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LR legend Hanley Painter was a World War II hero
LR legend Hanley Painter was a World War II hero

Hanley H. Painter participated in some of the biggest athletic moments in Lenoir-Rhyne University athletic history.

However, he also participated in some of the pivotal moments in world history as an enlisted man in the U.S. Marine Corps during World War II.

An All-American standout and longtime LR athletics coach and administrator, Painter was also a veteran of the island-hopping campaign in the Pacific Theater and survivor of the brutal Battle of Iwo Jima.

"On Veteran's Day, I think about him and the sacrifices so many people made who didn't get to come home," said Dr. Janet Painter, LR professor, director of the Engaged Scholars Program and daughter of Hanley Painter. "I still have a number of pictures of him and his uniform."

President of the Lenoir-Rhyne College Class of 1950, Painter was recognized as the All-Around Student that year and a member of the Who's Who in College and Universities after participating in football, baseball and golf.

Following his graduation, he moved into coaching, leading LR to a dozen conference championships and participation in three National Championship games, in addition to spending more than a decade as athletic director before retiring in 1984.

His name can still be found on campus through scholarships, events and a plaque commemorating his service to the university outside the athletic offices in McCrorie Center.

"It took me a long time to where I felt comfortable going into Shuford Gym, because I was so sad that he was gone," said Janet Painter. "But I started processing his loss in a way where I can think of him and be really proud and cherish those memories. I see his name around campus, and I'm so proud they honored him and cared about him."

Hanley Painter died in 2001 after battling cancer.

A North Carolina native, Painter grew up a mountain boy in Bryson City. After suffering the loss of his father at the age of 16, he began taking care of his mom before enlisting in World War II.

He had already been shot in the arm at Saipan when he stormed the beaches with 240 other members of Company E, 2nd Battalion, 23rd Marines of the 4th Division to take part in the Battle of Iwo Jima.

After 20 days of brutal fighting, Painter was peppered with shrapnel from a Japanese mortar that killed the man lying next to him. Painter was littered with wounds to his face, head and left leg and began to crawl to a medic. As he was carried on a stretcher, he was struck in the left shin by a bullet, shattering his lower leg.

"He had shrapnel from those wounds that he carried with him the rest of his life," Janet Painter said.

When he left the battlefield, Painter was 1 of 3 three survivors remaining in his company.

Hanley Painter (facing the camera) smokes a cigarette in a fox hole on Iwo Jima during a break in the battle.

*Hanley Painter (facing the camera) smokes a cigarette in a fox hole on Iwo Jima during a break in the battle.*

After seven months in the hospital recovering from his wounds, Painter returned home to North Carolina, and an old football coach put him in touch with fellow gridiron coach Clarence Stasavich at LR. Painter enrolled, thanks to the GI Bill, and his legend began.

"In addition to serving our country with tremendous valor, Hanley Painter dedicated his life's work to Lenoir-Rhyne in the roles of coach and athletic director for more than 30 years," said LR Vice President for Athletics Kim Pate. "He made a profound impact on this campus, the community and, most importantly, the lives of countless former Bears student-athletes. The stories live on and his memory will never be forgotten. He will go down as one of the greatest individuals to ever play, coach or serve at LR."

In 1949, Painter earned honorable mention All-American honors as a member of the Bears football team, in addition to playing baseball and golf. He joined Stasavich's staff after graduation spending more than 30 years at LR.

"He was very dedicated to the college and the Bears," Janet Painter said. "He loved the military and always spoke very favorably of the Marines. He didn't really say a lot about his time in the war, unless it was in a more formal setting. Occasionally, he'd talk about the men he was with, but it was very difficult for him to talk about."

As coach at LR, Painter recruited and coached the first African-American student-athlete in school history — Jerry Shaw. The two became fast friends working alongside each other at Lenoir-Rhyne, and when Shaw became ill, Painter started a golf outing in order to raise money for Shaw's care.

"He felt strongly that everyone should be respected and honored for being a human being and what they bring to the table," Janet Painter said. "It doesn't matter about your social class or ethnicity. He embraced everyone."

The golf outing he championed continues to this day as the Hanley H. Painter Bear Memorial Golf Tournament. After his death, former players came together and provided funds to endow a scholarship in his memory that is awarded each year to a student-athlete that exemplifies hard work.

"One of the things he always told me was that life was an endurance test," Janet Painter said. "You're going to have to endure a lot of challenges. He'd usually tell me that when I was complaining about something. He'd say, 'This is an endurance contest. Bow your neck — like you do on the football field — and get it done. You can do this.'"