Fifty years after final college race, Dr. Bork set for induction

By Jacob Knabel on Sep. 26, 2019 in Cross Country

To this day, Dr. Ronald Bork remains deeply connected to Concordia University and its athletic teams. The school’s former Dean of the College of Education can’t hide the affection he has for the entire institution. Such affection explains why after roughly 30 years away from Seward, Bork came back in the fall of 2001. It explains why he continues to keep the place and its people near and dear as he enjoys his (sort of) retirement.

One of the striking qualities of Bork is his uncanny ability to recall specific moments, dates and facts. He surely won’t forget this upcoming date – September 27, 2019. He can also tell you exactly what led up to it. Says Bork, “I saw a sign outside Jesse Hall that said, ‘Cross country practice today. Three o’clock. Come to the gym.’ I did. The rest is kind of history.”

That occurrence he describes took place in the fall of 1966 as Bork embarked on his collegiate career. There he found himself a skinny 140-or-so pound kid from the tiny town of Cleghorn in northwest Iowa. Now he finds himself, 53 years later, about to take his place as a member of the Concordia Athletic Hall of Fame. This Friday, September 27, 2019, Bork will stand before the crowd gathered for the induction ceremony and take another trip down memory lane.

Bork smiles while passing along this tidbit: the 50th anniversary of his last college race will arrive in October. Back in the late 1960s, few competitors in the region could match the excellence Bork displayed while regularly galloping distances of two-to-five miles within competition.

“I’m very honored,” Bork said. “Maybe a little bit surprised because it was so long ago. It’s really hard to compare what it was like then to what it’s like now. It’s exciting.”

It will have been worth the wait for Bork, but perhaps he should not have had to wait this long. Just as Bork says, it’s tricky to compare what athletes did back then to what they are doing now. What we do know is that Bork had few equals at his time. In terms of Concordia cross country, Bork was a pioneer. During his college days, he rewrote the school record books by setting new standards in cross country in the three-, four- and five-mile runs and in track in the two- and three-mile races.

Who was the first Bulldog to ever break in under 10 minutes in the two mile? Of course it was Ron Bork, four-time Most Valuable Runner of the Concordia cross country team. Not bad for someone who entered college with “no idea of what I wanted to do.” ‘No idea’ for Bork applied to both his athletic and academic pursuits.

Bork reached the spring of his senior year at Meriden-Cleghorn High School unsure of the next step in his journey. Recalls Bork, “I still didn’t know where I was going to go. I have a younger sister who already decided she was coming to Concordia. She said, ‘You ought to go there.’ I had no idea what I wanted to do. My dad was a farmer. I knew I didn’t really want to farm. I thought, okay, teaching might be okay.”

This was before the days of athletic recruiting at Concordia. Bork had no clue what cross country was all about and Concordia had no way of knowing about the type of student-athlete it was getting. Bork led the Meriden-Cleghorn basketball team in scoring as a senior. He also competed in football and track, but basketball had been the sport he enjoyed most and was what he first hoped to do at Concordia.

But that sign on Jesse Hall, Bork’s freshman dorm, was like a calling from God. Ron, you were born to run – and run he did. Bork almost always finished in the top five or 10 in his races and broke numerous course records. Bork kept detailed records of all of these things and put together scrap books, but the races are also all housed in his memories. One of his crowning achievements came at the 1968 Tri-State Conference cross country meet when Bork tied for first. How does a tie happen in cross country? We’ll let Bork explain.

Says Bork, “It was a four-mile race. I think it was in South Dakota. There was a guy from Yankton. He was ahead of me most of the way. I actually caught him and then we came up to the last corner and he cut the corner. I had to catch him again, which I did. They called it a tie and they flipped a coin for the medals. He won so I have a second place medal. I still have it.”

Bork was a competitor, but such moments did not make him bitter. Says Bork, “I just enjoyed running. It helps when you’re a little successful at it, too.” Perhaps his greatest reward came in 1968 in one of the few races Bork’s parents ever saw him run. The demands of the farm often kept them in Cleghorn. Ron beamed with pride that day as he etched his name in history as the first under-10-minute two-miler ever at Concordia. The cows would have to be tended by someone else. Mr. and Mrs. Bork watched Ron blaze around Concordia’s cinder track.

Through the years of competition, Bork made friendships with both teammates and opposing runners. The bulk of Bork’s 30 collegiate cross country races were dual meets against familiar foes. The respect was mutual.

In circumstances out of his control, Bork never got the chance to run at the 1969 conference cross country championships and had to sit out the 1970 track season. Following a meet his senior year, Bork’s heart beat sped up to a rate much greater than normal. A doctor diagnosed Bork with Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome, which can lead to periods of rapid heart rate. The doctor told him not to run. For the next 10 years of his life, Bork did not run.

“It was 1979,” Bork recalls. “When I was running in college I ran at probably about 150-155 pounds. By my ninth year after I graduated I was up to about 190 pounds. I would be breathing heavy just going up and down steps. I just said, ‘I have to do something.’”

Bork saw another doctor and was given the okay to take a jogging class. Bork’s running career was reborn. By the end of the course, Bork was running six-and-a-half minute miles and was beating the instructor. Then in Cleveland, Ohio, in 1984, Bork completed his first marathon while the rain poured the whole way through it. Bork slogged to the finish line in under four hours. Bork says that some of his best races came at the age of 40.

All the while, Bork was impacting the lives of others as a teacher. His career began in Kirkwood, Mo., at a Lutheran school. At the same time, his soon-to-be wife Marilyn (also a Concordia alum) was teaching in Washington, D.C. Ron and Marilyn eventually moved around from a miniature school in Indiana to Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio, to Painesville, Ohio, to Detroit, Michigan, and to Kansas City. His positions over that time included roles as a principal, athletic director, teacher and coach.

Life then came full circle in 2001 when Concordia called Bork back. He earned his doctorate while in Kansas City and bided his time for a return to Seward. “I knew if I was going to come back to a Concordia, I wanted it to be here,” Bork said. “So I waited until they had an opening. I had phone calls from Selma, Ann Arbor and Chicago. They were wondering if I was interested in positions there and I said, ‘not really.’”

It just so happened that Ron’s oldest daughter Kristin was a student at Concordia when it was time to “come home.” In a move that surprised Ron himself, he was elevated to the Dean of the College of Education after less than a year at Concordia. Some students knew Ron respectfully as “Kristin’s dad.” Younger daughter Allison soon followed Kristin to Concordia.

Ron Bork continues to be a resource for future teachers. According to Ron, his 14 years as head of the teacher education program yielded more than 1,300 Concordia graduates who went on to become teachers. Those facts, along with his church service and lifelong commitment to Christ, only add to his Hall of Fame credentials.

Bork is a Bulldog through and through. You’ll often find him in the stands watching and showing his support for this new generation of Concordia athletes. For Bork, the Hall of Fame award means a lot.

Says Bork, “It’s good to be here. It’s going to be an honor on Friday night to be part of that group.”