Runner, soldier, author, salesman and teacher: Randy Woelk’s full life

03/19/2013 11:42 AM

03/20/2013 6:56 AM

In 91 years of life, there wasn’t much that Randy Woelk didn’t get done.

As a youth, Randy Woelk was nicknamed the “Galloping Goose from Goessel,” after topping a record held by Olympic silver medalist Glenn Cunningham.

A Mennonite, he enlisted in the U.S. Army and honorably served during World War II.

He co-wrote a chemistry textbook that thousands of high school students throughout the nation studied from during the 1970s and 1980s.

And, Mr. Woelk was one of the nation’s top Fuller Brush and Compton encyclopedia salesmen.

“He has a history of being very, very determined,” said his son, Larry Woelk, of London. “He was a leader people liked to follow.”

Mr. Woelk died earlier this month at age 91. Funeral services will be at 2 p.m. Saturday at Trinity Presbyterian, 2258 N. Marigold Lane.

Mr. Woelk was born Aug. 4, 1921, in Goessel. He was raised on a farm and graduated from Goessel High School in 1939, where he broke the University of Kansas Relays record for the mile set by Cunningham.

“It was a time when they were coming out of the Depression, and I think those kids pushed hard on themselves,” said his nephew, Ronn Peters from McPherson. “He had a personality that would prompt him to get out and try something new. He was the type that would look at things and say, ‘It can be done better,’ and do it.”

After World War II, Mr. Woelk taught chemistry at Montezuma, Wichita’s North High School and Beloit. He was awarded a Fulbright grant in 1963 to teach in Kenya.

In addition, Mr. Woelk supplemented his teaching income by selling things — Fuller Brush, Harper Brush, and Compton Encyclopedias.

He was also an avid ham operator whose call letters were W0DSY. He received six county hunting awards by transmitting to a ham operator in all 3,077 counties in the United States.

“He was seven counties away from receiving his seventh county hunting award,” Larry Woelk said.

And, Mr. Woelk was a regular letter writer to The Eagle. When Kansas was wrestling with the teaching of evolution, the retired teacher wrote:

“Evolution is God’s method of creating the universe and what’s in it. The orderly arrangement of the 92 elements certainly suggest this. Hydrogen is the simplest atom with one proton and one electron. Add another proton and electron, and you have helium. In this way, all the elements progress. From these elements, all matter was created.”

Mr. Woelk is survived by three sons, Richard of Seattle, Lewis of Boston, and Larry of London, England; sisters, Gladys Esau, Walton, and Ruby Baresch and Norma Agatstein of New York City; six grandchildren, 10 great-grandchildren and one great-great-grandson.

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