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Friday, October 11, 2002
Eastman a silver medalist at 1932 Games
Associated Press


HOTCHKISS, Colo. -- Olympic silver medalist Benjamin Bangs Eastman, the former record-holding track star known as "Blazin' Ben,'' has died of pneumonia.

Eastman died Oct. 6 at his home. He was 91.

Eastman set world records for the 440-yard, 400-meter, 800-yard, 800-meter, 500-yard and 600-yard dashes while on the track team at Stanford University. His record of 46.4 seconds in the 440-yard dash was unbroken for more than 40 years.

But later as an apple farmer in Hotchkiss, he played down his athletic career.

Sportswriters credited him as the man who changed the quarter-mile and half-mile running races to sprints, calling him the greatest middle-distance runner of his era.

In the 1932 Olympics, he finished second in the 400-meter event in Los Angeles.

Seven years later, he married Alice Edwina Ellis and began working for the Atlas Diesel Engine Co. In 1946, he launched his own business, the Eastman Equipment Co., in Woodside, Calif.

In 1959, the Eastmans left California to try growing fruit in Colorado. Eastman and his brother-in-law, Scott Ellis, owned 140 acres on Rogers Mesa outside Hotchkiss.

"The home place was nothing but a weed farm when Dad bought it,'' said Ben Eastman Jr. of Denver. The farmhouse was built from a Sears catalog kit.

The Eastmans restored the home and neglected land, irrigating and enriching the soil, planting scores of apple, peach and pear trees.

"He certainly turned it into a fine orchard,'' said Steve Ela, who owns an orchard about a half-mile from the Eastman's place.

Ela also is a devoted long-distance runner.

"I never saw his medal, though,'' Ela added. "I'd be surprised if he'd displayed it at home. It wasn't something he flaunted. If you asked him, he'd tell you a little bit about it. But not a lot.''

Eastman served on numerous commissions, including the Colorado Housing Authority, the Western Colorado Horticultural Society, the Western Colorado Community Foundation and the Colorado Apple Administrative Committee.

Former Gov. Richard Lamm appointed Eastman to the Colorado Agriculture Commission, where he served for 12 years.

Eastman is survived by his wife; sons Ben Jr. of Denver, Gary Eastman of Fort Collins and Peter Eastman of Hotchkiss; seven grandchildren; and four great-grandchildren.

A memorial service was scheduled Saturday at the Methodist Hotchkiss Community United church.