In 1941, the Nebraska Wesleyan University football team boasted a wiry and elusive back by the name of R. L. “Dick” Bartley (’45). World War II would end his playing career after two short seasons, but not before Bartley won a hard-earned letter for his contributions on the football field. Bartley and the Plainsmen went 6-2-1 his sophomore season.
After Japan attacked Pearl Harbor, football became a lower priority, and Bartley volunteered for the Navy. Even after wearing a Navy uniform, Bartley still prized his letter sweater with its brown and yellow W. “My two years of football under Coach George Farley and Assistant Coach Larry Price are wonderful memories for me,” Bartley said.
After the war, Bartley became a physician. Decades passed, and Bartley lost his prized letter sweater somewhere along the way. That loss bothered him enough that 70 years after he first pulled it on, he contacted NWU Athletic Director Ira Zeff about purchasing a new one.
Zeff responded, telling Dr. Bartley that Nebraska Wesleyan no longer produced such letter sweaters. But Zeff enclosed a new letter: a brilliant yellow W with white trim and a brown border. In thanks, Bartley sent Zeff a photo and letter. “I found a sweater here in Springfield, Mo., and had the W, which you so kindly sent, sewn to it,” he wrote. “Enclosed is a photograph, which one of my sons took recently. I thought you might get a kick out of it.”
Although Bartley had offered to buy the letter, Zeff refused payment. “He earned it in 1942,” Zeff said. “It’s his.”