Ward Paldanius was Chemeketa Community College’s first athletic director. From 1972 to 1987, he coached teams, hired coaches and designed Building 7 on the Salem campus where the gymnasium is located.
Now everybody who goes into that gym will see Paldanius’ name – fitting for a man called the “father” of Chemeketa athletics.
The court where Storm basketball and volleyball is played was officially renamed Paldanius Court during a ceremony at halftime of the men’s basketball game against Lower Columbia on Dec. 8, a symbol of loyalty from a college to a man who is among the college’s most loyal leaders and supporters.
Paldanius received a standing ovation from the crowd in attendance after President Cheryl Roberts made the dedication official.
“There are two things you find most common when you talk to people about Ward,” said David Abderhalden, a physical education instructor and current men’s basketball head coach. “The first was his desire and passion that athletics was a great way to help young adults grow and realize their potential. The second was his loyalty.”
Paldanius started the Chemeketa program from virtually nothing.
“He created the physical education program and operated the program for 10 years without any on-campus facilities, which is a chore,” Abderhalden said.
But the work Paldanius put in began to pay off. Chemeketa’s gymnasium building was built on the Salem campus in 1982, and the college’s sports programs saw success. 25 percent of the 44 athletic championships won by Chemeketa were won during the 15 years Paldanius was athletic direction, and 40 percent were won by coaches Paldanius hired.
The most famous hire by Paldanius came in 1977, when he brought to Chemeketa a seven-year NBA veteran guard to coach the men’s basketball team. Rick Adelman is now in his 22nd season as an NBA head coach, currently heading the Minnesota Timberwolves. He currently ranks 8th all-time among NBA head coaches in regular season victories.
With the Timberwolves in a rare four-day break between games, Adelman flew to Oregon to attend the dedication ceremony, as did many of the former coaches and players under Paldanius.
Adelman said it was something he had to do for the man who gave him his first coaching job.
“It meant a lot to me to be here, because this is something that is very special to him and I know what he meant to the college and I know how he really loved the college and the people who worked for him,” Adelman said.
Dennis Melcher first knew Paldanius as his coach on the Chemeketa basketball team in 1972. He later came back to become head coach of the women’s basketball team. Paldanius would tell Melcher to just focus on coaching, and that he would take care of everything else.
“He’s just been the best athletic director that anyone could ever ask for,” Melcher said.
Paldanius Court is the second Chemeketa facility to be named for former college personnel, following the naming of the Gretchen Schuette Art Gallery last year after the former college president.