Harry F. Langenberg
Harry F. Langenberg was born May 20, 1909 in St. Louis, MO. He entered Princeton University as a freshman in the fall of 1927 and graduated with the class of 1931. While at Princeton, Langenberg was introduced to the sport of rugby. At that time, competition was limited to teams representing Ivy League colleges in the Northeast, and a few clubs based in Chicago and California. During his college years Langenberg developed into an avid player and fan of rugby, as well as an assistant coach of the Princeton team.
Upon his return to St. Louis in 1931, Langenberg began a life-long career as a securities broker and economic analyst. He maintained his interest in amateur athletics and in 1933 he joined forces with two others who shared his passion for rugby, Edmond St. John Hoogewerf, a St. Louis University professor from England, and Hugo Walther, a young lawyer and recent Yale graduate. Together, guided by Langenberg’s inspiration and leadership, the three organized the Missouri Rugby Football Union (MRFU) with the intent of introducing and promoting the game of rugby in St. Louis and environs. They patterned the new organization after that of the governing body of the game in England, the Rugby Football Union, Twickenham. The MRFU was the first organization of its kind and purpose in the United States.
Langenberg became the first Secretary of the MRFU at its inception in 1933, and continued in that key role for 50 years. In that capacity Langenberg assumed responsibility and leadership, coordination and administration of all MRFU activities, communications and record keeping. His unfailing dedication and commitment to the game, and especially to those who played it, sustained the Union throughout those five decades and laid the foundation for its ongoing viability as a Territorial Union within the United States of America Rugby Football Union (USARFU).
The first club to be organized under the MRFU was the Rambler Rugby Club, also in 1933. The Ramblers first game was played in Forest Park in the spring of 1934 against a Chicago-based team comprised largely of immigrants from Lancashire, England. Langenberg not only participated in that game, but he also played a key role in founding the Rambler Club and recruiting players from all walks of life. He became the first Secretary of the Rambler Rugby Club, providing the same lifeblood for the club as he did for the MRFU, and continued in that role until the late 1980s when he retired from regular play. He participated in his final game at his 60th college reunion at Princeton University in 1991, at the age of 82.
As a direct result of Langenberg’s dedication over the years, historical records and memorabilia have been preserved dating to the beginning of the Rambler Rugby Club. He also wrote and financed a Rambler newsletter, organized countless social functions and underwrote numerous other activities for both the Rambler Club and the MRFU.
Among Langenberg’s many accomplishments throughout his more than 50 years of active involvement in the game, the following stood out:
- Securing membership for the MRFU in the Rugby Football Union, Twickenham, England by application filed in 1933 and approved March 30, 1966.
- Arranging for the use of playing fields in Forest Park in 1934, where rugby continues to be played today.
- Creating and maintaining minutes, correspondence, publications, schedules and scores, and other related documents dating from 1934.
- Publishing and distributing annual dossiers and periodic newsletters.
- Scheduling and securing facilities for all meetings of the Board of the MRFU and for meetings of club representatives.
- Orchestrating and hosting the annual MRFU awards ceremonies.
- Hosting an annual social event to which all players, officials, officers and other guests were invited, for the primary purpose of promoting friendship and camaraderie among all those interested in the game.
- Promoting youth rugby among high school age players, beginning in the 1930s and continuing until his retirement.
- Organizing and promoting the 1st MRFU Ruggerfest in 1948, an invitational tournament that has become an annual tradition that continues today. This year’s longest running premier national rugby tournament consisted of 72 teams.
- Stimulating interest and providing encouragement and support over the years to players who have relocated from St. Louis and have organized clubs in other areas of the U.S.
- Planning, promoting and executing ceremonies commemorating the 50th anniversary of the MRFU, celebrated in 1983 at the Missouri Botanical Garden. Luminaries in attendance included John V. Smith, then President of the Rugby Football Union, Twickenham, England.
Although he had retired from playing, Langenberg continued to serve the game as an Emeritus Member of the MRFU.
In addition to his rugby accomplishments, Langenberg was a founder of the Octopus Club (an amateur ice hockey club), the Claytonshire Coaching Club and the Discussion Club, an economic discussion group which he served as president since 1960.
Over the years Langenberg consistently proclaimed the virtues of amateurism in sports. His steadfast belief that “the game is always greater than the score” is best illustrated by these guiding principles, which he has both espoused and lived by:
- Player rather than watch
- Respect the referee
- Demonstrate sportsmanship and respect for opponents, rather than “win at all costs”
- Interact socially and develop friendships with opponents and officials
- Play as an amateur, for love of the game
In the modern era of select sides, corporate sponsorships and paid players, Harry Langenberg’s philosophy remains that rugby is not an occupation, but is an enjoyable form of competition on the field, followed by socializing with friends, new and old. Thanks to his vision and dedication, the MRFU today includes 25 clubs and 542 registered players, testimony to his incalculable contributions to the game spanning 70 years.
Harry Langenberg died on September 15, 2005, of complications from pneumonia. He is survived by three children and five grandchildren.