Ohio Wesleyan University’s first national champion in any sport spoke on campus Tuesday, nearly 70 years after his triumph.
“I enjoyed every minute of my life at Ohio Wesleyan,” said Quentin Brelsford in a talk to students at the Hamilton-Williams Center. Brelsford won an NCAA national championship in cross-country at Michigan State in 1946, when there were no college divisions. He almost won a second title the next year, but slipped in the snow and finished third. He also just missed qualifying for the Olympics.
Brelsford had interrupted his OWU education to serve in the U.S. Air Force as an engine repairman during World War II. He said he met famed aviator Charles Lindbergh, and his service included stints in northern Africa, Italy and Sicily. His duties included sending abandoned Messerschmidts and other enemy warplanes to Wright-Patterson Air Force Base for analysis.
Brelsford first attended OWU in 1941. As a freshman in Slocum Library, he borrowed a piece of paper from “a pretty redhead.” They corresponded weekly through the war and married when he returned in 1945. He and Betty Conway were together more than 60 years until her recent death.
“She was very supportive of me, a wonderful cook who made me special meals the night before my races,” Brelsford recalled.
As a runner, Brelsford was practically unbeatable, including one home meet where he whipped the entire field by a quarter mile. Brelsford explained that he was the first to cross a railroad track on his way back to Selby Stadium, while the other runners had to wait for a train to pass.
Brelsford graduated in 1948, studying Italian, Spanish and business administration. He credited the G.I. Bill as a great program that allowed him to complete his education.
The Brelsfords lived on Liberty Street, before moving to South America to work for Ford for 20 years. His said his job took him to every South American country except Brazil, because he didn’t speak Portuguese. He was lured away from Ford to work another two decades with Chrysler before retiring to Mount Dora, Florida. Son Richard was born in Venezuela, and he was present to hear his nonagenarian father speak.
OWU President Rock Jones was among those who welcomed Brelsford back to campus.
“I found myself reflecting on what are the measures of a life well-lived,” Jones said. “Accomplishment, service, commitment, humility — Quentin’s is the full measure.”
Gary Budzak may be reached at 740-413-0904 or on Twitter @GaryBudzak.