A fixture locally, regionally and nationally in track and field for more than 40 years, the contributions of he and his wife Ruth will be recognized this fall as recipients of the Eastern Athletics Hall of Fame Service and Contribution Award
After a hard-fought battle with cancer, long-time Eastern Washington University track and field official and 1966 graduate Lawson Van Kuren passed away Friday (June 26). He was 73.
He and his surviving wife of more than 50 years, Ruth, have been involved with track and field for more than 40 years, including as Eastern track and field officials for more than 30. They were also organizers of the Cheney Track Club for 35 years, and, as a result of their life-long contributions, will be honored on Oct. 10, 2015, as recipients of the Eastern Athletics Hall of Fame Service and Contribution Award.
“Their contribution to track and field in our community will never be matched,” said Eastern women’s track and field coach Marcia Mecklenburg. “We will miss Lawson deeply, and our thoughts and prayers go out to Ruth and their family.”
Lawson served as Meet Director for the Big Sky Conference Outdoor Track & Field Championships in 2006 that were held in Cheney, and was honorary meet director when the meet returned to Roos Field in 2015. That was the fourth Big Sky meet hosted by EWU that the Van Kurens have worked as head officials.
They have also been a part of the annual WIAA State Track and Field Championships (for smaller schools) which have taken place at EWU every year since 1996 – Lawson mostly as facilities coordinator and head shot put judge, and Ruth as head javelin judge and team check-in coordinator.
The Van Kurens have also worked countless other championship and regular season meets throughout the Inland Northwest at the collegiate, high school, middle school and youth levels.
They started the Cheney Track Club in 1972 with 50 children taking part, and grew to 160 in 1973. Eventually, more than 2,000 persons – ranging in age from 2 to 70-plus -- participated in the club in the next 35 years it was under the direction of the Van Kurens.
During that time, they annually hosted the Inland Northwest Junior Olympics Championships, and several Region XIII Championships. The Van Kurens also hosted the Cheney Marathon and 20-kilometer races for 10 years. In 1974, the CTC hosted 10 events that year alone.
The Cheney Track Club produced two national champions and hundreds more who participated in national championship events. They also served for many years in an officials training capacity for USATF. The long-standing motto of the Van Kurens and their club was “Do Your Best.”
"The first national championship meet I competed in was the Junior Olympics in 1974,” said Mecklenburg. “I was on the team from the Pacific Northwest and Lawson was the head coach for the team. I was from the sticks and was totally out of my element, but Lawson was there for me through prelims and finals and I ended up placing fourth. It was an experience I will never forget.
“When I was hired twenty years ago at EWU, it was great to renew my friendship with Lawson and Ruth,” she added. “I don't know what we would have done without all their help at our home meets.”
Lawson served the Cheney School District for 30 years as a middle school mathematics teacher, cross country coach, track and field coach and athletic director. Ruth was an instructional aide at Betz Elementary School for 17 years and a substitute in the district for another 19, and also mentored young student-athletes. They met at the State B Basketball Tournament in Spokane in 1959.
Lawson graduated from Eastern in 1966 with a bachelor’s degree in education, and in 1970 received his master’s degree in education. Ruth and their children, Carol and Cathy, also attended Eastern.
In 1997, they received a 25-year year award from the Spokane Sportswriters and Broadcasters. They also received the Community Leadership Award from the Northeast Washington Association of School Administrators. The new track at Cheney Middle School was renamed in their honor on Jan. 28, 2015, and in the same year they were honored by Eastern Washington University, at the Big Sky Conference Championships and at the WIAA State 1B, 2B, 1A Championships taking place for the 20th time at EWU’s Roos Field.
Family Obituary . . .
On June 26, 2015, Lawson Van Kuren lost his brave battle with cancer.
Lawson Wallace Van Kuren Jr. was born to Katherine (Sitenga) and Lawson W. Van Kueren in Babcock,, Wisconsin on January 9, 1942. He was the middle of 5 children, Kathleen (Stan) Bohlin, Janice (Richard) Bennett, Lois (John) Collins, and Fred (Marla) Van Kuren. After attending about 12 different grade schools, Lawson’s family settled in and he spent 5 years in Chimacum, WA where he graduated as Valedictorian in 1960. Lawson attended Washington State University for a few years prior to joining the Air National Guard as a 2nd Lieutenant.
In 1959, while attending the State B Basketball Tournament in Spokane, Lawson met the love of his life Ruth Martin from Lacrosse, WA. When Ruth graduated from the Deaconess School of Nursing in 1964 she joined Lawson at James Connally Air Force base in Waco, Texas where they married. Soon after, they moved to Cheney where Lawson attended Eastern Washington University and earned his BA in Math Education in 1966 and a MEd in 1970.
Lawson began his teaching career in Cheney in 1966 at the Fisher building. He later taught at Cheney High School for a few years where he coached track and cross country as well as served as the backpacking club advisor. While there, Lawson became the legal guardian and mentor for Matthew Tsien so that Matthew could continue his education in the US. Matthew is currently the President of General Motors, China and Executive Vice President of GM. When the new Cheney Junior High opened Lawson became the Athletic Director, track coach, and cross country coach for the next 19 years. He was the first teacher in the Cheney School District to teach a class with personal computers. Lawson was inducted into the Washington State Athletic Director’s Hall of Fame as the first Junior/Middle School AD in 1997.
Lawson and Ruth were the founders of the Cheney Track Club. Together, they ran the club for 35 years and upon retirement from the club they created the Ruth and Lawson Van Kuren Cheney Track Club Scholarship. Additionally, they held many positions in local and national governing bodies for track and field. They worked as head officials for the State Track meet at EWU for about 20 years. This joint volunteerism earned them several local and national honors, including the Sports Writer’s and Broadcaster’s 25 year award for service to Inland Northwest Sports.
In 2015, the Cheney School District honored their service to the youth of the area by dedicating the Cheney Middle School Track as the Lawson and Ruth Van Kuren Track and Field. The dedication sign displays Lawson’s motto of “do your best”.
After Lawson retired from teaching, he and Ruth enjoyed travelling together. They visited all 50 states, enjoyed 55 cruises that took them to all 7 continents, and spent lots of time camping.
Lawson is survived by his wife Ruth, daughters Carol (Rick) Campbell, Cathy (Gregorio) Munoz, grandsons Richard and David Campbell, great grandson Chayton Campbell, sister Lois Collins and brother Fred Van Kuren
A private family memorial will be held at a later date.
In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to the Cheney Track Club Scholarship at Cheney Federal Credit Union, 520 1st Street, PO Box 160, Cheney, WA 99004.