Virgil's flame burns for the 1960 Squaw Valley Olympics

Del Oro graduate carried torch twice for the '60 games
By: Martha Garcia, Loomis News Editor
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Penryn’s Mike Virgil has vivid memories of the 1960 Winter Olympics. As a Placer High School student and track team member, Virgil ran the Olympic torch not once, but twice, on the torch’s odyssey from Italy, where the 1956 Olympics were held, to Squaw Valley. “My first leg was right at the Colfax overpass. It was early in the morning, around 7 a.m. I was on what we know as Interstate 80 today,” Virgil said. The runners were transported by bus and dropped off at their designated spots. “As we advanced up the road, we got up to Monte Vista Inn at Dutch Flat, then we got on old Highway 40,” he recalled. When one of the runners got sick, Virgil was asked if he could run another one-mile leg. “I ran the second leg at Highway 40 and the Dutch Flat intersection. Then I ran it toward Lake Alta on old Highway 40. That part of Interstate 80 wasn’t built yet, they were still working on it,” he said. Del Oro High School had opened in fall 1959 with freshman and sophomore students. It chose Gordon Takemoto, Steve March, John Locke, Gary Hess and Jay Kinder as Olympic torchbearers. Kinder said he ran the torch in Loomis, on the freeway near King Road, and that it was a “very special” experience. He also remembers that their track coach warned them, “Don’t drop it, and if you do, don’t come back!” During ceremonies held at Placer High School, the runners received Olympic T-shirts and pins. Kinder still has the T-shirt, but not the pin. “I did exactly what they told us not to do,” Kinder said. “I gave it to my then-girlfriend. I never saw it again.” For their senior year, Virgil’s class was added to Del Oro High School, and in 1961 he was part of the first graduating class. That summer, he went to work for Andregg Surveying in Auburn. Until his retirement last year, he returned to Squaw Valley and Lake Tahoe many times in his survey work, he said. Virgil was also at Squaw Valley on Jan. 8 of this year for the 50th anniversary of the 1960 Olympics and the 60th anniversary of Squaw Valley. The celebration included a ceremonial running and lighting of the Olympic torch. One of the celebrities there was 1998 Olympic skier Jonny Moseley. Virgil said he was taking pictures near the podium, where the torch was being passed around among dignitaries. When Moseley asked if anyone else would like to hold the torch, Virgil spoke up. “Can I hold it?” Virgil said he asked. When Moseley asked the reason, Virgil said he replied that he’d carried the torch in 1960. When Moseley handed him the torch, Virgil said, the skier unexpectedly took Virgil’s camera from his neck and shot photographs of Virgil holding the torch. “One gal behind me in the crowd asked me for my autograph. I got … my 15 minutes of fame,” Virgil said. Virgil was able to pursue his love of photography during his decades with Andregg Surveying. Surveying and photography, he said, “go hand in hand.” While at work, and on his own time, he has also photographed “anything that’s getting torn down or built up,” he said, including Highway 40 and the Lincoln Highway. He has also documented projects such as the dismantling and refurbishing of the Loomis Depot. One of his last projects for Andregg was the research and boundary location for the Loomis downtown improvement plan. Virgil has also been documenting the streetscape project at Auburn’s Central Square. He has assembled a display about the Squaw Valley 1960 Olympics that can be viewed at the Tango Yogurt Shop off of Central Square. The display includes a storyboard with newspaper clippings about local torchbearers and photographs he has collected that show Squaw Valley buildings and structures, such as the ice arena and ski jump, that were demolished years ago. Virgil said he’d like Tango customers to get a “little bit of history” with their yogurt. Virgil said his wife, Janet, retired in November as manager for Placer Title in Auburn. She now manages Auburn Photography, Virgil’s business. Their son, Mike, lives in New Jersey, said Virgil, and calls them every Sunday. And he still refers to Loomis as “home.”