Tribune-Star Editorial: Duane Klueh one of finest people to be called a "Hautean"

Most people appreciate praise from any source.

If praise comes from a legendary figure, it gets even more special.

Duane Klueh received such commendations through the years. Though born in North Dakota, Klueh grew up and lived nearly all of his 98-year life in Terre Haute. He was a standout basketball player at State High School and Indiana State Teachers College (prior to its university era), served combat duty in World War II, played in the NBA’s inaugural season, coached his alma mater’s basketball and men’s tennis programs to the most victories in school history, excelled in competitive tennis throughout his life, and stood as an exemplary citizen, mentor and friend to many people.

Klueh died on Monday in Terre Haute. The city lost one of its most classy, humble, kind, principled, admired and beloved sons.

Consider the words of John Wooden, one of the greatest coaches in college basketball history, about one of his former Indiana State players — Klueh. Wooden shared his thoughts to a Tribune-Star reporter in February 2004, when ISU announced it would retire Klueh’s No. 54 jersey. Klueh was the first Sycamore player so honored.

“Duane was an outstanding basketball player,” said Wooden, who died in 2010. “He was an unselfish player, always thinking of the team, not about statistics. He was very thoughtful of others, and a wonderful, kind person that everybody liked.”

Wooden coached two seasons at Indiana State then went on to fame and 10 national championships at UCLA. Wooden considered Klueh one of his best players ever, on or off the court, including those from the UCLA days. “Duane was just a fine person,” Wooden said.

ISU retired Klueh’s number along with Sycamore superstar Larry Bird’s No. 33 jersey in 2004. Like Wooden, Bird thought highly of Klueh, who was coaching tennis and teaching physical education at ISU when Bird was a student.

“With Duane Klueh you’re talking about one of the greatest people ever to walk the face of the earth,” Bird also told the Tribune-Star in 2004. “He was a great athlete. He was a great coach. And he’s a great man.”

Those comments on Klueh are impressive. Yet, hundreds and likely thousands of average fellow Terre Hauteans, Sycamore and NBA teammates, high school and college classmates, former players, students, friends and family members would say similarly fond things about him, as well. In Klueh, many saw an example of good values.

He delivered newspapers as a kid to earn money in 1930s Terre Haute. He enlisted in the Navy as a 16-year-old high school senior. He served in the Pacific theater aboard the USS Wasp, which was under assault by Japanese kamikaze planes even into August 1945. As a NBA pioneer, Klueh and his Denver Nuggets teammates endured a 3,000-mile road trip by car during the league’s maiden 1949-50 season. He and his wife Mary Alice, who preceded Duane in death in 2017, raised a large family in Terre Haute. He coached. He taught. He stayed active, and just last week attended the grand opening of the Larry Bird Museum downtown, in good spirits.

Different parts of Klueh’s life inspire different people. His humility is the common thread through each aspect.

That virtue was apparent in a unique moment in December 1964. Wooden was coaching at UCLA, and his former Sycamore standout, Klueh, was coaching Indiana State. Wooden agreed to bring his defending national champion Bruins to ISU to face the Sycamores during a regular-season game. Fans waited in long lines and packed the ISU Arena’s 5,500 seats. UCLA routed the Sycamores 112-76.

Was Klueh irked by the lopsided loss? Miffed that Wooden’s team poured it on? No.

“It was a special night,” Klueh recalled in 2004. A class act. Farewell, Coach.