After serving as an Army combat paratrooper in the Korean War, Dick Yates came home to Minneapolis, eager to dive into civilian life.
Yates, who had played football at Minneapolis Edison High School before his military service, used the G.I. Bill to enroll at the University of Minnesota as an education major and joined the Gophers football team in fall 1954.
Over the next four seasons, the offensive lineman was a mainstay in the Gophers program, taking part in more than 300 consecutive practices (including spring and fall) without missing one.
He spent his first year on the freshman team and three years on the varsity as a reserve offensive lineman. As a senior, he was captain of the Gophers “Bomber” squad, which ran the plays of the Gophers’ upcoming opponent.
But in his three years on the varsity, he didn’t appear in a game for the Gophers until the final seconds of the final game of his senior season.
Yates never thought about quitting over his lack of playing time.
“Because I didn’t want to quit, once I started,” Yates told the Minneapolis Star several days before the Gophers’ 14-6 loss to Wisconsin in the 1957 season finale. “I’ve had a lot of satisfaction from finishing what I started. And I gained plenty from the associations.”
Yates, of Minneapolis, died April 23. He would have turned 89 on May 7.
“I was a sophomore and in my first year on the varsity when Dick was a senior,” said former University of Minnesota Athletic Director Tom Moe. “Everybody loved him. He was undersized [Yates was listed as 5-feet-9, 168 pounds], but tough.
“You couldn’t find anyone who didn’t like him,” Moe said. “One thing that always stood out about Dick was his smile. He was happy and loved being part of the team. He was proud to be a part of the program.”
Sid Hartman wrote in the Minneapolis Tribune at the start of Yates’ senior season, “[Yates] is one of the most popular members of the squad and one that all of the Gophers from captain Jon Jelacic to the lowest scrub look up to.”
Yates was born Julius Riccardo Yates in 1931 at his family’s home on Lincoln Street in northeast Minneapolis to Italian immigrants, Pasquale (Pat) and Marie (Susie) Yates. Yates was one of 16 children, 11 sons and five daughters.
When Yates joined the Edison High football team, he was the sixth member of his family to play for the Tommies. Two more brothers eventually played for the team.
Edison football coach Pete Guzy welcomed Yates to the team.
“I’ll take all the Yates boys I can get,” Guzy told the Minneapolis Star in October 1949. “They’re not so big, but all of them have been good, tough football players.”
Yates continued that tradition as a two-year starter in the Tommies’ offensive line. After graduating from Edison in 1949, he was drafted. He joined the Army and after basic training at Fort Benning, Ga., he was deployed to Korea. He served 16 months in Korea with the 187th Airborne Infantry Regiment.
After graduating from the university, Yates went to work for the Minneapolis Park Board. He began his 39-year tenure overseeing playground programs at Longfellow and Lynnhurst parks. He eventually became manager of special services, playing a significant role in expanding the system’s golf courses.
Yates retired in January 1996.
He is survived by his wife of 63 years, Fay; three sons, Brad, Bob and Doug; a daughter, Ann; a sister, Janet; a brother, David, and four grandchildren.