Decker Gymnasium

Decker Gymnasium

deckerMarion Emory “Spotts” Decker was freckled (hence the nickname “Spotts”) and very tall, but his contributions to Mansfield were taller than his frame. The former director of health and physical education was honored by Mansfield State College in 1971 when the new Decker Gymnasium was named in his honor. 

Marion Decker was born in Mansfield June 15, 1902 to Dana and Verna Ford Decker. He attended Mansfield schools and Mansfield State Normal School. He was a center on both the basketball and football teams.

The 1923 yearbook, the Carontawan, credited his “almost superhuman offensive playing” on the basketball court for the win over archrival East Stroudsburg that year. The same yearbook noted that he was new to the position of center on the football field, but his specialty was his fighting spirit. “You could always depend on a gain through center,” the yearbook editors wrote.

After graduating from Mansfield, Decker attended the University of Illinois and Penn State, where he earned his master’s of education degree. He also did work at the Springfield YMCA College and the University of Wisconsin.

Marion Decker became Coach Decker in 1929 when he started work at Athens High School. Five years later, he relocated to Williamsport. Initially, he served two years as coach and physical education director at Thaddeus Stevens Junior High School. In 1936, Decker was appointed director of health and physical education at Williamsport High School. He was also assistant football coach and head coach of track and basketball.

One of his greatest contributions to Mansfield was something of an accident of history. While teaching at the Williamsport schools, he met a lady named Helen Dieffenbach (later Helen Lutes), for whom Lutes Softball Field is named. After the Second World War ended and colleges were bursting with strong, young men just back from the service, Decker accepted the position of director of athletics and assistant football coach at the state teacher’s college in his hometown. He was later promoted to director of health and physical education. It was Decker who convinced Miss Dieffenbach, a war veteran, to come to Mansfield as a physical education teacher.

In 1946, the athletic department was completely reorganized, because so many men returned from military service. In fact, the war forced the cancellation of the 1943, 1944, and 1945 sports seasons. In Decker’s first term, head football coach Edward “Ted” Casey put together an aggressive squad that won the state championship with a record of 8-0-1. The only tie was a 0-0 decision to Bloomsburg. The following February, the team was honored with a banquet at the Penn Wells in Wellsboro. Fred Bendenk, a former Mansfield Normal School standout and Penn State football coach at the time, was the guest speaker. The team again won the state title in 1947, posting a 7-0-1 record. The only blemish was another 0-0 draw, this time to Millersville.

decker gymThe football team declined after that and did not win more than three games in a season during the 1950s. However, “Spotts” personally posted his own winning “season.” After losing the first three games of the 1954 campaign, Ed Rushin was seriously injured in a gas explosion. Rushin was putting the finishing touches on his new home in October when a leak in a line filled parts of the house with natural gas. Something, possibly a cigarette, sparked an explosion which blasted the coach into the cellar. Rushin suffered third degree burns and sent him to Robert Packer Hospital in Sayre. The explosion destroyed the home. The Wellsboro Gazette article detailing the incident noted that the explosion rattled windows two blocks away, but did not say where the house was located.

Following that explosion, the physical education director, Decker, took over and posted a record of 2-1-1 for the remainder of the season. That record included a 30-6 win over Edinboro and a 42-7 drubbing of Millersville.

Although the Mansfield football did not post the same stellar records as they had in the past, the team did move from playing at Smythe Park to the new Karl Van Norman field in 1964. Decker was at Mansfield for the dedication of the field. In fact, it was three years before he passed away that Mansfield finally posted a winning record (5-4 in 1965).

But football and gym class were not Spotts’ only interest. In 1958, both Decker and Helen Lutes were appointed to an Athletic Policy Committee. The Wellsboro Agitator noted that Mansfield State Teachers College only participated in three intercollegiate sports – baseball, basketball, and football – at that point. Decker soon became coach of the golf team and his team won the state championship in 1959. Mansfield also posted second place finishes in 1964 and 1966.

Decker was also interested in safe driving. Early in his career at Mansfield, Decker was authorized as a driving training instructor by the state Department of Education. His job was to train other teachers in driver education. Even in 1948, the highest accident and fatality rate was among people aged 15-24, Decker told the Wellsboro Lions Club. Under Decker’s guidance, Mansfield offered numerous traffic safety programs for high school students and faculty and students at the college.

Decker was a charter member of the Mansfield Kiwanis Club in 1962. That year, the club was jointly sponsored by clubs in Elmira and Williamsport. That first year, the club met at Hat’s restaurant and Decker served as one of two vice presidents. The other officers included president Russell J. Storms, vice president John McNaney, secretary Max Colegrove, and treasurer Robert Dalton. In addition, Decker was a member of the Friendship Lodge of the Free and Accepted Masons, the First Baptist Church, and the Williamsport Consistory.

Spotts also had an interesting family. His wife, Arlene (born Arlene Hitchcock in Delevan, N.Y.) was also a graduate of the Normal School (1924). She was an elementary school teacher and taught at schools in New York and Pennsylvania. Arlene retired from Mansfield’s Warren L. Miller Elementary School. She was a member of the Columbian Literary Society, leader of the Pi Chapter of Delta Kappa Gamma, charter member of the Mansfield Branch of American Association of University Women, member of the memorial committee at the Baptist Church, part of the Red Cross volunteer program, and the Corey Creek Golf Club. She was also a Grey Lady at Wellsboro’s Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Hospital. The Grey Ladies (they always wore grey) were volunteers at the hospital After Spotts’ death and her retirement, Arlene married George Deuel.

Spotts and Arlene had two girls together. Kathryn married Louis Hart and they moved to Maytown and had two children. Marlone married Charles Engle, son of Penn State football coach Rip Engle, Nov. 29, 1958. That couple later adopted twin boys and named them David Decker and Daniel Broughton Engle.

Spotts passed away at age 65 after suffering a heart attack at the couple’s summer home in Kingston, Ontario, Canada in August, 1968. In November of that year, a memorial contribution in his name was made to the Heart Association. Arlene passed away in 1980.

Postscript: Friendship Lodge 247

The Friendship Lodge 247 of the Free and Accepted Masons is the local lodge for Masons in Mansfield, Pennsylvania. Many prominent Mansfield educators have been members of that lodge and some have been lodge masters.

Of the people who have buildings named for them on campus, at least 10 were local Masons. They include Herbert Grant, George B. Strait, Edmond Retan, George Retan, John Myers, Edward Russell, William R. Straughn, Marion “Spotts” Decker, Will George Butler, and John H. Doane. Harvey J. Van Norman, father of Karl Van Norman, and Charles V. Elliott, brother of Simon B. Elliott, were also members of the Friendship Lodge. In addition, Lavere Spaulding was a Mason in the Corning, N.Y. lodge.

On the website, Tri-County Genealogy and History by Joyce M. Tice, there is a 1928 photograph of the past masters of the lodge. Among those pictured are Grant, Strait, and Retan. In addition, Warren L. Miller (W.L. Miller Elementary School in Mansfield) is pictured. The original photo was taken by W. Albert Bates.