Eugene C. Lenz, an Olympic swimmer and 1960 Cal Poly alumnus, died Monday, Oct. 10. He was 68 years old.
Born in San Luis Obispo in 1937 and raised in Santa Maria, Lenz was a prevalent top-placing swimmer for Cal Poly from 1956 to 1959. Before his talents took him to Roman waters at age 23 in the 1960 Olympic games, Lenz was a charter member to the Cal Poly Athletics Hall of Fame in 1987, holding 14 individual records.
Honored as the university’s first All-American swimmer, Lenz received a degree in architectural engineering and was a key player in the California State College Swimming Championships, winning titles in three different events in four consecutive years.
Lenz died of a heart attack while swimming laps, said Mike McCall, a friend attending Lenz’s funeral. McCall is the interim associate vice presdient of university advancement.
Ethel Lenz, his wife and also a Cal Poly graduate, said swimming had always been a passion for him, a gift that backed his accomplishments and a skill sharpened from the training he received at Cal Poly.
“His initial training came from Cal Poly,” she said. “And he became an Olympic swimmer; he was talented and continued to pursue it.”
Throughout the years, Lenz continued to give back, a dedication his wife said was important to him, and came naturally.
McCall said Lenz was one of the first people he met at Cal Poly, and one of the most memorable due to Lenz’s vast wisdom, huge heart and tremendous generosity.
“What was neat about Eugene was that he was a very successful alum: taking the Cal Poly spirit with him in all his endeavors,” McCall said. “But then he came back and shared with the university.”
Lenz took the Cal Poly spirit across the globe while serving in the United States Navy for 10 years while on duty in Vietnam in the late 1960s and in his career in construction management where he worked in Saudi Arabia, Indonesia and the United States, McCall said.
“It makes me smile knowing that he took the ‘Learn by Doing’ with him everywhere ” even to the Olympics,” he said.
At the memorial service held Oct. 15 at St. Peter's Episcopal Church, McCall said Lenz son commented on the irony of his death as his heart had such a tremendous capacity for giving.
“Eugene’s heart was the thing that impressed people the most,” he said. “It was so admirable.”
One way Lenz exercised this trait was through monetary contributions to the education of students who succeeded him at both Cal Poly and the church Lenz attended in Santa Maria.
Lenz was active in setting up Cal Poly’s first scholarships for swimmers and divers, and was also the co-founder for the St. Peter’s Youth Scholarship Fund. The scholarship money to the church has aided in the education of about eight students so far, his wife said.
She also said her husband’s contributions to youth were inspired by “a strong proponent to education.”
Gloria Mornard, parish administrator for St. Peter’s, also said Lenz was a very kindhearted and generous man.
“Every one in the parish absolutely loved him,” she said. “One man told me that the 8 o’clock service just won’t be the same without him. He will be deeply missed.”
Along with alumnus Geoff Capell, Lenz was instrumental in the 2004 naming of the Anderson Aquatic Center at Cal Poly, according to a news release. Dick Anderson was Lenz swimming coach and the naming of the facility honors Anderson for his many years of leadership to the Cal Poly Swimming and Diving program.
“Eugene swam every day,” McCall said. “He died doing what he loved.”
Lenz had been working on a special fundraising dinner for the Anderson Aquatic Scholarship Endowment to be held on Friday in the Veranda Cafe from 6 to 9 p.m. Donations are $35 per person. Information is available at 756-2255.
He is survived by his wife of 25 years, two children and three grandchildren.