Taken from the Santa Barbara News Press
YEE, Donnie S. •Age 80, died at Cottage Hospital in Santa Barbara, on Monday January 17, 2011. The cause was pneumonia complicated by a heart problem. •Born, November 10, 1930 in Canton, China, to Quan and Dan Yee, he attended Lincoln and Franklin elementary schools, Santa Barbara Jr. High School and Santa Barbara High School from which he graduated in 1950. Donnie earned letters in baseball, track and football. He was best known for his football exploits as one of the smallest players, but one of the fastest. Everyone who attended Santa Barbara High football games, enjoyed watching Donnie scamper and jitterbug around the field making opposing players miss their tackles. His entertaining football exploits started a love affair with the people of Santa Barbara that lasted a lifetime. During the Korean war, Donnie joined the Marines. He served in Korea with the 1st Marine Division attaining a rank of Sergeant. Donnie never stopped being a Marine. He always wore a jacket or hat, emblazoned with the Marine Corps insignia, letting everyone know his true patriotic feelings. He was a member of the Marine Corps Auxiliary as well as a number of other veteran groups. Donnie attended Ventura Jr. College where he played football, and, after his discharge from the service, he attended Santa Barbara City College where he excelled in baseball. In 1954, Donnie joined the staff at the Boys Club of Santa Barbara, serving first as P.E. Director and later as Unit Director. During 37 years at the Boys Club, he coached and guided thousands of young people, most of whom have kept in touch and still call Donnie their friend. In 1975, he married his ‘Sweetheart’, Kay, who survives him. He enjoyed married life and travel. He and Kay became world travelers visiting family in St. Louis, Mo., Toronto, Canada; Bangkok, Thailand; and many, many times to Las Vegas and Chumash Casino. Donnie will be remembered for his quick wit and his clever sayings. ‘NO COMMENT!’ often covered everything for him. His genuine friendliness allowed him to carry on relationships with many people of Santa Barbara. One could find Donnie on most mornings having breakfast and coffee at Lito’s cafe with his many comrades. Donnie, in his younger days, had a nine handicap as a golfer and once hit a hole in one. He continued to play golf with his friends after retirement. Survivors include his wife Kay, his cousins Barbara Chung, Tommy & Julie Chung, Bill & Amy Chung and Bill & Helen Tom and his many loyal friends and colleagues. A memorial service will be held at 2PM on January 30th at the Santa Barbara Boys and Girls Club. In lieu of flowers, his family has requested that memorial donations, in Donnie’s name, be sent to the Boys and Girls Club of Santa Barbara, 632 E. Canon Perdido St., Santa Barbara, CA 93103.
It is hard to believe I have known this man almost 40 years now. An when you consider he has known my father probably another 20 years longer he has been around the both of us a long time. As usual I want to share some special memories I have about Donnie and the East Side Boys Club. Now I must admit to being a little bit intimidated because anything I write will just not do justice to the Boys Club “Experience”. An that’s because of my cousin Robert ‘ Zeke” Del Campo and my Dad Ray “ Big Head” Mendoza where there before me. My cousin Zeke was a great athlete at Santa Barbara high school and ran with the likes of Ernie Zampese. who played football for Santa Barbara High School. Ernie was selected as the CIS Player of the Year in 1953 and went on to play at the halfback position for the USC Trojans in 1955 and 1956. Than of course went on to a brilliant career as a N.F.L. Offensive Coach. Now if I recall correctly Zeke was a basketball and track star and quite the athlete in his own right, all boys club breed. Anyhow these and numerous other men in Santa Barbara valued there boy club years an experience so much that an unbelievable alumni association was created by them benefiting the East Side Boys Club.
There are specific things that stick out for me about my time at the boys club and Donnie Yee being in charge. First off it was not a crime to pop a kid in the back of the head to keep them in line, an that’s just how it was. If you had to work for your boys club membership card an most of us did, you did work! Not pick up a paper and your done but what ever Donnie told you. Its funny but I never felt like a poor kid back than but I know most of us were. Back than there was no day care you went to the boys club and probably had to be forced to go home. I can remember Donnie telling me about how long he knew my Dad an Zeke, he used to call my Dad dopey when he was little. My first camping experiences came from the club. I remember our membership card being some type of hard thick material but we all proudly had one in our wallet. It’s funny I was always scared of Donnie but he kept us all going forward and seemed to treat us all the same.
What does it say when a group of adults volunteer there time year after year to run the tamale stand at the Placita for Fiesta’s in De La Guerra Plazza. From Donnie and many others before him the Alumni felt a need to give back and give back they did. 5 days of working the fiesta booth with old friends from there days at the boys club. It never hurt that there were adult beverages to be shared as well. You see even during Fiestas the boys club booth was the place to be. Many years when we would come to visit from Galt I knew to find my cousin Zeke or my Dad and maybe an Uncle or two the booth was were you looked first. The boys club had its own social standards too, oh yeah you knew exactly how cool you were. You see once you were in the boy club there would be 4 or 5 pool tables lined up. Now the pool table closest to the office was where the older kids had first dibs and the further away you played from the first table reflected your place in boys club society.
My family has come full circle since my youngest son Vincent Mendoza works for both the Big Brothers Big Sisters and the Boys Club in Ventura County.
Can one boy grow up to create a real change in our world?. Well about 25 years ago I used to tell West Side Boys club director Earl Pointer about the impact Sam Cunningham had on the South and the change he helped create for Blacks there. The incident and its significance is still not widely known as one might think.
NEW YORK — It was years after Sam Cunningham ran roughshod over the last all-white Alabama football team that he understood the significance of the game between Southern California and Bear Bryant’s Crimson Tide in 1970.
“I realized that it was something very, very special when I’d be around black men who grew up in the Deep South and grew up underneath the culture of the time and they would get to talking about it,” Cunningham said Tuesday. “I’d see the sparkle and joy … in their eyes and their voices. That prompted me to understand how important it was and how historic it was.”
Cunningham, who is black, ran for 135 yards and two touchdowns on 12 carries that day in Birmingham and USC beat the Tide 42-21. The next year, Bryant’s team was integrated.( I can remember going to my grandfather Manuel Zuniga’s house and watching that game with him and my uncles Bobby an Alex. Not knowing at the time what the later importance of that game would be. I would meet Sam years later and yes I asked him for an autograph in fact I asked for two. One for my little brother Lalo and one for my little brother Omar. You see I worked at a gas station by Sam’s parents house. I wrote there names down on a match book cover and Sam said he would bring me something on his next visit. Some time past and I could hear my name being called at work so I turned to see who it was. There was Sam with that smile of his and two pictures made out one for each of my brothers. Do you know how special I felt bring home those pictures and autographs for my little brothers, Thanks again Sam your a Class act!)
It was the first game of what turned out to be a Hall of Fame career for Cunningham, who was among 14 former players and coaches to be inducted in the college hall at the National Football Foundation’s award banquet Tuesday night.
The story of Cunningham’s game against Alabama has grown into the stuff of legends — not all of it verifiable fact.
The story goes Bryant planned to start integrating his team and he scheduled the game with USC to prove a point to the Alabama fans who were resistant to the idea.
Bryant had already begun recruiting black players. In fact, one of the first black players at Alabama, Wilbur Jackson, was in the stands at Legion Field that September day John McKay’s Trojans came to town.
Cunningham grew up in Santa Barbara, Calif., and had played against all-white teams many teams in high school. He was a sophomore in 1970, freshmen didn’t play back then.
“Little did I know so much was riding on this game and little did I know I was going to get a chance to play,” the 60-year-old Cunningham said in an interview after the news conference. “My motivation that day was to play and play well just to get a chance to play another day, but it went way beyond that.”
Another tall tale about that game was that Bryant took Cunningham to the Alabama locker room after it was over and told his players “This is what a football player looks like.”
That’s not true, but there’s little doubt Cunningham’s performance was a milestone moment in college football.
A closing thought here; I can remember going to my grandfather Manuel Zuniga’s house and watching that game with him and my uncles Bobby an Alex. Not knowing at the time what the later importance of that game would be. I would meet Sam years later and yes I asked him for an autograph in fact I asked for two since he was plying pro football in New England for the Patriots. One for my little brother Lalo and one for my little brother Omar. You see I worked at a gas station by Sam’s parents house. I wrote there names down on a match book cover and Sam said he would bring me something on his next visit. Some time past and I could hear my name being called at work so I turned to see who it was. There was Sam with that smile of his and two pictures made out one for each of my brothers. Do you know how special I felt bring home those pictures and autographs for my little brothers, Thanks again Sam your a Class act!
I would much rather work with our youth than report on the behaviors of adults!