Rhinelander’s connection to the Heisman Trophy

The Heisman Trophy is arguably one of the most coveted awards in American athletics.

But the connection between John Heisman, whom the trophy is named after, and the city of Rhinelander in Oneida County is arguably one of Wisconsin's best kept secrets.

“A lot of people around the United States don't know he's buried in Rhinelander,” June Thiel told Newsline 9.

Thiel is president of the Rhinelander Historical Society, and keeping the stories and history of this Northwoods city alive is her job.

“I keep coming up with very unexpected things, and that's one of the really cool ones I think,” Thiel said smiling.

The story goes is that upon Heisman's death in 1936, the Ohio-born football player who spent most of his life coaching across the eastern United States, was taken to Rhinelander to be buried.

The reason for it was that Heisman's wife, Edith Heisman moved in with her sister who was living in Rhinelander at the time.

“After he passed away, his wife lived with her sister, Mrs. Donaldson, in Rhinelander. And so she chose to bury him here in her plot at the Forest Home Cemetery, so that's how he ended up here,” Thiel said.

And though Heisman's name is synonymous with a seemingly larger-than-life trophy, his grave is modest with a single stone laid in the ground recording his years of birth and death.

“The cemetery stone is very plain and small,” Thiel said.

But Heisman's contribution to football is not.

“He and a few other coaches were kind of putting football together you might say,” Thiel said. “Some of the things he did, they use to roll the football back from the center and because that was quite time consuming, he devised the hand off,” she continued.

But beyond his legacy in modern football and the trophy which bears his name, the largest tribute you'll find to this sports legend is a wooden memorial at Rhinelander's Airport. And of course the revered stories kept by those who cherish Rhinelander's history.

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