Former MU track star, Olympian dies at 81

Tuesday, July 17, 2007 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 12:07 a.m. CDT, Thursday, July 17, 2008

Dick Ault’s name is synonymous with success, and his accomplishments are well known. At Missouri, the track star won seven conference championships between 1946 and 1949. Ault earned a spot on the 1948 U.S. Olympic Team, and finished fourth in the 400-meter hurdles in London. He even held a world record, with a 52.2 second 440-meter hurdles in Oslo, Norway in 1952. He has been inducted into the Missouri Hall of Fame, the Westminster College Hall of Fame, and the National Federation of State High School Associations Hall of Fame.

Ault died on Monday at the age of 81, after a long battle with diabetes. And his death is more than a loss of a former athletic star, according to his family, friends and colleagues. It’s a loss of an educator, a mentor and an idealist.

“One of the best things I can think of about my father,” his son, Larry Ault said, “is a trip we took to play golf in South Carolina when I was young.”

Larry Ault said the family stopped at the World Golf Hall of Fame in Pinehurst, N.C. After a night at an upscale hotel near the museum, the family enjoyed a breakfast at the facility’s dining hall.

“There were only four businessmen in the dining hall,” Larry Ault said. “And it was obvious from my dad’s camera that we weren’t in the same class as those men, so the maitre d’ put us around a corner, out of sight. I don’t know if my dad saw what happened, but I did. But, we got great service, because my dad was such a people person. He was taking pictures with the waiters, and they loved him. He was such a people person, and it didn’t matter what people thought.”

“No one was a stranger to Dick,” his wife of 57 years, Barbara Ault said. “He was just a loveable person.”

After his athletic career at Missouri, Dick Ault coached track and cross country at high schools in Illinois and St. Louis before arriving in Fulton for a long and illustrious career as a coach at Westminster College. In his 29 years there, Dick Ault coached cross country, track, swimming, wrestling and golf, while at the same time teaching a full load of physical education classes. Fred Binggeli, one of his former All-American runners, had a relationship with Dick Ault that stretched 40 years.

“I had a chance to run for any school in Missouri,” Binggeli said. “But I chose Westminster because of Coach Ault. He was outgoing and honest, and there was always a smile on his face.”

Binggeli said that while he had his share of bad races in his career, his coach never got on him for a lack of motivation.

“He was always positive,” Bingelli said.

Terry Logue, the former director of athletics at Wesminster, was a member of Ault’s swim team in 1972. While Logue admits he wasn’t talented, he said that Ault was always there for any student or athlete.

“He was a great coach, current on all the new methods,” Logue said. “But, primarily he was an educator. What you learned were methods in life that meant more than athletics.

“As much as he wanted athletes to succeed on the track, he wanted them to be strong with character.”

Binggeli, who went on to coach track at the University of Virginia from 1985 to 1997, said Ault’s methods influenced him as a coach and as a person.

“A mistake he once made had the greatest influence on me,” Binggeli said. “During the track season of 1972, Coach Ault left an athlete off an entry list to qualify for the NAIA Track Championships. Now, it would have been real easy for him to blame other people, but he confronted the athlete immediately instead.”

Ault told the runner, Tim Shaw, of his mistake, which meant Shaw couldn’t compete in the championships.

“Coach paid out of his own pocket for Tim to come with the team,” Binggeli continued. “So he could at least be with his team.

“Coach was honest about his mistake, he didn’t hide it. It set an example to his athletes that we had to own up to our decisions.”

Dick Ault’s daughter, Carolyn Mitchell, said even though her father was a gifted athlete, he never put pressure on his children to follow in his footsteps.

“We spent our whole life around sports, though,” Mitchell said. “I remember one time when I was 9 or 10, he was teaching me to play golf. He had a look when he taught us sports, because he would sometimes get frustrated, so I told him, ‘Don’t give me that eye, Dad.’ I went on to hit the ball, and it went backwards. He just sighed, and laughingly said, ‘That’s my daughter.’

“We never got the genes he did, but we did the best we could, and he always appreciated that.”

The connections he made with his athletes and students lasted a life time, because of the love and respect that followed Dick Ault everwhere, Barbara Ault said. She remembered a story about his Illinois track team from 1961 that won the state title.

“Last year, some of his runners from that high school came to visit him,” Barbara Ault said. “I think there were about 15 boys there, and they had dinner with him and roasted him. He really enjoyed it.”

To round off his life in the sporting world, Dick Ault was also an official for MSHSAA for 40 years. Since 1997, he worked with Bingelli, who is the assistant executive director of MSHSAA. Bingelli said that while Ault was known as a father, husband, teacher and athlete during his life, everyone called him by the same name.

“No matter where he went,” Bingelli said and then paused. “Even in the nursing home, wherever he was, people called him Coach.”

A memorial service will be held on Aug. 18, at the Church of the St. Mary the Virgin, Aldermanbury, in Fulton. The time has not yet been decided.

In lieu of flowers, the family requests that all contributions be given to the St. Alban’s Episcopal Church of Fulton, or the Dick Ault Scholarship at Westminster College.

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