Sports Legends: First Football, Then Ice
Whoever heard of a college football star make a career out of carving ice?
Well, meet John William (Bill) Van Dyke, a two-time All-Southeastern Confer-ence guard and founder of Ice Carvings by Bill Van Dyke.
Van Dyke makes his home in Roswell, but has carved ice for Liza Minnelli, The Rolling Stones and Paul McCartney as well as for a Bar Mitzvah or two.
But before he turned to the ice, Van Dyke had a storied football career at Auburn. The late head coach Ralph “Shug” Jordan named Van Dyke to his all-decade team of the 1960s.
Against the Univer-sity of Tennessee, in a game Auburn was not expected to win, the Tigers prevailed mainly because Van Dyke sacked the vaunted Tennessee quarterback, Mallon Faircloth of Cordele, seven times.
The University of Alabama, coached by the late Paul “Bear” Bryant and quarterbacked by the superstar Joe Namath, never did figure out how to keep the 5-11, 184-pound Van Dyke out of Namath’s face when the teams met in 1963.
One of Van Dyke’s little-known off-the-field achieve-ments was befriending Harold Franklin, the first African-American student to enroll in 1964. On Franklin’s first day of classes, Van Dyke shook hands with him at Samford Hall and made sure classmates knew that he was not to be harassed.
Bill Dukes, a high school teammate of Van Dyke’s and a standout lineman himself at Atlanta’s North Fulton High School, remembers Bill Van Dyke well.
“I avoided him like the plague. We had these half-line scrimmages at practice, and coach Frank Jernigan somehow got it in his head that I could block Van Dyke. He was wrong. Nobody was going to block Van Dyke,” he recalls. “In our regular- season games, the opposing running backs ran on my side of the line, never Van Dyke’s.
“One day at practice, I took an awful blow to the head. It was a concussion. I was taken to the hospital emergency room. When I was released and driven to my home, Van Dyke was there waiting for me. He wanted to be sure I was okay before going to his home. He was a great football player, but an even greater human being.”
At North Fulton, Van Dyke’s gridiron feats brought in the college recruiters. His performance in the Georgia High School All-Star game (he was co-captain of the North team), where he led his team in tackles, kept the recruiters hanging around. He wanted to play at Auburn because it was close to home and because coach Jordan impressed him as a true southern gentleman.
Van Dyke is now 71 years old. He was born in West Virginia but grew up in Atlanta where his dad was executive chef of Rich’s Tea Room, one of the most popular luncheon spots in town. Professionally, he followed his dad to Rich’s. It was while he was working at Rich’s that Bill learned to carve ice. More importantly, it was where he met his wife, the former Nina Lowery.
When Macy’s swallowed Rich’s, Van Dyke left, after 16 years in the Tea Rooms, to become executive director of the Dunwoody Country Club; that was followed by managerial positions at other Atlanta clubs.
“I was a rolling stone, not knowing in what direction I was headed. But I knew I was ready to start out on my own. I wanted to make more money, and I wanted to enjoy what I was doing. Ice carving gave me that opportunity,” he says. “After one year on my own, I was making more money than I ever did doing country club work and enjoying it a heck of a lot more.
“For whatever success I have had, the credit goes to my dad. He got me started carving ice while he was at Rich’s.
“He taught me ice carvings on the weekends and during summers while I was in high school,” he says. “My dad is my hero. I never heard him use a profane word. He taught me the meaning of hard work. He taught me about people. ‘Tell me who your friends are,’ he said, ‘and I will tell you what you are.’”