Jim Volz — an Irish star of the '60s

The DeSales star has been all over the country after playing football, basketball and baseball for the Irish in the 1960s.


WALLA WALLA - If there's any truth to the rumors that DeSales High School has, on occasion, been guilty of recruiting star athletes - and such accusations have certainly been leveled over the years - they might have begun back in the fall of 1965.

That's when Jim Volz enrolled at DeSales as a freshman and became one of the Irish's best and most well-rounded athletes of his time. Volz was a physical tight end and middle linebacker on the football field, a rugged rebounding force in basketball and a hard-throwing right-handed pitcher on the baseball diamond.

"He was a phenomenal athlete," recalled Dan Baffney, one of Volz's Irish classmates and teammates. "He could do anything, although basketball was his main forte. But he was also a heckuva pitcher, and a good football player as well."

As far as being recruited, well, that was never the case. Unless, of course, you can find Jim's big brother Gene guilty of such skulduggery.

Gene Volz was the head basketball and baseball coach at DeSales when his little brother arrived on campus. But as far as anyone knows, nobody in tiny Janesville, Minn., ever filed such a claim.

Janesville is where young Jim Volz grew up in the early years of the Sensational Sixties. Back when the Beatles were brand new and America was still reeling in the aftermath of JFK's assassination.

Jim's parents, Eugene and Alice Volz, were in the process of selling the family business in Southern Minnesota and making plans to move west to be closer to Gene and his family. And when the business didn't sell right away, they opted to send Jim on ahead to begin high school at DeSales.

"My parents liked the climate in Walla Walla compared to Minnesota," Jim recalled recently in a telephone interview from Baton Rouge, La., where he is the cost analysis manager for KPAQ Industries LLC, an independent manufacturer of virgin unbleached pulp and paper products.

Jim did, too, as it turned out.

"The climate was a lot different," Volz recalled of his first winter in Walla Walla. "It wasn't cold and freezing all the time."

And DeSales proved to be a great fit.

"He was just a great guy," Baffney said. "He was gregarious, smart, and he got along with everybody. And what an athlete."

Mike Levens was a couple of years ahead of Volz at DeSales. And during Levens' senior year, the Irish had an outstanding football team that lost just one game and avenged it on the final day of the season.

"He was a really good athlete who started in football as a sophomore and also in basketball," Levens recalled of Volz. "And he was a pretty dominate player by the time he was done in both sports.

"I remember him being bigger and stronger than a lot of the guys," Levens added. "He was a real physical player, something we needed."

Jerry Anhorn coached that DeSales team, and he was also impressed with Volz's physical attributes.

"He was a big, strong kid who was more physically advanced than most of the kids at that time," Anhorn recollected. "He was really raw and didn't have a lot of experience. But he was a very, very hard worker who was disciplined and dedicated.

"He was also surrounded by some awfully good players, and he learned from those good kids. And his brother being there as an assistant coach, that made a difference, too."

Volz retains his own fond memories of that sophomore football season.

"We had quite a team that year," he said. "I played tight end and middle linebacker, and we had guys like Mike Levens and Frank Talarico and Doug Harvey and Guy Nelson. And Jerry Anhorn was our coach.

"I think we were 9-1 that year. Dayton beat us, but we had 'em scheduled again and we beat them 60-6."

And then there was his senior year, when the Irish upset No. 1-ranked Othello at Borleske Stadium on the final day of the season and avenged an 81-0 drubbing DeSales had suffered a year earlier in Othello.

"They had some great players on that team," Volz recalled of the Huskies. "But Dan Baffney played the best game of his career that night, rushed for 150-some yards and we beat 'em."

At 6-foot-1 and 195 pounds, Volz made his mark in Irish basketball and baseball as well.

"We had a good basketball team my sophomore year, and my junior year we went to the state tournament," Volz recalled. "It was the first time for DeSales to go to state. We lost our first game, won our second and then in the third game Othello beat us by one point in an elimination game."

That made the football victory over Othello that fall all the sweeter, Volz remembered.

"I was always a pretty good rebounder for my size in basketball," he said. "And in baseball I was a pitcher. There were no playoffs in baseball then, but we won the conference every year. They're still pretty powerful in baseball."

Volz hasn't been to Walla Walla, he said, since 2004 when he attended a high school reunion. But he has followed DeSales' athletic achievements from afar, and he found his way to the Tacoma Dome a couple of times to watch the Irish when they played in Gridiron Classic state football championship games.

"I also drove to Yakima a couple of times and watched DeSales in the state baseball finals," he remembered. "And I'm always following them on the WIAA website."

After graduating from DeSales in 1969, Volz was recruited to Gonzaga, where older brother Gene had played basketball and baseball.

"Gene was the oldest and I was the youngest," Jim explained. "I was about 5 years old when he went to Gonzaga, so I really didn't know him when I moved in with him.

"But Gene was on the Gonzaga team that beat Seattle U the year they finished second in the NCAA with Elgin Baylor."

Gene Volz died in 2003 at 65 years of age.

Jim's Gonzaga career was short-circuited.

"I was two years at Gonzaga, and I really enjoyed it," he said. "I lettered in baseball as a freshman and sophomore, but my sophomore year in basketball I rolled my ankle and ended up being out of action."

It was at that point that Volz decided to transfer to Whitman College, where he graduated in 1973 with a bachelor's degree in economics. He played baseball and basketball for the Missionaries, and in his senior year he was "talked into" playing football.

"I played for Roy Thompson, but by then the program was starting to go downhill," Volz recalled. "After I graduated they picked up a little bit, and then they got out of football."

The Missionaries didn't win many basketball games during Volz's junior season, he said. "But we turned it around my second year and had the first winning season in quite some time."

After finishing up his collegiate playing career, Volz tried his hand at coaching.

"I helped out John Wilcox with the men's basketball team at Whitman for a couple of years, and I also helped Ken Woody with the baseball team," he said.

Volz attended graduate school at Washington State University in Pullman. But when his father was diagnosed with cancer, he returned to Walla Walla to be closer to his parents and took a job as a cost accountant for Rogers Cannery.

Eugene Volz died in 1976.

"By then, Gene and his family had moved to Spokane," Jim said. "With me being the only one there, we decided to move my mom back to Minnesota where she could be around family - brothers and other relatives."

It wasn't Volz's first trip back to the Gopher State.

"I went back summers to visit my parents during high school," he said. "And I played a lot of town-team baseball in Southern Minnesota. I actually pitched for the Waseca team and we went to the state tournament a couple of years and that was fun. I still have connections back there."

Summertime connections.

"When I moved my mother back, I stayed one winter," he remembered. "But once you leave there, it's just too cold to go back. So I stayed that one winter and then I got out of there."

He first went to work for General Foods Corporation in Lafayette, Ind., then switched to the Arco Aluminum Division of Atlantic Richfield in Terre Haute, Ind.

"I just missed Larry Bird by a year in Terre Haute," he said of the former Indiana State basketball star who went on to NBA greatness with the Boston Celtics. "I did see him play in Lafayette against Purdue, and I did see Magic Johnson and Jud Heathcote when (Michigan State) played at Purdue. That was quite fun."

However, Volz's travels were just beginning.

"I moved around quite a bit under the Arco umbrella for 14 years," he said, clicking off Pittsburgh, Houston and Philadelphia as cities he called home. He earned his MBA degree and passed his CPA exam during his time in Houston.

Then, in 1994, Volz returned to the Pacific Northwest went to work for Weyerhaeuser, one of the largest pulp and paper companies in the world.

"I was with them for about 12 years," Volz said. "First in Longview, then in Tacoma at their headquarters."

Although he has since changed companies again and now works out of Louisiana, his wife Susan and their two sons stayed behind in Tacoma. Michael is 22 and recently graduated from the University of Puget Sound. James, 20, attends Willamette University.

"They are West Coast kids," Volz said of his two sons. "And Susan is from Tacoma and we live about three miles from her parents' house, so that's pretty comfortable.

"I consider Tacoma to be the home base, and I probably get home every couple of months. I was just back for Michael's graduation from UPS."

Jim met Susan while they were students at Whitman. They were married in 1984.

Although neither of his sons followed in Jim's athletic path, both are active and have found their niche.

"James plays tennis and has gotten involved in Ultimate Frisbee," Volz said. "He also scored 770 on the writing portion of his SAT and wants to major in creative writing.

"And Michael is a musician. He plays the tenor sax and is pretty good. He actually got to do a five-performance gig with the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra when they toured the Pacific Northwest.

"I'm pretty proud of both of them."

Both of Volz's sons graduated from Stadium High School in Tacoma.

Jim, who is 61, plans to work four or five more years before he even considers retirement. And though the most likely scenario will be to keep the home base in Tacoma, Volz has grown to love the South since relocating in Baton Rouge in 2006.

"I'm pretty flexible," Volz said. "But I do like Louisiana. We'll just have to see.

"It's been a bit different living on the west side of the (Cascades) instead of the east. I had to get used to the rain, and I just never got into it."

Volz has kept close track of Gonzaga's basketball success over the years. But his years in Tacoma haven't drawn him any closer to the University of Washington camp.

"Nah," he said. "I'm an LSU Tiger, not a Husky."

And, of course, a DeSales Irish.

And a Whittie, too.


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