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Treasures of the Valley » Mike Lawler

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The Story of Glendale High’s Legendary Track Coach

Recently my good friend Art Cobery expressed to me the admiration he had for one of the greatest athletes and running coaches that he knew of: Glendale High’s Ranier de Mandel. Remember that Glendale and Hoover were our high schools until CV High was built in 1960, and so many of our older residents consider those Glendale schools their alma maters. Longtime CV resident Cobery attended Glendale High in the post-war years, and this great track coach had such positive influence that it stayed with him his entire life. I think most who attended Glendale High in those pre-CVHS years will remember him.

Ranier de Mandel’s life is a classic rags-to-riches story. He was a man who was given a good start, was deeply grateful, and gave it all back and more through a lifetime of achievement. As a young man, de Mandel was literally homeless on the streets of Santa Monica in the early ’20s. Through scholarships and hard work he was given a break, and was able to attend Occidental College nearly gratis, a gift that he never forgot. He excelled at baseball and even played a few games in the major leagues for the Chicago Cubs. After graduation in 1925, de Mandel was desperate for a job. He was picked up at Glendale High as a track coach, and it was here that the young man’s abilities in coaching and leadership shined.

Mike Lawler is the former  president of the Historical Society of the Crescenta Valley and loves local history. Reach him at lawlerdad@yahoo.com.

Mike Lawler is the former
president of the Historical Society
of the Crescenta Valley and loves local history. Reach him at
lawlerdad@yahoo.com.

He coached Glendale’s track team to CIF and state titles in 1927, and again in 1943 and ’51, with a runner-up title in ’42. He had a competitive nature and seemed to be able to pull great effort out of the kids he coached. The ’40s and ’50s were considered by some “golden years” for Glendale in track and field completion, thanks to de Mandel’s coaching skills.

Besides his achievements coaching track at Glendale, he also successfully coached cross-country, swimming, basketball and football (ironically never baseball despite his major league history). In football, as assistant coach he was able to have an influence on players Marion Morrison (who later became John Wayne) and Football Hall of Famer Frankie Albert, said to be the greatest left-handed quarterback ever. An achievement for de Mandel outside of Glendale High was his coaching of the great Glendale sprinter Frank Wykoff to his third Gold Medal in the 100-meter relay at the 1936 Olympics.

But it was following de Mandel’s retirement in 1964, after almost 40 years of coaching at Glendale High, that another of his talents bore fruit. As a real estate investor and contractor, de Mandel achieved the “riches” portion of his rags-to-riches life story, amassing a fortune worth millions. But the humble and unassuming de Mandel never let it go to his head. He said in an interview later, “I’m not money-mad. I give it all away.”

And give it away he did, donating millions to Occidental College, to whom he was forever grateful for his successful start in life.

“I have never forgotten that I got a great college education from Oxy, and I consider it my second home. It cost me almost nothing to go there…”

Soon ground will be broken at Occidental for the De Mandel Aquatic Center that will replace its aging current pool. Today Oxy’s swim facility is inadequate for completive training, forcing college swimmers and divers to train off-site, but the new De Mandel facility will be up to Olympic standards, and will allow divers to practice and compete on-campus for the first time in Oxy’s history.

He gave to Glendale High as well, stating, “I was always very grateful for the opportunity to teach and coach at such a fine school as Glendale High. I will never forget the school for what they did for me.”

The great coach passed away in 2005 at the age of 101. Ranier de Mandel was an unassuming and humble man who achieved greatness. His influence on several generations of Crescenta Valley athletes should never be forgotten.

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