Ann Ringlein was nervous before her very first marathon in Lincoln in 1984. When she picked up her packet before the race that morning, one smiling face quieted all those nerves.
It was the face of Clarence Osborn, who was in his mid-60s at the time. Ringlein, who is now manager of the Lincoln Running Co., had seen Osborn before at other races, just not at the volunteer table.
He was “the old guy” who ran in them, always wanting to win. The World War II veteran started running when he was 64 years old.
“Everybody knew who Clarence was,” Ringlein said.
Osborn, of Lincoln, died April 5, one week after his very last race — Tabitha’s Miles for Meals Run at Holmes Lake Park. He was 101.
Born in a covered wagon as his family made their way to their homestead in Wyoming, Osborn never really stopped moving. He served in the Civilian Conservation Corps during the Great Depression and enlisted in the U.S. Army in 1941. He came back with some medals — the Silver Star, the Bronze Star, five battle stars and the Purple Heart.
He met Betty Hunt in 1949, and they had two kids — Viola and John. Clarence and Betty loved to exercise, and they were regularly seen cycling around their neighborhood near West A Street in Lincoln. They also walked, hiked, camped and traveled across the United States, especially when Osborn had a race.
Osborn competed in the Pikes Peak Ascent and Marathon in Colorado at least 10 times. The Bolder Boulder 10K, also in Colorado. The Buffalo Run in Lincoln. The Cornhusker State Games. Full and half marathons in Lincoln and Omaha. Sometimes, he would start early with groups of other older runners, but he always finished.
“Dad started to win medals, and he liked it,” daughter Viola Caddell said.
At first, the oldest runners ran in the 70-plus age group. Osborn later badgered Nancy Sutton, the Lincoln Marathon race director, to increase the age categories as he got older.
“Clarence would call, and we would chuckle at marathon meetings, but it was the right thing to do,” Sutton said. “If somebody that age is gonna come up and run, by God, they’re gonna get a medal.”
And he loved his medals, Sutton said. He would wear them the next week at social events, telling his running stories to anyone who would listen. Or, he would pass on a medal to an awestruck little kid.
“He loved to collect them, but it was more important to pass that joy onto somebody else,” Caddell said. “That’s why he loved to give those things away.”
Even when Osborn couldn’t run, he would volunteer with his wife at the races, handing out packets, cookies and encouragement.
Sutton plans to arrange an award in memory of Osborn for the oldest finisher in the Lincoln Marathon and call it the Clarence Osborn Endurance Award.
“So many people posted (on Facebook) that Clarence was their inspiration,” Sutton said. “They thought, ‘If Clarence could do it, I could, too.’ ”
A graveside memorial service was held on Tuesday in Seward. The family requests memorial donations to be sent to the Military Order of the Purple Heart in Lincoln, the Lincoln Track Club or Tabitha Health Care Services.