WALLA WALLA — If it’s true that legends never die, then Scotty Cummins is still here with us.
He’s out there on the ball fields in Touchet, where he was a star athlete for the Indians back in the leather-helmet era. And at Borleske Stadium, where he excelled as a collegian while attending Whitman College during those years when baseball was just entering its Golden Age.
Look carefully and you might spot him at his store on Alder Street, fitting a youngster with a new pair of gym shoes or writing out an order for some school’s new uniforms. Listen closely and you might hear him ring the bell and call to order another meeting of the Noon Rotary Club.
Scotty Cummins, whose name will be forever entwined in the texture of Walla Walla’s historic fabric, died last week at age 98. His legacy is so rich and so multi-faceted that it is almost impossible to recount in this space.
Suffice to say that he meant much to many.
Athlete, husband, father, patriarch, teacher and coach, serviceman, businessman, mentor, community activist and on and on. Scotty excelled at every turn.
Bud Waggoner, who in 1968 purchased Scotty Cummins Athletic Supply — the sporting goods store Scotty founded in 1947 — remembers him for his salesmanship and work ethic.
“He had a real gift, a charisma, a knack,” Waggoner remembered. “He had a way with customers. He never pandered them, but he always had a great relationship with them. He was able to get along with people.”
Scotty also had a great sense of humor, according to Waggoner, who recollected the time Scotty went to Spokane to get some medical attention for a bad knee.
“He must have been 90 or 91, and when they did an ultra sound they found out his aorta was screwed up,” Bud said. “All of a sudden, he told me, his knee didn’t hurt so bad.
“Despite his age he decided to have the aorta repaired, and it probably added eight years to his life. But he never did have the knee done.”
It was that kind of can-do attitude that helped Scotty get through perhaps the toughest period in his life. Peggy Cummins, Scotty’s wife of 52 years, died in 1990, just one year after their son John died of a heart attack.
“He had an amazing gift of facing the world head on,” Waggoner said of Scotty. “He went through all of that and was still in pretty good shape — mentally, spiritually and physically.”
Mike Monahan, now 72, can’t remember a single day when Scotty Cummins wasn’t part of the Walla Walla scene.
“I’ve known Scotty my whole life,” Monahan recalled. “He and Peggy were best friends of my parents, and one thing I remember is how hard he worked when he developed Scotty Cummins Athletic Supply. They had accounts all over the Northwest and were almost the single supplier for Washington State University.
“That didn’t come by luck.”
When Monahan was a freshman quarterback at Whitman College, Jerry Hillis of Edmonds was a senior split end on offense and a fierce linebacker and the leader of the Missionaries’ defense.
“I doubt many people around here today remember Jerry, but he was a special football player,” Monahan said. “I watched him enough to know that he could have played at a higher level.”
But had it not been for Scotty Cummins, Monahan said, Hillis might never have made it through college.
“Jerry called Scotty his mentor and his saviour,” Monahan related. “I can’t say how he befriended Jerry, but Scotty basically allowed Jerry to work for him whenever he was available.
“Jerry didn’t come from money, and I know for a fact that it was a very important factor in keeping Jerry at Whitman. And Scotty and Jerry remained friends down through the years.
“And for what it’s worth, Jerry went on to have a very successful law practice in Seattle.”
One last Scotty Cummins story is of a more personal nature.
When I had been at the Union-Bulletin for about 10 years, sports editor Jim Reding left the paper to take a position with one of the Seattle metros. I thought I was ready for the job and applied, but I was passed over.
Naturally, I was disappointed. But Chuck Cochrane, the U-B publisher, called me aside and encouraged me by letting me know that there were a lot of people in town who were in my corner.
One of those people, I later learned, was Scotty Cummins.
And when the job opened up again a few years later and I was promoted to sports editor, I was certain that Scotty’s support played a role. And for that I will always be grateful.
Finally, when the phone rang last Sunday morning I was surprised to hear Maxine Cummins’ voice on the other end of the line. Maxine married Scotty in 1992, and she was his constant and loving companion.
She was calling not only to tell me of Scotty’s death the day before, but also that she was touched to find a picture of “my Scotty” in Annie Charnley Eveland’s Etcetera Column in that day’s U-B. The photo was taken in 1956 and Scotty was pictured with baseball great Leo Durocher, who was visiting Walla Walla.
I’m more inclined to believe that legends never die.