--- Together Again ---
at Mineral Springs Park
Lettes Field in Pekin Illinois
The 1965 Pekin Lettes
3rd. Place in the 1965 A.S.A World Tournament
ALUMNI LETTES Confirmed and Coming to Pekin in June
As of June 23 - 2008
50th. Anniversary Program Messages
ALUMNI Lettes Confirmed that Cannot Attend
Softball brought them here
Former members of the Lettes reminisce during 50th anniversary gathering
Lettes 50th. Runion Dinner at Pekin Family Restaurant
Pat Alexander of Indianapolis Indiana Chats with other Lettes Alumni
OF THE JOURNAL STAR
In recognition of 50 continuous years of women's fastpitch softball, Pekin mayor Dave Tebben has proclaimed today Pekin Lettes Day.
As part of a five-day celebration, the current Lettes team will face a squad made up of former players tonight in an exhibition game at Lettes Field in Mineral Springs Park.
Many players from the Lettes' golden years gathered for a reunion dinner Tuesday at Pekin Family Restaurant.
"I was a catcher," said Eleanor "Rudy" Rudolph, who displayed a couple of mangled and disfigured digits on her right hand as proof.
Rudolph, 80, lives in East Peoria. Her playing career spanned the Caterpillar Dieselettes, the Sunnyland Lettes and the inaugural Pekin Lettes, in 1959.
"I came up from Springfield to play for the Dieselettes and ended up working at Cat for 30 years," Rudolph said. "Softball brought me here."
Caterpillar disbanded its men's and women's athletics teams in the mid-1950s, and for three seasons the Dieselettes played as the Sunnyland Lettes.
The late Chuck McCord, who had managed the team since 1947, helped bring the team to its current home in Pekin.
Pat Alexander, originally from Robinson, played for the Lettes from 1964-69. She traveled to the reunion from her home in Indianapolis.
"I was student teaching at East Peoria and decided to try out for the team," she said. "I spent a lot of good years here. This (reunion) brings back a lot of memories."
Irene "Pepper" Kerwin is a native Peorian. A graduate of the now-defunct Academy of Our Lady, she went on to teach physical education at Oak Grove grade schools in Bartonville.
She also rapped out an all-time Lettes' record 716 hits, before retiring as a player in '72.
"I played right out of grade school for the Farrow Chix, and they ended up recruiting me to play for the Dieselettes," Kerwin said. "Back then, most of the players either worked at Cat or taught school."
Sunne Bea Thomas hailed from Manito, where McCord had been a coach. She played with the Lettes from '59-65.
"My family knew him and knew it would be a first-class outfit," Thomas said. "It was an honor to play for the Lettes."
Thomas, who now resides in West Chicago, went on to coach softball and girls basketball at Carol Stream Glenbard North.
Also present at Tuesday's reunion was Lorene Ramsey, who pitched the Lettes to 401 wins.
Ramsey went on to 1,727 career victories as the softball and women's basketball coach at Illinois Central College.
"The bats and balls they play with now are different from back then," Ramsey said. "And the girls now lift weights and do conditioning year round.
"But a lot of the ones that played back when I did could have played in any era."
The senior member of the group Tuesday was Dot Maple, a 95-year old Pekinite.
"I was 14 when I started out pitching for the boys teams, but I had 10 brothers, so what else was I going to do," she said. "I could still play now if they would let me."
Gates open for the game tonight at 5 p.m. Adult tickets are $5 at the door.
The game will pit the current Lettes, coached by Chuck Harris, against players from the era when Fred Reader coached.
Reader remains as the owner and manager of the Lettes.
A picnic will take place at 1 p.m. Thursday at Mineral Springs. On Friday, former players will gather for a musical tribute and karaoke party at Pekin's Concord Inn.
The reunion celebration will conclude Saturday with the Legends of the Lettes tournament at Mineral Springs. The Bloomington Hearts, Indiana Slammers and St. Louis Saints will join the Lettes in a four-team round-robin.
The reunion was organized by Scott Shults, a Lettes historian and the team's public address announcer.
For more information visit the Internet at www.freewebs.com/pekinlettes50.
Lonnie Schwindenhammer can be reached at 686-3214 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Lettes play ball
Westerwinds help make softball reunion at Mineral Springs Park a special one
The student taught the coach a lesson when the Pekin Lettes softball team faced a team of Lettes Alumni in an exhibition Wednesday at Mineral Springs Park.
With two outs in the bottom of the seventh, Lori Pankratz hit an inside-the-park home run to give the Lettes a dramatic 2-1 victory.
Pankratz, from Bettendorf, Iowa, will be a junior this fall at Western Illinois University. Her bomb, to the deepest part of right field, came off complete-game loser Holly VanVlymen, her coach at Western.
"I knew she used to play for the Lettes but I had no idea she would be here pitching tonight," Pankratz said of her college coach. "She did an awesome job. She was the first one at home plate to congratulate me. I think she was more excited than I was."
VanVlymen, who played in high school at Orion, recently completed her third season as head coach of the Westerwinds.
"(Pankratz) rips me in batting practice all the time, so I know she can hit," VanVlymen said. "I haven't thrown competitively in three or four years. I figured I would be alright for a few innings, but I wasn't sure about going seven. It wasn't too bad."
Pankratz's hit was well over the head of Lettes Alum right-fielder Sara Loete.
Loete, a former standout catcher at Pekin, was a Division II all-American designated hitter last season at Southern Indiana.
"Never," Loete said when asked the last time she played outfield. "I just looked up, turned around and started running toward the fence (280 feet from home plate)."
The Lettes broke a scoreless tie in the fifth inning.
East Peoria native Julia Rhodes advanced all the way to third base on a two-out throwing error. She scored on an RBI single to left by Pankratz.
"I pitch at Western, and we usually don't get to hit in the games," Pankratz said. "Maybe I'll get a chance to swing the bat a little next season."
A single by Rachel Sinks, a Washington product and 2008 Western graduate, and an infield hit by LaSalle-Peru graduate Torie Bunzell (Quincy University) loaded the bases after the Lettes' run in the fifth.
Alum second baseman Sue Gaugish made a nice running catch on Rae Gordon's foul pop-up to retire the side.
Pankratz and Bunzell had combined to hold the Alums scoreless until the sixth, when VanVlymen reached on a lead-off single.
After a fielder's choice, a sacrifice, a strikeout and a hit batter, April Schermann lined a single to left that scored Priscilla Welch-DeLaere, running for VanVlymen, with the tying run.
Sinks, in left field, threw a strike home to Metamora and Illinois Central College graduate Lauren Snopek, who tagged out Lauren Gidcumb trying to score the go-ahead run.
"We're a highly competitive group," said Schermann, a 1997 Richwoods graduate who recently completed her fifth season as head coach at Normal West. "We wanted to give them a good fight and I think we did."
Rhodes made an over-the-shoulder catch in center field to rob Loete of extra bases in the fourth inning.
Schermann, playing shortstop for the Alums, made a running catch in foul territory to retire Tremont and ICC product T.J. Matheny in the sixth.
"It was a real battle," Pankratz said. "I hope if I come back and play in this thing in 10 years I'll do as well as they did tonight."
Yellow fever: Many former Lettes and Caterpillar Dieselettes, from the era when the late Chuck McCord was head coach, were on hand as part of their reunion celebration this week. ... Former player Dot Maple lost her balance and was injured while throwing out the first pitch. The 95-year-old Pekinite was transported to Pekin Community Hospital with a suspected arm injury. ... Event organizer Scott Shults said he hopes to make the Lettes vs. Lettes Alums exhibition an annual event. ... Proceeds went to the Don Bohlander foundation for Parkinson's research. ... The Lettes reunion continues today with a 1 p.m. picnic in the park.
Lonnie Schwindenhammer can be reached at 686-3214 or email@example.com.