Some readers will be too young to remember the early days. It was before “Rip City!” and Blazermania became part of the local lexicon. But to be sure, Dale Schlueter had almost as much to do with it as the legendary Bill Schonely. He passed Thursday at the age of 68.
Dale was an original Portland Trailblazer – an elite group of men who helped shape our love affair with pro basketball in the Portland area. You can read all over the internet about his playing proficiency, but it’s the man after retirement that I want to speak about.
I worked in the office of a local retailer with his wife Jeni and we became friends pretty quickly through our love of basketball. Dale had retired from the game, but was instrumental in keeping the memory of the “old guard” alive through the Trailblazer Alumni Team. There were (and still are) many, many former players who continued to take up residence in the region after retiring from the game. The alumni team would travel all over the state and play scrimmage games with local high school players/coaches to raise money for their athletic programs as well as for charity organizations. They not only played the games, but at half time held an auction of Blazer memorabilia (signed jerseys, balls, etc.), garnering even more funds. They did this for a remarkable 25+ years and raised over $2 million for the groups involved.
At one point, Dale and Jeni became the organizers – scheduling the games and arranging travel, lodging etc. It was a LOT of work, but definitely a labor of love. Eventually it became harder to assemble a team as the players were aging – and they disbanded. But as was his style, Dale continued on as a member of the Trailblazer Alumni Ambassador Corps along with Bill Schonely, Jerome Kersey, Chris Dudley, Terry Porter, Brian Grant and others. They spend most game nights visiting with fans in their suites or out in the concourse. They spread cheer at hospitals and retirement homes for those less fortunate than themselves. This came easy for Dale as he was one of the nicest, most unpretentious people I knew.
Over the years my husband and I would meet the Schlueter’s for an occasional dinner (Dale LOVED his BBQ ribs!) where we would chat endlessly – about basketball as well as his love of the rodeo. He was all about family and adored his wife, kids and grandchildren. We laughed as he told us how the grand kids heard him call Jeni “honey”, so they began referring to her as “Grandma Honey”. Few people know that Dale was once the man inside the costume of Bigfoot (the one-time Blazer mascot) and that he tripped over his own ‘big foot’ and fell Sasquatch-face-first on the floor of the Rose Garden. But he got right back up and continued to motivate the crowd!
I’m glad he is not suffering any more – he had a rough time of it in recent years. But I will definitely miss his dimpled smile, his sense of humor. And his stories of Blazer days gone by.
Thanks for the memories, Dale. Rest in Peace.