Heritage, impact of unique youth archery program topic for Historical Society Friday meeting

Don Orris at the Doreen Wilber Plaza | photo by Chuck Offenburger

~by Chuck Offenburger for the Greene County Historical Society

Don Orris of Jefferson learned archery from his hometown heroes, 1972 Olympic gold medalist Doreen Wilber and her husband Skeeter Wilber. Orris has been teaching archery ever since, now in the “Gang Greene” youth archery program that has evolved from one that he, the Wilbers and Phil Siglin founded in the early 1980s.

He will talk about the Wilbers and the impact of the archery program when he presents a program for the Greene County Historical Society on Friday, June 1, at the First Presbyterian Church in Jefferson.

The story of Doreen Wilber’s rise to Olympic gold when she was 42 years old at the games in Munich, is now well-portrayed on the Doreen Wilber Olympic Plaza in Jefferson. The plaza was completed in 2011 after a fundraising campaign and construction that Orris led. She died in 2008 at the age of 78. Skeeter Wilber, now 89, still lives in Jefferson but is in fragile health.

You’ve undoubtedly heard the story about how Doreen Wilber, who’d never been an athlete, got started in archery. One of the customers at Skeeter’s automotive garage traded him a bow and arrow for some car repair work.
Orris’ start in the sport was also unusual.

“I suppose it was in the late 1970s, and I was working with my dad in our hardware store,” Orris said. “Doreen came in one morning to buy something. Here she was, the champion in the Olympics, and just in conversation I said, ‘Doreen, when are you going to teach me how to shoot?’ She said, ‘Well, I’ve got some time this afternoon – come on over.’ I walked into the backroom and said, ‘Dad, I’m taking the afternoon off.’ ”

He recalls that earlier in her career, if the weather was adverse, Doreen would sometimes practice indoors in her home in Jefferson.

“She’d be at the back wall of her kitchen, and by positioning herself just right, she could see through a couple doorways to the wall on the far end of the living room – about 50 feet away,” Orris said. “The way the angles were, she had about a 4-inch clearance for an arrow to go through the doorways, but she was already so good she could shoot right through that.”

In many lessons with the Wilbers, and then as a competitive archer himself, Orris began to understand how strong and focused Doreen was when she was shooting.

“I remember one time she told me that when she was in competition, she’d totally block out all the noise and other distractions around her,” Orris said. “She said she’d get so focused that when she aimed, ‘the target seems to come toward me.’ Later, that happened to me a few times and I remember thinking, ‘Oh my gosh, this is what she felt!’ ”

Orris said that in the early ’80s, he, his high school classmate Siglin, and the Wilbers did some planning, won grants for equipment, and taught a Junior Olympic Archery Development program in Jefferson “for 15 to 20 years,” until about the year 2000. Then they “had a hiatus” for about five years before re-starting the program with the Jefferson park & recreation department. Orris and Siglin continue to teach in it now.

He estimates 400 to 500 young archers have gone through the program in the past 35 years.

With Orris’ June 1 presentation for the Historical Society in Jefferson, there will be an $8 lunch at the Presbyterian church at 12 noon, with RSVPs for members due with their community contacts by midday Wednesday, May 30. Members of the public who want to eat lunch for $10 should phone vice-president Nancy Hanaman at 515-436-7684. The 1 pm program at the church is free and all are invited.

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