are you really a Badger?’” David said. “She said yes and he asked her where she was from and she said a small town in Western Wisconsin called River Falls.
“He said he knew some people in River Falls and asked her if she knew Don Page. She said, ‘Dad, I just started crying. He was just trying to be nice and he had no idea I was his granddaughter. He just held me up and told me to tell grandma that he was a great man and will be missed.’”
Page and his wife Jo moved to River Falls in 1957 when Don was hired as head basketball coach at UW-RF. He coached basketball for nine seasons, baseball for 17 and tennis for 13. He was an assistant football coach for the Falcons for 15 years, and in 1970 he was appointed athletic director by then Chancellor Field.
“Back then we didn’t have search and screen committees and nationwide searches, we just appointed people,” Field said, before joking, “I would say my appointment of Don as athletic director would rank in the top five percent of my good decisions.”
A gifted athlete
Page was a five-sport star at Madison West High School, where he graduated in 1945 after lettering in football, basketball, tennis, track and volleyball. He was the Big Eight scoring champion in basketball his junior and senior years, leading his team to the 1945 WIAA state championship.
He went on to letter two years at the University of Wisconsin in both tennis and basketball, and was a regular on the 1949-50 Badger basketball team.
After college he accepted a teaching and head basketball and baseball coaching position at Edgerton High School. In 1953 he moved back to Madison to teach and coach basketball at his alma mater, Madison West, before taking the coaching job in River Falls.
A well respected official
Don Page was a basketball and football official for six decades, refereeing high school and college games across the state. He officiated two WIAA state championship football games and six WIAA state boys’ basketball tournaments, and is the only person ever to play, coach and officiate in the boys’ state basketball tournament.
David Page said his dad had plenty of good things to say about officiating, but the pay wasn’t high on the list.
“He used to say, if you went downtown and ran into three or four of your friends and told them, ‘I know where there’s 89 bucks under a rock, only we have to drive up to Hayward to get it,’ none of them would go,” David said. “But Friday night would come and you’d all be driving up to Hayward to officiate for 89 bucks.”
After his retirement as UW-RF athletic director in 1992, Page served as supervisor of men’s basketball and football officials for the WIAC until 2008.
For his work as an official, Don Page received the inaugural Dave McLain Award for distinguished Service from the Wisconsin Football Coaches Association in 1987 and was inducted into the WFCA Hall of Fame and the Wisconsin Basketball Coaches Association Hall of Fame in 2004.
He was previously inducted into the NAIA District 14 Hall of Fame and the Madison Sports Hall of Fame in 1998. In 1992, he was the lone inductee into the UW-RF Athletic Hall of Fame.
Don Page is survived by his wife of 59 years, Jo, his brother, Jim; sons John (Peggi) of Hudson and David (Alison) of River Falls, daughter Susan Brown, 12 grandchildren and four great grandchildren.