Lost Gonzaga blanket found its way home after five decades
March 29, 2022
Warm and fuzzy stories are rare these days.
But, thanks to former Skagit County Pioneer Association President John Kamb, Jr, the Weekly News has one, both literally and figuratively.
This story details the discovery and return of a long-lost embroidered Gonzaga University letterman’s blanket issued more than 80 years ago to Bulldog basketball player Wayne Yager.
Kamb, a Mount Vernon attorney, was in Portland earlier this month for Gonzaga’s NCAA West Region Basketball Tournament and was able to see Yager’s daughter, Lynette Hansen, open a mailed package containing the blanket that had been missing since her father’s death in 1972.
A Gonzaga alum and avid history hobbyist who specializes in presidential and sports collectibles, Kamb uncovered the location of the lost blanket through determination.
“I’m always checking on websites and e-bay for whatever Gonzaga memorabilia comes up,” Kamb told the Weekly News. “It was when I was on e-bay that I saw this Gonzaga blanket for sale for $500, and it was a really cool blanket.”
The seller, Ben Rarick, didn’t have a lot of information on the blanket.
“He bought the blanket at an estate sale in Dunnigan, California,” Kamb said, “and thinks he paid $75.”
Kamb’s interest was piqued.
“The more I looked at it,” Kamb said, “I started to wonder why something like this would be on e-bay. My thinking was that it would be a family heirloom.”
Kamb immediately noticed that the name Wayne Yager was embroidered on the blanket. For the lifelong sports enthusiast, that was enough to get the ball rolling.
Kamb began doing research on Wayne Yager and found some photos of him playing basketball at Gonzaga in 1938, 1939, and 1940. He also found archived news articles of when he was on the team and learned that he was named captain in 1940.
Yager had received the blanket, which sports three stars, at an annual Gonzaga athletics awards banquet. Kamb said each star represents a year that Yager lettered in basketball. One of the stars is gold, representing the season Yager was the Bulldogs’ captain.
While conducting his research, Kamb also came across another piece of the puzzle.
“There was a message that I saw on a Gonzaga fan page from somebody who said her father played there in the 1930s,” Kamb said.
That somebody turned out to be Hansen.
Kamb found her Facebook account and messaged her. He said: “I don’t know if you realize this, but your father’s letterman’s blanket is on e-bay.”
She responded immediately and wanted to know more.
Hansen’s dad, an administrator and basketball coach at Kennewick High School, died suddenly from a heart attack while she was still in school. Her mom passed away not long after. Many of their personal possessions, including the Gonzaga letterman’s blanket, were sold in an estate sale.
“She never knew what happened to the blanket,” Kamb said. “She remembered it as a child.”
But there was one problem. Hansen was vacationing in the Caribbean and had no access to e-bay.
Kamb told her not to worry and that he would take care of it. He reached out to Rarick and filled him in on the blanket’s family history.
“I asked him what he’d take for the blanket,” said Kamb.
Rather than taking payment, Rarick said he would gift it back to Hansen. Sure enough, when she returned from her trip, a parcel was awaiting her.
“Rarick is the real hero of the story,” Kamb said.
Hansen didn’t open the package right away, instead choosing to do so when she, Kamb, Rarick, and Gonzaga fans gathered at the Moda Center in Portland for the Bulldogs’ first-round NCAA tourney contest with Georgia State. She proudly waved the blanket during the game, a 93-72 Gonzaga triumph.
Some questions remain unanswered, such as how the Gonzaga blanket wound up in California. But one thing’s for certain. The blanket is back where it belongs.