The 1923 Rockhurst football team, the first undefeated football team in the school’s history, was coached by Pat Mason (back row, far left). Photo courtesy of Rockhurst High School Archives.

The Foundation of ‘The Rock’: The History of Coach Pat Mason

Pat Mason happens to be my great-grandfather.

By Diane Euston

  At the very beginning of Rockhurst, the vision was to educate young boys into fine men under the careful eye of the Jesuits. It started very small, but when the first bell rang in 1914, Pat Mason was present. 

  Starting as one of the first graduates of the high school and a member of the college’s first graduating class, Pat stayed on at his alma mater and coached his way to victories that helped elevate Rockhurst as one of the premier schools in the area.

  Pat Mason, graduate, teacher, coach, athletic director and friend, still stands as one of the pillars of the 110-year-old institution’s successful athletic programs. 

  As the college newspaper The Sentinel wrote at his death, “He was Rockhurst athletics.”

  And, Pat Mason was my great grandfather. 

The Founding of Rockhurst

  Father Michael Dowling (1851-1915), a Jesuit priest connected to teaching and administration, came to Kansas City in 1908 when plans to establish a Jesuit all-boys school had been in the works for over 20 years. The closest Jesuit institution was St. Mary’s 90 miles away, and the growing Catholic community in Kansas City was close to being able to support a school.

  The Jesuits were, however, ready in 1885 to open a parish called St. Aloysius on the eastern edge of the city near 11th and Prospect Ave. where a growing Catholic community resided. A school on site followed in 1891.

Father Michael Dowling

  By the time that Fr. Dowling arrived to take over St. Aloysius in 1908, there was a community supportive of a Catholic high school and college, but it was made very clear that the location needed to not infringe upon De La Salle which had moved to their location at 15th and The Paseo in 1910.

  So, the Jesuits looked further south and found some land on the fringes of Kansas City between current-day 53rd St. and Rockhurst Road, from Tracy to Troost. A total of 12 acres of land, they decided, was the ideal location for a new, exceptional institution.

  Because of the growing anti-Catholic sentiment in the city, it was suggested that the Jesuits shy away from naming the school something identifiably Catholic. A secular name was the institution’s best bet.

  Fr. Dowling met with two other priests, looking for inspiration for the proper name for the school. As they stood on the land, one commented on how the terrain was full of stone. It reminded them of Stonyhurst College in England. Not too far away from this vacant land was Rockhill Rd., named for William Rockhill Nelson. That land, too, was rocky. 

  Fr. Dowling settled on a combination of these two names, and the future school was to be called “Rockhurst.”

  In September 1914, 42 boys enrolled at Rockhurst – the institution at the time was merely a high school. Because the institution was unable to secure a third-year teacher, only first and second-year high schoolers were enrolled. Their first building facing Troost Ave., Sedgwick Hall, was incomplete at the opening; only two rooms were ready to take in students.

  Fr. Dowling would see his beloved Rockhurst open its doors, but he was unable to see its successes. He died five months later of cancer.

A photo of the first students enrolled at Rockhurst in 1914. Pat Mason appears in the third row from the back standing fourth from the right. Photo courtesy of Rockhurst University Archives.

Patrick Mason: The First Graduating Class of the High School

  Born near St. Paul, Kan. in 1898, Patrick William Mason was the youngest of four children born to William and Mary Mason.  At a young age, Pat was discovered to have diabetes, a condition he struggled with his entire life.

  In 1909, Pat’s family resettled in Kansas City, Mo. where his parents promptly enrolled him into the Jesuit-run St. Aloysius grade school so he could receive a proper Catholic education. It was later communicated that Pat’s athletic career began in the backyard of Frank P. Walsh’s mansion at the northeast corner of Independence Ave. and Wabash.

  The home included a boxing ring, tennis court and baseball diamond. In the 6th grade, he didn’t have much hope as a star athlete. “Pat Mason couldn’t make the St. Aloysius parochial school baseball team, and he couldn’t compete with the greats that practiced in the backyard of Walsh’s house,” the Kansas City Star later wrote. “But one year later, Pat was back and ‘handling the ball like a veteran.’” 

  When it was time for high school, Pat’s parents opted to continue his Jesuit education at St. Mary’s Academy 90 miles away. There, he played as a freshman on their baseball and basketball teams.

  When the Jesuits announced their new high school, Rockhurst, would open its doors for Pat’s sophomore year, his parents opted to pull him from St. Mary’s and enroll him. On September 15, 1914, Pat Mason walked on Rockhurst’s campus.

  In his same class was a young man named Brooks Hale who was known as a fast pitch on the baseball diamond. There was no talk of any sports teams at the time, but that didn’t deter these teenage athletes. Pat was a pretty good catcher, so Brooks confidently told him, “I’ll pitch em’, you catch em’, and we’ll make a team.” 

Pat Mason played quarterback on the 1916 Rockhurst football team, the first year the program was introduced. It was his only year as a football player, yet he coached football for decades.

  In the 1915-1916 season, Pat decided to put on some pads and try his hand at football. Rockhurst’s first football coach, Charles Allen, commented that the knowledge student-athletes had of football was nonexistent. “All green boys who had never handled a football before learned the rules from the beginning,” the Kansas City Star wrote.

  It was Pat’s only season as a football player, taking the position as quarterback and being voted in by his peers as captain. Pat was known for his long passes. “He’s hurling the football just as accurately as he pegged the baseball,” the Star commented in 1916.

Rockhurst pitcher Brooks Hale (1898-1951) stands with catcher Pat Mason in 1916.

  His first love was always baseball, and he made his way up to Omaha with good friend Brooks Hale where he played semi-pro for Omaha in the Western League. Batting over .400, Pat was even recruited by the St. Louis Browns at 17 years old, but an injury while sliding into first base ruined his chances of the big leagues.

  No sport was off-limits for Pat; he also was the star of the basketball team as a left guard. And, he was joined by his friend, Brooks Hale, who played left forward.

  Pat Mason and ten others comprised the first graduating class of Rockhurst High School in 1917. Then, “Pat and a small band of cohorts became the nucleus for a college student body.” After graduation, Pat was one of the few to enroll into Rockhurst College – a college which could have never existed until they had high school graduates on the campus.

The Foundations of Rockhurst College Athletics

  Pat wanted to go to college, but he couldn’t afford to get by without a part time job. While balancing a full-time college schedule, Pat also worked from 3 to 8:30pm during the week at Loose Whiles Biscuit Company running the stamping machine for $30 a month.

  He felt the pressure, and he couldn’t continue doing it all. He made the decision to quit college. There was no full-time coach at the high school, and at that point, there was no athletic team at the college.

  Rev. William Fitzgerald caught wind of Pat’s decision, and the priest asked Pat if he’d be willing to coach the high school teams – and he would be paid $35 a month “for two hours of pleasant coaching a day.” 

  Pat didn’t think twice. “Pay me! Why, I should say I will take it.”

  The future was set.

  As Pat mentored the younger athletes, there was still no college team for him to play on. In the winter of 1917, Midland College in Atchison, Kan. was looking for an opponent in basketball when the team they were set to play canceled. They needed a team to play that night.

  Pat Mason was called, and after he accepted, he had from about noon until the train left Union Station to come up with former high school players to compete against an organized basketball team.

  Pat Mason, a man who always told his boys to play hard and play fair, coached those boys on the team while also playing forward. They won against Midland College 53-4.

  College athletics at Rockhurst had begun.

  He juggled coaching the high school and starring and coaching the college teams. He played baseball with star pitcher, Brooks Hale. Between 1917 and 1919, Pat – the young man with a quiet, subtle humor – developed as a coach and won the prep championship in baseball twice, won twice in basketball and once in football. He was the oldest player at 21 on the basketball team in 1919.

  World War I, however, was in full swing, and Rockhurst boys were called to service. In the fall of 1918, the war was still an imminent threat, so boys from Rockhurst traveled to St. Mary’s to join the Students’ Army Training Corps. Pat Mason went with them and played on the corps’ football team.

Pat Mason and Regina (Jean) Fetter’s wedding photo in 1923.

Wooing His One True Love

  As Pat continued on his college path and coached the high school teams, he still made some time to look for a young woman to spend time with.

  Regina Fetter (1900-1984), known by Jean to friends and family, was the second born of seven children to parents Francis and Mary Fetter. Her father worked as a successful insurance salesman, and the family was deeply connected to Redemptorist Catholic Church. Jean and her siblings attended classes all the way through high school there.

  Like many teenage girls, my Grandma Jean was a bit boy crazy, and her journals from when she was 17 and 18 survive. She was beautiful, self-assured, fashionable and deeply religious. Her sole teenage focus was on “bumming” around town with friends, “completing work” around their house, daily masses, attending classes and, of course, going on endless dates with Rockhurst and De La Salle boys. 

  Kansas City was a big small town even then, and the Catholic community was even smaller; everyone, as Jean eloquently wrote in her journal, seemed to know everyone.

  When Jean was just shy of her 18th birthday, a letter arrived from St. Mary’s from handsome coach and college athlete, Pat Mason. Pat was up at St. Mary’s with the Rockhurst boys as part of the Students’ Army Training Corps.

  In part, he wrote to Jean: 

  I’ll take a chance with fate any day, and it seems at last as if I and fate were going to agree upon just this one thing. . . Write to me, Jean and you‘ll not only encourage a worshiper but you set a new boat adrift on the uncertain sea of life and it is just possible that my ship and yours will meet in the harbor of peace, somewhere, where the sun lives always and moons gleam all night and songs and love all food and drink, and man and girl are king and queen.

  Pat’s words were poetic, impassioned proclamations of love when loneliness overtook him at St. Mary’s. And, his words were exactly what a beautiful, outgoing girl looking for love needed to hear. Jean wrote in her journal that day: 

  Got another letter from Pat. Oh! boy it was mostly a proposal.

  Tucked in the back of her 1918 journal, Jean added an addendum in February 1920 to the words on the preceding pages:

  And now my adorable Pat. I know now that he is really my Pat. And honest we are going to get married someday – and live happily ever after. 

  On May 23, 1923, Jean got her Pat when they walked down the aisle at Redemptorist. Pat’s old friend and teammate, Brooks Hale – then an ordained Catholic priest – attended. The Rockhurst Sentinel made the joke, “Pat is no longer a free Mason.” 

  The couple settled in a home they purchased at 1330 Rockhurst Rd., a stone’s throw away from the growing campus of Rockhurst. After unsuccessfully trying for their own children, the couple adopted Jimmy (1926-1999) and Virginia (1929-2016), my grandmother.

The 1924 Rockhurst High School basketball team. Pat Mason appears in the back row, third from the left.

From College Athlete to College Coach

  On June 16, 1921, Pat Mason was one of the first three graduates of Rockhurst College. It only made sense, he thought, to continue coaching the high school and college teams, and when he was offered a position in the history department to teach, he settled right into his new role. It was said that “he made many-a-dry historical fact amusing and entertaining.”

  Even though he only played football for one season, Pat had a knack at learning how to call plays and inspire others. Pat’s 1923 football team was Rockhurst’s first undefeated team and one of the most prolific in scoring; they averaged 52.5 points per game!

  In 1925, Pat’s basketball team was named best coached and his star player, Jim Hogan was chosen as All-American center at the National Catholic Basketball Tournament in Chicago. The Kansas City Star reported, “Many regard Mason as a genius in extracting the best from an athlete.”

  By 1926, the athletic programs at both the high school and college were in high gear, and Pat was named athletic director. He continued through this season to coach high school basketball, promising that he would have “fast stepping, goal shooting demons.” 

The 1923 Rockhurst High School basketball team, coached by Pat Mason (back row, right)

  He was joined that season by assistant Eddie Halpin (1902-1936). Halpin was a 1926 graduate of KU where he played football and baseball, and the “short, thick-set” young man was a great addition to the program. The two became close friends.

  In 1929, Halpin was already in charge of high school football and baseball; he was then “studying the court game under Mason and [was] ready to receive his diploma.” Halpin took over the high school athletic program while Pat focused solely on the college, coaching football, baseball and basketball.

  In addition to coaching, Pat also continued to coach league teams outside of the school and was a well-respected referee of college games – including games in the Big 6. He coached other teams, including the Sixth Ward Democrats and the Prince Howards who won the championship in 1935.

  In the summer of 1936, Eddie Halpin went to visit Rockhurst boys attending a camp in South Dakota. After a strenuous day of horseback riding and swimming, Halpin was struck with severe stomach pains and was rushed to the hospital. In a severe condition, he was then sent via-airplane 150 miles away to Alliance, Neb.

  His condition was grave. When news reached his young wife, Margaret, she jumped into a plane in Kansas City along with my great-grandmother, Jean Mason. The two women arrived by his bedside just three hours before he passed away from appendicitis on July 28, 1936. Halpin was 33-years-old.

A 1936 drawing by Fred Voorhis appeared in the Rockhurst Sentinel in the special edition announcing his death.

Pat Mason’s Legacy 

  The death of Eddie Halpin, 10 years a coach at the high school, hit the Rockhurst community and Pat Mason hard. Martin O’Keefe (1914-1945), who was coached by Pat in both football and basketball, took over Halpin’s position.

  After Halpin’s death, the school focused efforts on building a brand-new fieldhouse for their athletic teams. Progress was slow, but Pat was certainly looking forward to having a state-of-the-art gym for his impressive high school and college athletes.

  Unfortunately, Pat Mason’s health slowed him down, and by 1937, a heart condition and his diabetes reared its ugly head. He continued coaching, but by the fall of 1938, he wasn’t able to continue his duties. On September 8, he was admitted to St. Mary’s Hospital.

  After being released after three weeks, Pat went home and could hear the hammers and builders working on the fieldhouse nearby his home. Built in the style of the other buildings on campus, the gym’s roof and hardwood floors were close to being installed. “The fieldhouse has not been named,” the Kansas City Star reported October 2, “but there is a movement among students, alumni and friends of the college to name it Mason field house in honor of Pat Mason, veteran coach who is now ill.”

  Pat was readmitted to St. Mary’s on October 6 where little could be done to aid him. As he sat in his hospital bed, a Rockhurst priest visited and told him everyone was praying for him. Pat humbly replied, “Thank you, Father, that’s the best thing that can be done.”

  Patrick William Mason passed away on October 10, 1938 at 39 years old. He left his wife, his 12-year-old son, and his nine-year-old daughter behind, along with a plethora of friends.

  He spent 25 years coaching at Rockhurst, and although he was offered positions to coach in the Big 6, he turned them down because his heart and soul were at Rockhurst. The Sentinel wrote, “Rockhurst lost a good right arm. . . He died as he lived, fighting to the last.” KU Athletic director Gwinn Henry called him “one of the greatest fellows we had in the game.”

Pat Mason’s whistle, used for coaching and refereeing, is now in the possession of his great-granddaughter, Diane (author).

 Letters poured into my great grandmother, including a hand-written letter from legendary KU basketball coach, Forrest “Phog” Allen. “Pat’s quiet manner and forceful personality made a deep imprint upon all whom he met,” he wrote.

  Classes were canceled the day of his funeral, and over 600 people packed into St. Francis Xavier to pay their final respects. Pallbearers at the funeral were the 1938 football team, and 400 high school boys stood as “guards of honor” along Troost Ave.

  When the fieldhouse opened Dec. 28, 1938, it was dedicated in honor of Pat Mason and Eddie Halpin and is known as Mason-Halpin Fieldhouse. The Sentinel wrote, “Our pilot has steered us out of the harbor and has returned to shore. May we follow unerringly the course he laid for us.”

  A cornerstone of Rockhurst athletics and tradition, Pat Mason was in the first class of inductees of Rockhurst University’s Hall of Fame in 1981, and in 1991, he was one of five inductees in Rockhurst High School’s first Hall of Fame. 

Mason-Halpin Fieldhouse in the 1940s. Courtesy of Missouri Valley Special Collections, KCPL.

A Twist of Fate

  In order to make extra money, my great grandmother rented out rooms at her home on Rockhurst Rd. When one of Pat’s former athletes and coach of the high school teams, Martin O’Keefe, needed a place to stay, he rented a room in her home.

  Although 14 years her junior, Jean Mason fell in love with Martie. When he entered the service and completed training in Oregon, she followed him. They were married in 1943, and he was deployed during World War II to Saipan at B-29 headquarters in July 1944.

  Jean Mason O’Keefe awaited Martie’s return, and she warned him to travel by boat because it was safer. Martie was so excited to surprise his wife that he caught a B-29 flight on October 4, 1945. His friend and priest, Monsignor Tighe saw him off. Martie never made it home.

Captain Martin O’Keefe (1914-1945), Jean Mason’s second husband, was one of 79 Rockhurst College men killed during World War II.

  A storm with strong winds whipped the aircraft in the middle of the night, and when trying to emergency land, one engine gave out. The wind took the aircraft and it blew up early in the morning of Oct. 5. Eight on board, including Martie, were killed.

  Jean received a letter from Msgr. Tighe a week later. “I want to tell you first about Martie,” the priest wrote. “Martie took his Blessed Christ with him on a flight to eternity – what a happy landing he must have had.”

  Ironically, the plane Martin O’Keefe was killed in was named “The Fickle Finger of Fate.” He was one of 79 Rockhurst College men killed during World War II.

  My great-grandmother never remarried, and she continued to live her life at the house she purchased with Pat Mason in the shadows of Rockhurst. She passed away in 1984, leaving behind a long legacy of strong, independent women.

Pat Mason’s legacy lived on in his five grandchildren and numerous great-grandchildren. This generational photo features (left to right) Pat’s daughter, Virginia (1929-2016), granddaughter, Helen, wife, Jean Mason-O’Keefe (1900-1984), and great-granddaughter, Diane (author). Photo taken in 1980.

  My grandmother continued her father’s love of sports by obtaining her degree in physical education. She then taught me the gracefulness and love of coaching when she helped me coach my volleyball team at the ripe age of 77.

  Legacies such as Pat Mason’s do not fade easily overnight; he was deeply concerned with the welfare of others over himself. He coached boys into strong men. Pat’s enduring spirit helped to build a school and an athletic program that matched the vision of the Jesuits. He was a Rockhurst boy through-and-through – a true “man for others.” 

Diane writes a blog of the history of the area. To read more of the stories, go to 

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