Willis Kleinsasser grew up in Dinuba, California, and began his freshman year at Tabor College in the fall of 1947. He participated in basketball and track and field. In the spring of 1950, he graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree in History and Minors in English and Psychology.
Willis played three years of basketball while at Tabor and his senior season was name to the first All-Star basketball team in the Mid-Kansas Collegiate Conference. He particularly remembers a basketball game in December of 1948, when our friends from Bethel came to Hillsboro with a basketball team that was much more refined than Tabor's. That night, however, Tabor scored what Willis considers the "biggest upset win of all time."
Track and field was the sport, though, in which Willis excelled. He competed, and competed well, in many events. He would often run the 120 yard high and 220 yard low hurdles and anchor the mile relay. Then, he would also high jump, long jump, pole vault, and threw the shot put and discus. During the conference meet in 1950 he placed first in the high hurdles, second in the high jump, third in the shot put and discus, and fifth in the pole vault. He participated in the decathlon at the Kansas University relays in Lawrence and finished eighth.
College competition was definitely not the end of Willis's athletic endeavors. In 1968, at the first National Masters Meet in San Diego, California, Willis was awarded the "Outstanding Athlete" trophy for winning the septathalon – a modified version of the decathlon. The events were the 220 yard, 440 yard, 880 yard, and mile races; plus the 12 lb. shot put and the long jump. His times and distances in five of the events were better than those in the open competition for his age group. The septathalon was replaced by a full decathlon after two years. At age 42 Willis won the open 880 and matched his high school, fourth place state finish time of 2:01. And, at age 50, he ran the 880 at the masters meet in San Diego in 2:13.
After completing his degree at Tabor College, Willis was a coach and teacher at Immanuel High School in Reedley, California, for five years. In 1955-56 he was the only coach for cross country, basketball, and track and field. As Willis says, "this fulfilled any desire to coach." He then moved to Southern California where he earned a Master's Degree from Los Angeles State University and a school psychology credential. He taught in the Azusa Unified School District for six years and was a school psychologist for 29 years, retiring in 1992. Willis has been active in various church positions and is presently an elder at St. John's Presbyterian Church in Reno, Nevada.
Willis and his wife Ethel were married in 1950 and currently reside in Reno, Nevada.
Willis had an outstanding athletic career while at Tabor College in basketball and track and field. We honor him tonight as a member of the Tabor College Athletic Hall of Fame.