Ferry native honored at Hall of Fame celebration

ROBERT Forsythe, chief designer for the Pro Football Hall of Fame, had a lot to smile about in Canton 50 years ago tonight and Saturday.

And Forsythe, a Martins Ferry native, will be recognized tomorrow during the Pro Football Hall of Fame’s “One of a Kind 50 Year Celebration,” involving activities and programs, open to the public and involving three Hall of Fame legends Joe DeLamielleure, Leroy Kelly and Paul Warfield.

Forsythe in a telephone conversation with The Times Leader this week said he will be attending Saturday’s community celebration at the football shrine in Canton. “Obviously, he’s been such a big part of our past. … Bob’s really special,” said Joe Horrigan, vice president of communications/exhibits for the Pro Football HofF. “You can’t find architects who have the love and appreciation … that Bob has for us. He’s doing so much outside the call of duty.

“He was involved in every aspect of making the project (construction of the HofF) happen, He kept things on track and on budget.”

Saturday’s community celebration is scheduled from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Forsythe, now a resident of The Villages, Fla., will be introduced during the opening ceremonies on the front steps of the hall for which he was the principal designer. In addition to his mammoth endeavor which resulted in the 1963 HofF completion, he helped to design a multi-million dollar expansion later.

Not only will Saturday’s activities commemorate opening of the HofF, it also will draw attention to the first enshrinement on that 1963 date.

Reminiscing about 1963, Forsythe said he was in the office of the HofF chairman of the board, and the chairman and National Football League Commissioner Pete Rozelle were discussing high school football. The chairman, a Canton McKinley fan, told about the Sept. 6 match-up at Fawcett Stadium, adding McKinley was playing a team from some little town along the Ohio River.

“It won’t be much of game,” the chairman told Rozelle.

The game was with Martins Ferry, and Forsythe, a 1942 graduate of Martins Ferry High School, undoubtedly was pleased when the Purple Riders beat the McKinley Bulldogs powerhouse, 20-8. That was the one of the undefeated seasons by Ferry teams coached by Bob Wion, and captains were Bob DiStefano, quarterback; Richie McFarland, right halfback; Don Cook, fullback; and Frank West, left halfback. DiStefano, West and McFarland also were on Wion’s unbeaten and untied 1961 team.

Bill Van Horne, who was The Times Leader sports editor at that time, referred to the game and HofF dedication as “the greatest football weekend in the history of Canton.”

Forsythe probably agreed with him.

The architect, however, isn’t the only Martins Ferry graduate in his family; he married the former Patty Ayers, a 1945 Ferry graduate. They first met at the First Presbyterian Church in Martins Ferry after he was graduated from Ohio University.

Looking back over the year, Forsythe mentioned the 1974 induction of Lou “The Toe” Groza, one of his high school classmates, into the football shrine in Canton.

Forsythe was a manager for Martins Ferry’s 1941 basketball team which won the state championship. Groza was a captain for that team, which is the only one in Purple Rider history to achieve that feat.

Cal Pokas, who was The Times Leader sports editor at the time of Groza’s induction, reported that the former Ferrian now “joins the pro grid immortals.” Groza was introduced by longtime friend and coach Paul Brown, a Hall of Famer himself, and Brown noted that Groza was much more than a placekicker but it was this specialty which made him a household word throughout the nation.

Brown added, “If statisticians ever checked it out, they would find that his kicking pulled more games out of the fire and that his field goals were the margin of victory than anyone else in the history of the game.”

When recalling those days, Forsythe was pleased not only with Groza’s induction, but also with the inclusion of the Martins Ferry High School band, which was in the HofF parade and also played a song before the football game.

Several activities will precede the opening program at Saturday’s celebration in which Forsythe will participate. The event will begin at 9 a.m. with visitors receiving 50 percent off regular admission rates so adults will pay $11; senior citizens 62 years of age and older, $9; children (6-12), $8; and children under 6 to be admitted free.

Those attending can see the newly renovated museum and a special 50th anniversary exhibit.

DeLamielleure, Kelly and Warfield will be among those participating in the opening celebration from 11-11:30 a.m. That’s when Forsythe will be recognized, and the president of the HofF will speak briefly. Among the others involved will be the HofF chairman of the board and a representative of the governor.

The three HofF legends also will be in a Hall of Famers roundtable discussions from noon to 12:45 and from 2-2:45 p.m.

Special prizes, football inflatables, high school bands, giveaways, hair painting, a “Magical Train” and other entertainment are scheduled. Details are available on the www.profootballhof.com website.

Over the years, Forsythe has worked on government committees and on boards of charitable organizations as well as being involved in civic and church activities.

Selected in 1969 as Alumnus of the Year at Ohio University, he was chosen as Associate Member of the Year by the Collier Building Industry in 1991. In 2008, he was inducted into the Martins Ferry Hall of Honor.

He has designed buildings in various locations, especially in Ohio and Florida, but especially memorable is the football shrine in Canton. Horrigan summed up the feelings about the noted architect – “He’s our good friend.”

Pokas can be reached at bettypokas@yahoo.com.