The Washington State Legislature recently passed a House Bill honoring the legacy of John Utendale, an EWU alumnus, for his lifetime of barrier-breaking contributions as an athlete, educator and civil-rights trailblazer.
Born and raised in Edmonton, Canada, Utendale in 1968 earned a master’s degree in education administration from Eastern Washington State College (now EWU) while also playing hockey full-time for the Spokane Jets.
Just over a decade earlier, in 1955, Utendale signed a contract with the Detroit Redwings, becoming the first Black man to sign an NHL deal. Though he never made Detroit’s roster, Utendale played for years on the Quebec Aces, Edmonton Flyers and other NHL farm teams. After his playing days ended, Utendale went on to teach junior high math, science, and physical education.
As his career progressed, Utendale was recruited by Washington State University to serve as its assistant dean of students. At WSU, he earned a doctorate in education while teaching, coaching Little League Baseball and serving on the Washington State Human Rights Commission.
Shortly after completing his doctorate, Utendale accepted a position at Western Washington State College (now Western Washington University), becoming the first Black faculty member in WWU’s College of Education. He led the university’s Student Personnel Administration graduate program for more than 25 years.
During his time in Western Washington, Utendale continued to serve with the Washington State Human Rights Commission. He also helped to create the Bellingham Area Minor Hockey Association and coached the WWU Vikings hockey club. In 1980, Utendale served as an assistant training coach to the “miracle on ice” U.S. Olympic hockey team that won gold at the Lake Placid Olympics.
Utendale died in 2006, but he will long be remembered for his significant impact throughout Washington state and beyond.