COLFAX – The Codger Pole is a towering, 65-foot wood structure created to commemorate a game of touch football played by 70-year-old men in 1988.
The game was a rematch of a 1938 battle between Colfax and nearby St. John, and it was one of the biggest events Colfax ever hosted, with roughly 4,000 people and three TV stations in attendance.
“It was a real big deal, no question about that,” said Joe Henderson, 89, who played on the Colfax team.
Now, aged and weathered, Colfax’s Codger Pole is undergoing a $10,000 renovation, paid for by the city, with a proposal for another $10,000 to finish renovations in 2016.
The structure is made of four cedar logs carved with the faces of the 51 men who competed in the football game in 1988. A nameless, bearded “codger” sits atop the pole, which is a familiar monument for the region’s football fans. The pole, which was once cited as the largest chain-saw art piece in the world, stands west of Main Street.
“Most people look at the pole and smile,” said Frank White, a member of the Whitman County Historical Society. “And even in a bad economy, efforts to find the money to repair the damages are usually successful.”
The carvings were created by Jonathan LaBenne, an artist from California. LaBenne said he was offered $150,000 to create the pole, which took six months to build. But LaBenne’s pay reportedly dropped significantly when the Palouse lentil crop suffered a bad year and farmers could not foot the full bill.
“The Codgers took up a donation at the dedication and when we counted the money in the coffee can passed around at the dedication, it came to $1,242 dollars,” said LaBenne.
The pole commemorates an old rivalry. In 1938, Colfax lost to neighboring St. John, 14-0.
John Crawford, a Colfax player who became an actor and played Sheriff Ep Bridges in the TV show “The Waltons,” wanted a rematch. The actor had dropped a fourth-quarter touchdown pass in the first game and the loss gnawed at him, according to media reports. Fifty years after the first game, the two teams met again.
“Since most of the players from the 1938 game were either dead or couldn’t play because of their age, the requirement was if you were 60-years old or older and had played for either school, then you could play,” said Joe Henderson.
Colfax won the rematch 6-0.
“There was a parade and it was a lot of fun. We just admired them for playing football as old as they were,” said Jackie Henderson, a life-long Colfax resident who attended the game.
Crawford died in 2010, and others players have since passed away. But the Codger Pole still stands. When Colfax built the Codger Pole in 1991, the city set aside an area for the monument.
“It’s a top tourist attraction,” said Mike Rizzitiello, Colfax’s city administrator.