Torch memories still exciting for Auburnites

Woman mistaken for gold medallist skier
By: Jenifer Gee Journal News Editor
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The Olympic torch has made instant mini-celebrities out of those who have carried it – and even of those who merely held it for a once-in-a-lifetime photo opportunity. Gary Hall keeps the torch he carried for a little more than a mile for the 1984 Summer Games in Los Angeles encased and on display at his Auburn business. Hall, who was 34 years old when he ran with the torch for a stretch in rural Alturas, said the 5-pound flame bearer is always out for show either at home or work. Hall said every torch runner that year kept his or her torch and passed off the flame to the next runner. “It was so exciting then and it still is,” Hall said. Hall, who owns GHH Engineering, Inc., in Auburn, said he remembers everyone in the small town was cheering on the sidelines during his early morning jaunt with the torch. Hall’s family was also there, including his then-3-year-old daughter and his two sons, who were 6 and 8 at the time. “They were wearing matching red, white and blue striped shirts their mother made for them – how embarrassing,” Hall said, laughing. But Hall said the memory is something he still likes to reflect on and share with others. “Everybody thinks it’s cool,” Hall said. A momentary mistake Don and Marilyn Kurtz were excited to be attending their first and only Olympics in the winter of 1960 at Squaw Valley. The Auburn couple said they remember it was a cloudy and dreary day. However, as soon as opening ceremonies began, the clouds parted and the sun shone through. The young duo watched as Alpine skier and Olympic gold medallist Andrea Mead Lawrence came down the hill with the torch in hand, passed it off to gold medal speed skater Ken Henry, who then later passed it off to the runner who lit the cauldron. As the ceremony came to a close and the couple was walking to their car, they crossed paths with the man charged with putting the torch back in its safe place. Don Kurtz said they asked if Marilyn could hold the torch and take a photo. The man obliged and as Don Kurtz went to take a snapshot of his wife, a crowd gathered. “About a dozen people came rushing over,” Don Kurtz recalled. The reason why? “They thought I was the one (to ski with the torch),” Marilyn Kurtz said. The Kurtzes still have the photo of Marilyn’s brief brush with fame and it hangs framed in their hallway. “We take a look at it once in a while,” Don Kurtz said. Jenifer Gee can be reached at