By Jerry Hill
Baylor Bear Foundation
Bill Menefee, a Baylor Hall of Fame inductee and former Baylor basketball coach and athletic director, died Thursday in Waco at the age of 95.
Funeral services are tentatively scheduled for 10 a.m. next Saturday, Dec. 17, at Austin Avenue United Methodist Church in Waco (1300 Austin Avenue). Visitation will be held from 6 to 8 p.m., Friday, Dec. 16, at Wilkirson-Hatch-Bailey Funeral Home (6101 Bosque Boulevard).
A native of Grandfalls, Texas, Menefee originally came to Baylor in 1947 as a physical education teacher and assistant basketball coach under Bill Henderson. He also coached the freshman basketball team and was Henderson’s aide when the Bears finished as the national runner-up to Kentucky in 1948 and made it back to the Final Four in 1950.
Taking the reins of the varsity basketball program in 1961 when Henderson retired, Menefee had a 12-year record of 149-144 that included Southwest Conference runner-up finishes in 1967, ’68, ’69 and ’71. He earned SWC Coach of the Year honors three times and was 108-65 (.624 winning percentage) over his last seven seasons before retiring in ’73.
Menefee’s 1968-69 team finished 18-6 overall, 10-4 in the SWC and earned a No. 19 national ranking by the Associated Press – the Bears’ last national ranking until Scott Drew’s squad entered the poll at No. 24 in 2008.
Larry Gatewood, a 2012 Baylor Hall of Fame inductee who played for Menefee in 1967-70, said he remembers his coach pulling him out of a game after he made five straight baskets on SMU’s Lynn Phillips.
“Coach Menefee pulls me out of the game, sits me down and goes, ‘Now, Gate, you’ve got to share the ball with your teammates,’’’ Gatewood said. “I’m trying to defend my case and said, ‘But Coach, I played against Lynn Phillips all summer, and I know he can’t guard me.’ He said, ‘Gate, just sit there.’’’
After waiting about five minutes, Menefee turned to Gatewood on the bench and said, “Now, Gate, are you ready to share with your teammates?”
“And I said, ‘Yes, sir,’’’ Gatewood said. “I felt like I had just gotten in trouble with my mother. But, that was kind of the guy he was. He was just so mild-mannered.”
Taking over as athletic director on Sept. 1, 1980, succeeding Jack Patterson, Menefee had a 12-year run that saw the Bears win the 1980 Southwest Conference championship and go to five bowl games in football; and make NIT (1987) and NCAA Tournament (1988) appearances in men’s basketball.
He also started an athletic scholarship endowment program and led a fundraising drive to build the North End Zone Complex at Floyd Casey Stadium that would house all athletic offices, a ticket office, Bear Club offices, a larger weight room and VIP room.
“We’ve done well with what we’ve got and we’ve never apologized for our facilities,” then-head football coach Grant Teaff said. “But, there comes a time where needs come to the top.”
Even after retiring from his AD duties in 1992, Menefee continued to support Baylor Athletics and the Athletic Director’s Excellence Fund and was a regular at Baylor athletic events, particularly football and men’s and women’s basketball. He was inducted into the Baylor Athletic Hall of Fame in 1997 and was honored by the Baylor Alumni Association as an Alumnus by Choice in 1986 and with the Retired Faculty Award in 2004.
Upon his retirement in 1992, the Bill Menefee Endowed Athletic Scholarship Fund was established, with the initial gift coming from the Community Hospital Foundation Inc. through Dr. Gerald Cobb.
This year’s recipient of the Frank Fallon Award for contributions to basketball, Menefee got a visit from Gatewood and several other of his former players last month, the same day the Baylor men upset No. 4 Oregon, 66-49.
“He was just so animated, telling stories,” Gatewood said. “It was just absolutely a wonderful time.
“When you’re a kid in college, you didn’t know a lot of stuff, like how smart he was. You were just thinking about yourself. But one thing he did – and Coach (Carroll) Dawson was a part of this – is we had good relationships back then. Even today, the players of that era have relationships, guys like Tommy Bowman and David Sibley and David Croucher and Tom Stanton, all those guys. We’re all still close. And that’s a byproduct of your coach.”
Menefee’s wife, the former Dorothy Winford, died in 2012 after 69 years of marriage. Bill and his wife had two children, a son named Pete and daughter named Carol, who both graduated from Baylor; and three grandchildren who live in Waco.
Growing up in West Texas as the son of an oil field worker, Bill said, “we were dirt poor,” following his dad from one job to the next.
He graduated in 1939 from McCamey High School in West Texas, where he was a standout in football, basketball and tennis. As a senior forward at North Texas State University, Menefee earned All-America honors for a team that finished third at the NAIA National Tournament.
Menefee joined the U.S. Marines Corps Reserves in 1941, before finishing his degree in physical education at North Texas, and became a rifle platoon leader with C Company, 1st Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment.
“My platoon consisted mostly of young boys, 19 to 20 years old, while I was 23 or so,” Menefee told the Waco Tribune-Herald in a Voices for Valor story in 2012. “We landed in Okinawa on April 1, 1945.”
Taking one hill at a time, the U.S. forces drove out the embedded Japanese forces over the next 88 days. Menefee lost 40 pounds in his three months on Okinawa and also got hit with shrapnel, earning him a Purple Heart award. He eventually was promoted to executive officer and then company commander.
“Platoon leaders don’t tend to last long in combat. I was fortunate,” he said.
Of his service in World War II, Menefee said, “War is gruesome, bloody, mean, nasty – all the bad things you can think of. You have a lot of memories embedded after going through those things. I occasionally still dream of combat, of the decisions I had to make and of the men who didn’t make it.
“I guess maybe the only really good memory I have of Okinawa was the courage displayed by those young Marines,” he said.