Harvard NCAA champs Jesse Jantzen and John Harkness
The two oldest living NCAA wrestling champions -- Oklahoma State's Stanley Henson, and John Harkness of Harvard -- each celebrated their 100th birthdays last week.
Henson, a three-time national champ for the Cowboys (1937-1939), turned 100 on Wednesday, Nov. 30, the National Wrestling Hall of Fame announced on social media that day. Harkness, who won his title at 175 pounds at the 1938 NCAAs, also reached the century mark that same day, according to his bio at the Archinform website.
At least one website has claimed Henson is the oldest living NCAA champ in any sport. If that statement is true, that would mean that Harkness would also share that distinction.
In addition to becoming NCAA wrestling champs nearly 80 years ago, both men served during World War II -- Henson in the Navy, on board the USS San Francisco in the Pacific, Harkness, in the American Field Service as an ambulance driver on the battlefields of Europe. What's more, both mat champs went on to successful professional careers beyond the sport -- Henson in medicine, Harkness in architecture.
The son of a man who labored in the oil fields of Oklahoma, Stanley Willard Henson, Jr. first made a name for himself on the wrestling mat at Tulsa Central High School, a nationally respected prep wrestling power of that era. While at Tulsa Central, Henson won two Oklahoma high school state titles. He was coached by Art Griffith, who later became head coach at Oklahoma State from 1940 to 1957. (Griffith later said that Henson was the best wrestler he coached at Tulsa Central, which is saying a lot, as the coach tutored eight future NCAA champs during his time at the high school.)
Stanley HensonHenson then headed west to Stillwater to wrestle at what was then called Oklahoma A&M for the all-time great head coach Ed Gallagher. As a Cowboy, Henson posted a near-perfect 31-1 record, with 12 pins. He was a three-time NCAA champ, winning the 145-pound crown at the 1937 and 1938 NCAAs, then the title at 155 in 1939. Henson was named Outstanding Wrestler at the 1937 NCAAs, the first sophomore to earn that honor. He was also one of the wrestlers featured in a 1939 Life magazine photo-spread for the Oklahoma State wrestling program.
Charlie Mayser, legendary coach at Iowa State in the 1930s, said, "(Henson) is positively the greatest wrestler to come along in generations, and I've seen some of the best." The Cyclone coach later said, "That Henson -- he's just not human!" Contemporary wrestling historian Mike Chapman said this of Henson: "All the old-timers I talk to consider him -- without exception -- one of the top four or five wrestlers of all time."
After five years as a physical instructor and wrestling assistant at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Henson attended medical school at University of Maryland and trained at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn. for four years before moving to Fort Collins, Colo. to work as a surgeon, becoming the first doctor to perform open-heart surgery at the local hospital. In addition, he was a pioneer in the field of sports medicine. He still resides in Colorado with his wife of more than 75 years, Thelma. Henson was welcomed into the National Wrestling Hall of Fame in 1978.
John Cheesman "Chip" Harkness was born in New York City, the son of an architect. The younger Harkness wrestled at Harvard University, becoming that school's first NCAA mat champ in March 1938 when he defeated Marshall Word of the University of Oklahoma for the 175-pound title. (In fact, Harkness was Harvard's only NCAA champ until 2004, when Jesse Jantzen won the title at 149. Harkness was present in St. Louis to see Jantzen crowned champ; the two of them posed for photos.)
John HarknessThe same year Harkness won the national title, the Crimson captain also claimed the EIWA (Eastern Intercollegiate Wrestling Association) title. He was named the EIWA's Most Outstanding Wrestler at the 1938 championships.
In 1945, John Harkness and his wife Sarah P. Harkness were among the founding partners in the formation of The Architects Collaborative, a major architectural design firm based in Cambridge, Mass. Among their most famous works included the Pan Am Building (now MetLife) in midtown Manhattan; CIGNA insurance company headquarters in Connecticut, the John Fitzgerald Kennedy Federal Building in Boston, and the U.S. embassy in Athens, Greece. Although most of The Architects Collaborative work was in the northeast U.S., they also designed a number of school and university buildings throughout the world, including the Harvard Graduate School, the University of Baghdad, and two school buildings in Columbus, Ind.
Harkness was welcomed into the EIWA Hall of Fame in 2014. His wife and business partner preceded him in death in 2013 at age 99.
UPDATE: As stated in the comments below, John Harkness died two days before reaching his 100th birthday. Here is the link to InterMat's tribute to the first Harvard mat champ: https://intermatwrestle.com/articles/17772