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Home Brewered

An MU pioneer's brilliance endures

Chester Brewer

If the University of Missouri were to install a Mount Rushmore of influential figures from its 172-year history, the kindly visage of Chester Leland Brewer would be among the featured faces. He was an intrepid athletic director, a champion for athletics in higher education, a steadfast proponent of daily exercise and the father of Mizzou’s century-old Homecoming tradition. Brewer died in 1953, but the Tiger legend will be honored as grand marshal at the event’s centennial Oct. 15.

A University of Wisconsin–Madison graduate, Brewer began his career at Mizzou in 1910 as director of athletics and professor of physical training. He passionately endorsed the value of competition while coaching baseball, basketball, football and track.

“In the college and university, there is no question as to the necessity of physical education,” Brewer said in a university assembly address in 1913. “The college athlete of today is a clean man. He must be to succeed, and that fact is driven into him day after day.”

Brewer left Columbia in 1917 to become a director for the U.S. Commission on Training Camp Activities during World War I. After stints at Michigan State University and the University of California, Davis, he returned in 1923 to the University of Missouri, where he retired in 1947.

During his tenure, he founded the “M” Men’s Club for varsity athletes (now Varsity M) and witnessed the basketball team’s first Big Six championship in 1930. He oversaw the construction of the Rollins Field bleachers, Memorial Stadium and his namesake, Brewer Fieldhouse.

When he urged alumni to “come home” for the annual football game against Kansas on Nov. 25, 1911, Brewer was concerned not only about low attendance but also the availability of room and board in Columbia if people did show up. Thankfully, city residents opened their homes to alumni, and even Brewer played hotelier.

“We must have had 10 or 15 at my home,” he told The Kansas City Star. “They were stretched out on cots in almost every room.”

The record crowd of 9,000-plus at Rollins Field witnessed a 3-3 tie, thanks to Tiger captain Glen Shuck’s game-saving kick with four minutes remaining.

The tradition caught fire, fueled by enthusiastic alumni and border-rivalry passions, and Columbia has hosted all but two Homecomings — 1918 and 1944 — since that 1911 inaugural event (see timeline).

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Some of Brewer’s descendants, including his granddaughter, Molly Roland, plan to attend the centennial festivities. Although Roland did not attend Mizzou, her mother, the late Jean Brewer Miller, BS Ed ’53, was a black-and-gold fanatic.

“She used to iron while she listened to football games on the radio, and when something exciting would happen, she would shake the iron in the air and yell, ‘Go, go!’ ” Roland says. “As a child, I remember thinking, I hope that iron doesn’t fly across the room.

“Whenever my mother would hear the Missouri fight song, she would cry because that was her whole childhood — being around her father and the university.”

Like the portrait of Brewer that still hangs in the Old Varsity Club at the Mizzou Student Recreation Complex, the man himself oversaw much at MU. But for generations of Tigers, Homecoming has proven to be his masterstroke.

“I know hundreds of old grads who haven’t missed a Homecoming in fifteen years,” Brewer told The Missouri Student newspaper in the early 1930s — a statement that still rings true in 2011. “Every year Homecoming gets bigger and bigger as the university has more alumni and friends.”

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