The Sonju Era

Norm Sonju

Norm Sonju

Born in Hudson, WI, Norm Sonju’s family soon moved to Poulsbo, WA. He became a college rower at Washington under coach “Rusty” Callow.

Working successively as an assistant coach at Washington, real estate agent in Seattle, and a gold miner in Anchorage, Alaska, Sonju came back to rowing as an assistant coach at Cornell in the fall of 1936.

After ten years working alongside R. Harrison “Stork” Sanford, AD Stuhldreher hired Sonju to come to Madison.

Sonju became Wisconsin’s second-longest serving crew coach, in Madison over a span of 22 years. During that period, he consolidated the varsity eight’s winning tradition at the national level initiated by Allen Walz in 1946.

Listen to an Oral History Clip below.

1950 frosh team

1950 frosh team

Like his predecessor Allen Walz, Sonju had to develop a recruiting strategy for a non-scholarship sport. One of Sonju’s most notable recruits was Randy Jablonic, who would become UW’s most successful crew coach.

Listen to an Oral History Clip below.

With Jablonic in the boat, Sonju’s varsity crew won the 1959 National Championship.

Listen to an Oral History Clip below.

Following the 1960 season, Sonju recruited Jablonic as his Freshmen coach.

Listen to an Oral History Clip below.

1966 crew with Sonju trophy

1966 crew with Sonju trophy

Sonju’s varsity eight won three Challenge Cups at the IRA’s, as well as garnering one second place finish. His freshmen, coached by his eventual successor Jablonic, brought home a national title in 1964.

Listen to an Oral History Clip below.

These same young men would win again in 1966 as the Varsity 8.

Listen to an Oral History Clip below.

Sonju was involved in international competition as well. As co-manager of the U.S. Olympic crew in Tokyo in 1964, his eight and pair with coxswain entries each won gold medals.

In 1967, Sonju took the crew to the famous Royal Henley Regatta in Britain, however due to illness he assigned coaching duties to Jablonic. Sonju was an Associate Professor at UW for most of his career in Madison. Upon his retirement in 1968, the university initiated the Sonju Award, given to the UW rower who had made the most outstanding contribution to the success of the season’s crew program.

Frosh Crew Art. 1904 Badger Yearbook, pg 362

Frosh Crew Art. 1904 Badger Yearbook, pg 362