Violet Krubaeck’s stellar amateur career exemplifies how the sport institutions of the Chicago–the churches, the parks, and the clubs–together helped develop her into a great basketball, softball, and track champion.
Violet Krubaeck was one of the outstanding women athletes in Chicago between the wars, a star competitor in track and field and basketball in the 1920s and top softball player and basketball player throughout the 1930s. She is a great example of how the institutions of Chicago–the clubs, the churches, and the park districts–help produce a great champion for some than fifteen years. She was a strong and tall woman and loved participating in sports, and all she had to do was look around her Ravenswood neighborhood and she could find a church, a park, or a club where she could develop her talents.
Krubaeck was born on May 26, 1909 in the Ravenswood community on the North Side of Chicago to a working class German immigrant parents; her father Herman, was an automobile mechanic, and her mother, Martha (born Anna Martha Krapf), was a housewife. Most of the residents in her neighborhood were of German and Swedish extraction. She came from a large family, with three sisters and three brothers. With two of her sisters, Mildred (born August 6, 1912) and Evelyn (born November 13, 1913), she was close with and shared an interest in athletics. All three sisters played basketball and participated in other sports through the family church, Pilgrim Lutheran Church.1
The older Violet Krubaeck began her sports career at Pilgrim. The church like many of the city’s churches at the time sponsored sports teams, notably in basketball and track and field. The church belonged to one of the several church leagues in Chicago and environs, the Evangelical Lutheran Athletic Association. She achieved her first fame in track and field, competing on the Pilgrim team. In 1925 competing in the league’s fifth annual league track meet at Soldier Field 16-year old Krubaeck proved to be the biggest female star. She won the 60- yard dash, broad jump, high jump, and took third in the 100-yard dash. The large photo accompanying the Chicago Tribune story was all about Krubaeck, captioning the racing image, “Girl Star of the Lutheran A. A. Meet.”
During 1925 she also competed with the Station WHT team, sponsored by one of the new radio stations coming on the air then. In one dual meet with the Midwest Athletic Club, she won the hop, step, and jump and took second in the 50-yard dash, but was outshone at the meet by one of Chicago’s greatest female track stars, another school girl, Helen Filkey, who won the 100 yard dash and the 80 yard low hurdles.2
Krubaeck began her basketball career at Pilgrim Lutheran and led her team to second place in the Evangelical Lutheran girls’ league in 1926. Her much younger sisters also later played for Pilgrim, Mildred and Evelyn, who played for Pilgrim Lutheran in 1931 and 1932. Mildred played forward and Evelyn was captain and center. Women’s basketball in Chicago was different from much of the country, in that the girls and women in amateur basketball play under the men’s rules. Much of the country, including the National AAU, played the far less athletic and strenuous six-player line game, where the court was divided into three sections, with each team having two players in each section, one playing defense and one offense. A player did not leave her section, and the game was more a passing game, than running and dribbling. Thus, in evaluating Violet Krubaeck as a top athlete, that she played under men’s rules makes her all the most outstanding. 3
Violet moved to a stronger basketball program in the fall of 1926, joining a park district team, the Welles Park Royal Arrows, only a couple of blocks from Pilgrim. Classified as a small park, Welles Park was built in 1910 and a field house added in 1915. Such parks sponsored teams, coached by the park staff, and Welles Park turned out basketball teams, track teams, and speed skating teams for both genders.4
In terms of her development as an athlete, Krubaeck benefitted from early coaching at Welles Park along with competition against top flight opponents, as Welles Park competed against all the top Central AAU teams. While at Welles Park she played against the Chicago’s top three teams—the Brownies, the JPI Girls, and the Tri-Chis Taylor Trunks. Her presence on the Welles Park team lifted its ranking to fourth place right after the three afore-mentioned teams. The rangy girl played center and helped the team keep possession of the ball, as the rules then required a center jump after every basket.5
In mid-February 1927, the Taylor Trunks strengthened their lineup with the addition of center Krubaeck, who was making the Welles Park Royal Arrows a formidable opponent. She had an immediate impact on the Trunks, a strong woman filling the center spot and elevating the Taylor Trunks where they would eventually become the men’s rule national champs. She superseded the great guard Dena Schaper (and Coach Harry Wilson’s wife) as the team’s top player and physically strongest.6
The Taylor Trunks like the amateur teams of the day were filled with mostly single girls who did not go to college and were in the everyday working world. Krubaeck was a typical female amateur basketball player of the 1920s. She did not go to college and went into the working world, where she got a job as a stenographer. When she was recruited by the Taylor Trunks, she was given a secretarial position with the company. Krubaeck’s celebrity was growing and the Chicago Herald and Examiner took notice in April of 1927 when the paper gave her a nice spread on the front page of their sports section, showing two sides of her, with basketball in hand and at her desk, where she was said to “click a mean typewriter.”7
Newspapers of the day, however, tended to couch their praise of women athletes within the context of gender roles and expectations. For example, in an item on Krubaeck that was wired across the country she was hailed for her athletic achievements, and “considered one of the greatest girl athletes in the country,” but readers were assured of her all American womanhood with comments that she was also a good steno, a good cook, and that as a domestic she was “hard to beat.”8‘
Krubaeck continued to compete in track and field, after becoming a Taylor Trunk. She competed mostly for her Pilgrim Lutheran church team, but in June 1928 she competed on a Taylor Trunks team. The team was entered in the huge inaugural Chicago American/Central AAU women’s track meet. Krubaeck, the most experience track performer on the Taylor Trunks, competed in three events–220 yard run, shot put, and baseball throw. Her teammates were Dena Schaper (220 yard), and sisters Inza Teague (22o yard and baseball throw) and Helen Teague (baseball throw). Krubaeck was the only Taylor Trunk to place, taking third in shot put.9
With Krubaeck as center, the Taylor Trunks became the dominant team from 1928 through 1930, making trips to Cleveland, Detroit, and Canada as well as home games in the Broadway Armory to beat all the biggest contenders for the men’s rules championship. There were no formal national championship conducted’; a team would bestow the title on itself based on victories in certain match games. The newspapers would weekly hail the Taylor Trunks with headlines and direct praise for Krubaeck’s role in the team’s victory.10
Violet Krubaeck, while continuing to play for the Taylor Trunks, was married to a house painter, George Klasen, in May of 1930. Probably because she built such a public name recognition under her birth name, she retained the Krubaeck name until her retirement from basketball ten years later. She and her sister Evelyn, were top basketball players throughout the 1930s. Mildred, however, did not continue her basketball career after 1932.11
Increasingly, as the Taylor Trunks amateur status eroded away in the early 1930s, the team increasingly was playing against men and boy teams, a notable opponent being the House of David men’s team, often at the Broadway Armory. Violet Krubaeck, long the physically strongest Trunk playing, became increasingly important in such contests, as in the January 1931 win over the House of David team, This game in particular elicited national attention, when in January the Taylor Trunks met the House of David team, which had beaten them several times before, The House of David was a religious commune from Benton Harbor, Michigan, and was best known for its traveling baseball teams. The religion required the men to sport beards and grow their hair long. In the January game, before 5,000 fans who jammed the Broadway Armory, the Trunks whipped the House of David team, 18 to 9. Reports of the game were wired across the United States, exclaiming the athleticism of the Taylor Trunks and having fun reporting on the rough tactics of the girls, At one point the Taylor Trunk center, Violet Krubaeck, wrestled the ball away from a House of David player, violently throwing him to the floor and knocking him out. 12
After a stellar career with the Taylor Trunks, Violet Krubaeck left the organization in November 1931, the team reporting that its leading scorer suffered a knee injury and would be out for two months. She did not return, however, forced to nurse her injury throughout the season. She chose not to return to the Taylor Trunks in the 1932-33 season, instead joining her sister, Evelyn, along with two other former Taylor Trunks to play in the local Chicago amateur scene. The Taylor Trunks by this time was in decline, playing mostly boys’ and men’s teams, barnstorming throughout the Midwest as a semi-pro team. Meanwhile, Mildred and Evelyn had gotten their first amateur experience playing on Pilgrim Lutheran team that in 1931 and 1932 competed against other church teams and amateur teams in the city. Mildred played forward and Evelyn was captain and center.13
Mildred did not continue in basketball after the Pilgrim Lutheran team, but in the 1931-32 season Evelyn was recruited by the May & Malone Girls, which were recruiting the top talent in the city. They entered the Central AAU women’s tournament, having achieved a 16-game winning streak during the year–while winning the prestigious American Tournament—and swept away all the competition to take Central AAU title. Evelyn represented the team in the American Tournament to receive the first-place team trophy.14
After the 1932 season, the May & Malone Girls lost their sponsor, and in the 1933 season the same team essentially competed as the Six Point Co-eds. The two differences were the addition of two great Taylor Trunks, Violet Krubaeck and Dena Schaper (who competed under her married name, Dena Wilson). Violet with her sister Evelyn, Madge Kline, and Betty Reidl undoubtedly made the team a formidable outfit. Nonetheless, the Six Point Co-eds failed to win either the American Tournament or the Central AAU, losing both in the finals to a new power, the Spencer Coals. The Central AAU tournament oddly was held under girls’ rules, perhaps to prepare the winner for the National AAU tournament. The one consolation was that Co-eds prevailed over the Coals in the finals of the Central States AAU tournament, which brought teams together from the Midwest.15
At the end of the AAU season, in May, Harry Wilson, Krubaeck’s old coach on the Taylor Trunks, formed an ad hoc team, the Red Devils, to compete for the Underwood Trophy against Percy Page’s perennial champs. Wilson built a team selecting five players from the Six Point Co-eds and three players from the Central AAU champion Spencer Coals team. Up in Canada, the Red Devils lost all three matches to the Commercial Grads being tested only in the second game.16
Harry Wilson brought another Red Devils team in late October 1933 to face the Commercial Grads in Canada for the Underwood Trophy. The team was essentially the Six Point Co-eds from the year before, with the addition of et another former Taylor Trunk, Elizabeth Falbisaner, making three with Krubaeck and Schaper. The team lost all three match games, and then proceeded into the 1934 regular season to compete as the Rickett’s Restaurant Girls. The Rickett’s Girls won the American Tournament title in March 1934–thanks for Krubaeck’s sterling play–which that year was the equivalent to the city championship beating thee Spencer Coals, 19-17, on Evelyn Krubaeck’s last second basket. The Central AAU tournament was oddly played under women’s rules and the Rickett’s Girls did not participate.17
In 1935 the Krubaecks and their teammates became the Andy Frain Usherettes, and won both the American Tournament and Central AAU titles. Violet Krubaeck, a powerful batter, had also competed in softball during the 1930s, and her efforts came to fruition in 1935, as a member of the Andy Frain Usherettes softball team, along with many of her basketball teammates. That year the team won the 14-inch slow pitch title in the huge Chicago American softball tournament, with first baseman Krubaeck hitting four for five.18
The year 1936 saw yet another name change in Krubaeck’s basketball team, to the T. J. Courtney Girls, and the Krubaeck sisters led the team in capturing the American Tournament’s free-lance title. In 1937, the Krubaeck sisters were on Alamo Theater Co-eds team, leading them to yet another American Tourney championship. Also on the team were the Marion and Mercedes DeSutter twins.19
From 1938 through 1940, the Krubaeck sisters were members of the Queen Anne Aces had helped lead them to three consecutive American Tournament titles. Harry Wilson was not their regular-season coach, but in May 1939 and May 1940 he took the Chicago three-time city champions up to Edmonton and played the Grads for the Underwood Trophy. The Aces, as did all the previous Underwood Trophy contenders, lost both series. By the time of the 1940 series, the great Violet Krubaeck was not the player of previous years, and not at all the dominant player. The Edmonton Journal, in its profile of all the Queen Anne Aces players, which that season was also called the Queen Anne Candies, as such:
She does not play a great deal any more, and is used as a spot player, having injured her knee years ago and had an operation to remove cartilage. The operation, although successful, impaired her speed, so that she cannot go a rapid pace more a full game…this season she has participated in only a part of 14 of her team’s games and acts more as a feeder than a [shooter] so her scoring average is only about 5 points a game.20
The 1940 series was historic as it was the final series and last game of the Commercial Grads, in the last Underwood Trophy competition. It was also the last competitive game of the incomparable Violet Krubaeck, as after 1940, the Queen Anne Aces team was disbanded, and Violet Krubaeck retired.
Sister Evelyn, however, joined with two other Queen Anne Aces, Frances Rospond and Stella Kiligen, and some younger players to form Brill’s Lassies in 1941. That team lost to the Standard Transformers in the title game of the American Tournament, which made ten title games in the ten years of the tournament that Evelyn Krubaeck had participated in. Evelyn, however, did not get much playing time in the Brill’s Lassies, and may have retired after the 1941 season. Although it is possible she may have played with Ducky Sloans (which were Brills Lassies renamed) in 1942 and 1943.21
Evelyn Krubaeck had married Larry Ralph Lakin, and had a daughter named Nancy in 1936.. In a bizarre shooting accident at a shooting range on 28 September 1952, Evelyn was killed by her daughter who was putting what she thought was an empty pistol away. The newspaper made no mention of her basketball achievements. Violet, after her retirement from basketball, settled down with her husband George, using her married name, Violet Klasen. They later moved to Eustis, Florida, where she died on July 9, 1976. She died in complete obscurity, her great achievements in basketball completely forgotten. There were no obituaries published on her life in Chicago.22
1. Evelyn K. M. Krubaeck, 17 Nov 1913, Illinois, Cook County, Birth Certificate, Illinois, Cook County, Birth Certificates, 1871-1940, Chicago, Cook, Illinois, United States, reference/certificate 223698, Cook County Clerk, Cook County Courthouse, Chicago; Fourteenth Census of the United States: 1920–Population, Bureau of the Census, Illinois, Cook County, Chicago, Ward 26; Enumeration District, 1552, Sheet 7A (Washington, DC: National Archives and Records Administration, 1992).
2. Fayette Krum Mulroy, “Women’s Sports,” Chicago Herald and Examiner, 28 March 1928; “St. John Three V’s Lose to Pilgrim Five, 13-4,” Forest Park Review, 22 January 1926; “St Marks Wins Lutheran Track Meet; Pilgrim Second,” Chicago Tribune, 6 September 1925; “Girls of Station WHT Win Meet At Gaelic Park,” Chicago Tribune, 6 July 1925.
3. “St John Three V’ Lose to Pilgrim Five, 13-4,” Forest Park Review, 22 January 1926; “Brooklyn Plays Bruins Tonight at Loyola Gym,” Chicago Tribune, 17 March 1926.
4. Welles Park, History website [http://www.chicagoparkdistrict.com/parks/Welles-Park/], accessed 6 September 2016.
5. “Welles Girls’ Five Is Victor,” Chicago Tribune, 11 January 1924; “Chicago Reds Nip Hamburg Cagers, 24-19,” Chicago Tribune, 17 March 1926; Harland Rohm, “Tri Chi Girls Win 159 Games; Lose Only Four,” Chicago Tribune, 1 January 1927.
6. ‘Tri Chis Meet Champion Girl Cagers Tonight,” Chicago Tribune, 19 February 1927.
7. “2 In 1,” Chicago Herald and Examiner, 29 April 1927; Polk’s Chicago City Directory 1928-1929, Vol. 2, KASS-Z, Chicago, IL: R. L. Polk and Company, 1928, p. 1735.
8. “Star Stenog” , Uniontown Morning Herald, 9 May 1927.
9. “Track Meet Entries by Events,” Chicago American, 1 June 1928; Jimmy Corcoran, “World’s Marks Fall in Girl’s Track Meet,” Chicago American, 2 June 1928.
10. “Taylor Trunks Win U.S. Girls’ Basket Title,” Chicago Tribune, 24 February 1928; Harland Rohm, “Chicago Girls’ Basketball Team Defeats Cleveland Quintet; Retains U.S. Title,” Chicago Tribune, 3 January 1929; “Taylor Trunks Defeat Cleveland Aces, 15 to 8,´Chicago Tribune, 28 January 1930; “Trunks Beat Cleveland in 2nd Title Game, 11-9,” Chicago Tribune, 29 January 1930; “Taylor Trunks Defeat London Team, 23-22,” Chicago Tribune, 13 February 1930; Wilfred Smith, “Bruins Beat Patterson, 24-17; “Taylor Trunks Win, 20-16,” Chicago Tribune, 6 March 1930.
11. “Cook County, Illinois Marriage Index, 1930-1960,” Cook County Clerk Genealogy Records, Cook County Clerk’s Office, Chicago, IL: Cook County Clerk, 2008; Sixteenth of the United States: 1940, Population Schedule. Bureau of the Census. Illinois, Cook County, Chicago, Ward 47, Enumeration District, 103-3030, Sheet 5A (Washington, DC: National Archives and Records Administration, 2012).
12. “Taylor Trunks Center Out For 2 Months,” Chicago Tribune, 3 November 1931; “Ginger Snaps: Pilgrim Lutheran Cagers at Practice,” Chicago Herald and Examiner, 12 February 1932; “Wilfred Smith, “Bruin Quintet Beats Purdue Stars, 24 to 23,” Chicago Tribune, 4 April 1932; “Printerettes to Battle Co-eds Here Saturday Night,” Racine Journal-Times, 3 February 1933.50.
13. Dixon Stewart, “House of David Loses Game to Team of Girls,” Olean Times, January 8, 1931.
14. “Cage Winners Get Laurels” , Chicago American, 14 March 1932; Betty Eckersall, “Owl Indians, Win Central A.A.U. Title,” Chicago Tribune, 15 April 1932.
15. Leo Fischer, “Girls’ Game Is Cage Meet Feature,” Chicago American, 10 March 1933; Leo Fischer, ”Record Crowd, Sees Windup of American’s Cage Meet,” Chicago American, 20 March 1933; Leo Fischer, “Girls’ Game Is Cage Meet Feature,” Chicago American, 10 March 1933; “Leading Women’s Cage Teams Open Play on Monday,” Oak Leaves, `13 April 1933; “Spencer Girls Take Basket Honors,” Chicago American, 22 April 1933.
16. Leo Fischer, “Record Crowd Sees Windup of American’s Cage Meet,” Chicago American, 20 March 1933; “Commercial Grads Defeat Chicago Cagers,” 74-35; Winnepeg Free Press, 15 May 1933; “Commercial Grads Humble Chicago” Winnepeg Free Press, 13 May 1933.
17. “Triumph in Third Battle,” Lethbridge Herald, 31 October 1933; “Five Title Games Tonight as Cage Meet Nears End,” Chicago American, 9 March 1934; “Hail District Cage Champs,” Chicago American, 12 March 1934; “Spencer Coals Win Title,” Chicago American, 27 March 1934.
18. Leo Fischer, “Olde Timers Win A.A.U. Title in Cage Classic Finals,” Chicago American, 14 March 1935; Eddie McGuire, ”Tourney News,” Chicago American, 14 March 1935; Eddie McGuire, “Softball Teams Await Next Games Monday,” Chicago American, 17 August 1935.
19. Leo Fischer, “Crown Champions in American Cage Meet,” Chicago American, 10 March 1936; “Artillery Beats Philo for Central A. A. U. Cage Title,” Chicago American, 11 March 1937.
20. Leo Fischer, “Thrills Galore as 5 Quintets Clinch Titles,” Chicago American, 4 March 1938; Leo Fischer, “Final Champs Crowned in Big Cage Tourney,” Chicago American, 4 March 1939; “Roos Star of Acme Steel Cage Win,” Chicago Herald-American, 13 March 1940; “Great Grad Club Will Disband Following Series With Chicago,” Edmonton Journal, 30 May 1940; “Chicago Women Lose Series” Chicago Tribune, 6 June 1939; “Edmonton Grads, Wonder Cagers, Play Last Game, Winnepeg Tribune, 6 June 1940.
21. Leo Fischer, “Thrillers Decide H. A. Cage Titles,” Chicago Herald-American, 13 February 1941.
22. “Mother Killed As Girl, 16, Puts Pistol in Case,” Chicago Tribune, 29 September 1952; “Violet K. Klasen,” Florida Death Index, 1877-1998, Florida: Florida Department of Health, Office of Vital Records, 1998.