Donald V. Derbyshire
Born June 18, 1904 in Eveleth
Died Aug. 11, 1981 in Duluth
Don Derbyshire is one of Denfeld’s greatest
athletes, although he ultimately graduated from Morgan Park. He
set a state record in the javelin throw and was a three-time all-conference
halfback on a football team that won three city championships. He
also played basketball.
He grew up in Proctor, where his father worked
for Duluth Missabe & Northern Railway Co. At age 5 he lost the
tips of two fingers on his left hand and crippled a third in an
accident. He had snuck on to the back of a horse-drawn wagon and
was hanging on to a chain. The operator, not seeing him, pulled
the lever operating the chain, severing the fingers.
One year later, while burning grass with his father,
he sprayed gasoline on the fire and caused an explosion, causing
severe burns to his body. The next year, he nearly died of Scarlet
Don’s family made two moves in his formative
years, first to Gary, where his father worked for Northern Pacific
Railway Co., and then to Morgan Park and a job with U.S. Steel.
Don attended school in two large houses until
Morgan Park School opened in 1916. He was expelled from the school,
however, after refusing to be whipped by the principal. On the advice
of his father, he attended Denfeld because courses in printing and
journalism were offered.
In 1922, as an 18-year-old sophomore at Denfeld,
he led the team to a 6-3-1 record, losing to Rochester 14-0 in the
Minnesota state championship. Newspaper reports indicate Derbyshire’s
leg was badly injured early in the game, which prevented him from
scoring on pass receptions he normally would have.
Denfeld’s football team went undefeated
in 1923’s regular season, shutting out six teams and outscoring
opponents 262-6. The season ended with a 13-10 loss to Hibbing in
the northern Minnesota championship game.
The team won the district title in 1924, going
5-1-1 and outscoring opponents 87-19.
Among the notable athletes Derbyshire shared the
gridiron with were Frank Puglisi, Leo Method, Chester Freeman, Tore
Gernander, Lawrence Bernard, Joe Gleason, Bill Kaminski and Ray
During his senior year at Denfeld, Don’s
father caught him smoking, and ordered him to quit school and get
a job to pay for his cigarettes. He briefly worked at U.S. Steel,
but dreamed of becoming a doctor and wanted to return to school.
Turning down an opportunity for a tryout with the Green Bay Packers,
he packed his bags for Stetson University in DeLand, Fla.
He took high school courses at Stetson, but returned
to Duluth in 1927 and officially graduated from Morgan Park High
He spent three quarters at the University of Wisconsin,
playing football for a season with the Badgers, but his athletic
scholarship didn’t cover enough of the out-of-state tuition,
so he returned to Duluth.
The next year he accepted a scholarship to George
Washington University in Washington D.C., but returned to Duluth
again to work for U.S. Steel until he was laid off during the Depression.
He then moved to Wenatchee, Wash., where he spent seven years working
as a truck driver and coaching the city basketball team.
In 1937 he returned to Duluth to stay. He worked
for the Scott-Graff Lumber Co. and Superwood until stomach ulcers
idled him. He never married, and spent several years caring for
his father, who died in 1950.
From 1949 to 1971 he was physical education director
of the Goodfellowship Club, instructing neighborhood kids in numerous
activities, such as swimming, volleyball, boxing, baseball, bowling
and handball, as well as teaching older boys to fish and hunt.
He was also a member of T. W. Hugo Masonic Lodge
and Pug’s Club.
of Fame Members