By Bruce Sayler
Don McAuliffe didn’t elaborate on condition or illness but said the radiation treatments he took “really cleared things up.”
McAuliffe conveyed a chipper personality, a positive influence on the world and happy to have collected a sparkling treasure of memories through his 91 years of mostly good life when he spoke over the phone from Golden, Colorado, recently.
McAuliffe’s earliest years were spent growing up in Butte, but most of his later adult life has seen him reside in the Denver area. The Butte Sports Hall of Famer is to be recognized again by his hometown on October 6 when he is inducted as the 19th Diamond B in the long and prestigious history of the Butte High Silver B football honorary.
The 1949 Butte High graduate remains a Bulldog and is this year’s only living Diamond B from his class.
“The Bulldogs are doing pretty good,” he said in a strong voice and said he listens to the games on PC feed and reads the stories on buttesports.com. “They were behind by 21 (points) and knocked off Glacier! They might be a good team.”
He had just listened to Butte High’s 28-27 come-from-behind victory over then No. 1-ranked Kalispell Glacier two nights before the interview. Glacier was almost 60 years away from existence when McAuliffe was lining up as an end for a 5-3 Butte High team. He was a two-way end. He caught passes and blocked defenders on offense, chased down ballcarriers on defense.
He was a Class AA All-State honoree and Shrine Game selection for his only year of high school football.
“I caught a lot of passes,” he said, leaving the interviewer to guess it might have been with a shrug. “And, I hit pretty hard. Some said I caused guys on the other teams to go the other way, away from me.”
The Diamond B’s is part of the Butte High Silver B’s organization. It is Montana’s only high school football alumni organization as such. Members have to have earned their first Butte High varsity letters at least 25 years ago. Each year, special recognition is given to them along with the Golden Bs, those of 50 years since letterwinning. It is usually rare that a Diamond B is heralded, a letterman of 75 years prior.
McAuliffe’s letter was earned in the fall of 1948.
“I had played grade school and sandlot football,” he said. “We had a 5-and-3 record the year I played high school football. I remember we lost to Great Falls and Billings. But we beat Butte Central 28-0.
“You remember that one, the Central game. It was cold, in November. (Coach) Swede (Dahlberg) took us into the locker room at halftime and somebody came in and told him to get the team out there because Central was out there practicing. Swede told them, ‘I hope they freeze.’
“Central was undefeated in Class A and we blew them out.”
McAuliffe said the Silver Bs have been an organization so long that his father, Charlie, was a member after having played on the 1917 Bulldog team.
“He was wounded twice in France in World War I,” Don McAuliffe said of his dad.
Don McAuliffe was originally inducted as a Silver B in 1973 and he said he remembered the Bulldogs playing Havre in the Silver B’s game.
The Bulldogs will be playing Missoula Hellgate on Silver B’s Night this year. McAuliffe said he may be in attendance and might also be at homecoming the week before when the Bulldogs play host to Missoula Sentinel.
McAuliffe said he saw a game at Naranche Stadium last year on Silver B’s Night and noted the facility is a bit different from when he played there.
“We had dirt, sand,” he said with a laugh. “Other teams didn’t like it.”
After graduation, McAuliffe continued his schooling at the University of Idaho, earning his degree in metallurgical engineering. A successful and interesting career followed. McAuliffe said he worked for Alcoa in Terre Haute, Indiana, and for Kaiser Aluminum in Washington state before becoming part of a family-owned business, an aluminum company in Anaheim, California.
“We made helicopter blades for Sikorskys” he said.
Next came a 20-year stint with Coors Brewing, which took him to Colorado.
“I did all the customer liaison work,” he said. “It was fun and I met a lot of good people.”
The career also earned McAuliffe three patents pertaining to use of aluminum. He said one was for pop-off food can lids (lift the tab, peel back the lid) and another was for a way to recycle aluminum cans into sheets of aluminum.
“I had quite an exciting career,” he said.
McAuliffe also spent two years in the U.S. Army from which he was discharged as a staff sergeant after experiencing “jungle training” in Panama mid-1950s as trouble was brewing in Vietnam. His discharge came before hostilities involved American troops.
McAuliffe said his son, Dan, just recently retired from the Army and is a lawyer licensed to practice in several states, including serving as a lawyer for two Indian tribes in Idaho. The older McAuliffe said the younger one graduated with honors from the George Washington University Law School in Washington, D.C.
“I had to get him a tutor at Golden High School,” Don McAuliffe joked, “and now he’s practicing law.”
Don McAuliffe started on the Butte High basketball team for two years, but his best sport was most likely track. He won the state high hurdles championship twice and held the state record for 18 years. He blistered the 120-yard distance while going over hurdles in 14.8 seconds – on a cinders track.
“My senior year was my first year at trying football,” he said, saying friends finally talked him into it after he’d hit his growth spurt. “Now, I’m getting the diamond pin. It is quite an honor.”
A late-summer job and a lack of much physical size deterred him from playing football earlier in his career, he said.
“I’m still in one piece,” he reported. “I have a hearing aid and a cane, but I think we all have something for help.”
McAuliffe grew up on The Hill, raised near the Stewart and Anselmo Mines. As a teenager, he worked his Christmas vacations in the Stewart sewers.
Sophomore trigonometry class helped determine his future. It not only helped hone his engineering aspirations, but also there was an attractive classmate seated in front of him named Dolores Carveth.
“She kept turning around and trying to get answers to the problems from me,” McAuliffe said. “She didn’t think much of me when I wouldn’t give them to her. It took awhile to get a date with her.”
They were married 62 years. Dolores (Carveth) McAuliffe passed away two years ago and is one of 59,000 buried at the Fort Logan National Cemetery in Denver, where Don McAuliffe will someday join her.
Don McAuliffe said his wife became a nurse and completed studies, then worked in the field wherever he was assigned in his career. Pride was in his voice when he said she was a “good nurse.”
“She was a typical nurse,” he said, “dedicated, took care of everyone else instead of her own health. She took good care of me.”
McAuliffe played for Dahlberg in all three of his sports. He remembered feeling the legend’s wrath once.
It was on the football trip to Great Falls.
“We were ahead by 13 points at halftime and they beat us by two touchdowns,” McAuliffe said. “We thought Swede would have a stroke. He confined us to our hotel rooms that night. We couldn’t even go to dinner. They had food brought to us.”
McAuliffe’s roommate on the trip, Lee Parrett, manned the other end on the gridiron. He also was a fun-seeker, according to McAuliffe. He said Parrett had made some friends at the stadium and gotten an invitation to the post-game dance. McAuliffe snuck out with him.
“We went out the window and down the fire escape,” McAuliffe said, “but we were back in our room by 10 o’clock.
“And as soon as we got through the window and into our room, the lights came on. Two coaches were standing in the middle of the room
“ ‘You two are done! Turn in your game uniforms,’ Swede yelled at us. “So, we were scared all the way back to Butte on the bus. We thought we were done. We’d lost our letters and anything else (post-season awards, honors, etc.). I felt awful.
“Then, when we got back, we went to turn in our uniforms and nobody knew anything about it. Nobody mentioned it again.”
So, McAuliffe and Parrett got to stay on the team and got to play the rest of the season, which, McAuliffe now surmises, had something to do with the quick ending to their suspensions.
“They were saving us for the Central game,” he said. “Central had a good team and we played them next. It was the last game.”
And, Don McAuliffe got his letter and, soon, will get his diamond pin.