The Search for the Olympian
Medal found in a bank box in Alabama follow path to Marion
(The following article was published in the Southern Illinoisan in the year 2000 while the Olympics were being held in Sydney, Australia.)
As Olympic athletes in Sydney, Australia chase the coveted gold medal, a search for a former Olympian on this side of the world has proved to be just as elusive.
After her parents died, Martha Strickland, of Birmingham, Alabama slowly started the process of going through her mom’s possessions. She made a startling discovery about a month ago.
While searching through the contents of a safety deposit box, Strickland came across a silver medal from the 1928 Olympics. It belonged to a man who took second place in the triple jump in the Olympics in Amsterdam, the Netherlands.
After doing some research, Strickland strongly suspects that man was Levi Casey, a 1922 graduate of Marion High School. She doesn’t know many more details, but wants to return the medal and other medals found with the Olympic medal, to Casey’ family.
“If we could find children or grandchildren, then I would be glad to give them to them,” Strickland said. “If that were my father or grandfather, it would mean a lot to me to have them back.”
Strickland’s mother, Ruth Mitchell, dated Casey for a while before she married Strickland’s father, who died in 1997. While they were dating, Casey gave her his medals. When they broke up, he told her to keep them.
Mitchell told Strickland that story a few years ago, before she died in 1993, and Strickland didn’t really give it a second thought until recently.
“When I found them in the bank box, I remembered the conversation,” Strickland said. “She just stuck them in the bank box, and through the years forgot.”
In searching for Casey’s family, Strickland enlisted the help of Scott Mauldin, a Birmingham television reporter. Mauldin called Dena Porter, a circulation clerk at Marion’s Carnegie Library, and asked for her assistance.
“This will just drive me crazy until I get to the bottom of it,” Porter said. “I’ll keep working on this forever.”
From her research, Porter uncovered a few facts about Casey. A 1922 graduate of Marion High School, Casey was active in such clubs as the Platonic Society, Glee Club, Civic Club and Pep Club. He died in 1984 in Oklahoma, and his last known residence was in a suburb of Tulsa, Oklahoma.
Case had a brother named Gomer and was living in Los Angeles at a qualifying completion in Cambridge, Mass.
Other than that, the details are sketchy. Porter has contacted potential family members to no avail.
“We sit in our free time and go on the internet to try and find stuff, because we’re all curious about it now,” Porter said. “It’s just a fascinating story. It’s so time appropriate, because the Olympics are going on now.”
For Strickland, she simply wants to fulfill the desires of her departed mother.
“Mother said those medals would mean a lot to his children and grandchildren,” Strickland said. “I certainly would want to honor how she felt.”
By Tim Ellsworth of the Southern Illinoisan (2000)
As a follow up to this story, I thought I would see if I could find out if this situation ever resolved itself. Dena Porter, who still works at the Marion Carnegie Library in 2014, said she was unaware if the medal issue was ever resolved but did find family burials at Webb Town Cemetery near Tunnel Hill, Illinois.
What I found about Levi is that according to Wikipedia, his full name was Levi Burnside “Lee” Casey. He was born in Johnson County, Illinois on October 19, 1904 and died in Costa Mesa, California on April 1, 1983. His birthdate was confirmed on his passage across the Atlantic returning from the Olympics in 1928, however, most sources including census records indicate his birth was instead 1904.
In the 1910 census, Levi, 6, was living with his family on a farm near Tunnel Hill in Johnson County. His father was George W. Casey 52, mother, Marina M. (Webb) Casey 49. His siblings living at home were Ferna L., 17 year old farmer, and Gomer L., a 14 year old telegraph operator. His mother indicated that of her 7 children that she had birthed, six survived, so obviously Levi was the last of six remaining children and half of them had moved on with their lives.
By the 1920 census, the family was renting a home at 1004 N. Monroe Street in Marion, Illinois. Father George W. had been born about 1858 in Illinois and was a 62 year old coal miner. Mother, Marina, was born in Illinois in 1861 and was about 58 at this census. No other children, other than Levi, were still in the home, but brother, Gomer, also a coal miner, lived with his wife, Eulah, at 1006 N. Granite Street in Marion.
Levi graduated Marion High School in the class of 1922 and according to his high school records was active in numerous social and athletic clubs.
Levi must have gone to Los Angeles after high school and attended Cal State, because according to www.sports-reference.com, “Levi Casey’s triple jump silver medal was the only American Olympic medal in that event between 1906 and 1976. Casey of Cal State (LA) and the Los Angeles AC, won the AAU three straight years starting in 1926. In 1930 he marginally improved his career best to 49-9¼ in winning the Central Association Championships in Chicago and one week later, representing the Illinois AC, he won his fourth AAU title. At the 1932 Final Trials, Casey placed third, but was surprisingly not selected for the Olympic team. Casey gave his silver medal to his girlfriend Ruth, and told her to keep it when they split up. More than a decade after Casey’s death, Ruth’s daughter started a search to return the medal to Casey’s family.”
A boarding passage was found which indicated that Casey had returned from the Olympics in Amsterdam by way of Cherbourg, France where he boarded with the rest of the track and field team to return on August 14th, 1928, returning to New York on August 22nd aboard the steam ship S.S. Roosevelt. His passage confirmed his birthday and stated that he was born in Vienna, Illinois and was sponsored by the L.A. Athletic Club.
The L.A. Athletic Club was founded in 1880 to foster a healthy, athletic lifestyle and in 1912 occupied a 12 story building in downtown Los Angeles where it is still in existence today. The building is noted as being the first building in Southern California to have a swimming pool on an upper level floor.
Sometime between 1930 and 1935, Levi married Orvetta Caroline Christensen who was born in 1912 in N. Dakota. By 1935, the couple was living in Los Angeles. This was confirmed in the 1940 census, where the couple were located at 6242 Marmion Way in L.A. They indicated that they had been living there in 1935. In this census, Levi, now going by Lee was aged 36 and Orvetta was 27. Levi was working as a meter reader for a local utility company. They were renting their home for $35 per month.
The couple had one child named Jane after the 1940 census was taken. Orvetta passed away on February 18, 1978, followed by Levi on April 1, 1983 in Costa Mesa, California.
The Birmingham reporter finally made contact with Casey’s daughter Jane and the Olympic Medal was returned to her where it belonged after approximately 70 years.
(Carbondale Free Press, August 1928; Southern Illinoisan, August 2000; Wikipedia; Federal Census Records; sports-reference.com; Ancestry.com; Social Security Death Records; compiled by Sam Lattuca on Aug.14, 2014, revised on Sept. 18, 2017)