Legendary horse race announcer to receive St. Norbert College degree

DE PERE, Wis. (WBAY) - All eyes will be on Churchill Downs Saturday, May 4, for the 145th Kentucky Derby. It's the first leg of horse racing's Triple Crown.

The derby was first held in 1876 before a crowd of about 10,000. This year, more than 150,000 spectators are expected at the track.

One of those spectators is a soon-to-be St. Norbert College graduate at the age of 68.

And he also happens to be a legendary horse racing announcer who called Triple Crown races on national television for decades.

For Tom Durkin, it's been a journey from college to the race track and back.

Durkin first learned about St. Norbert College in De Pere when a priest visited his Illinois high school.

"And the first thing he said is, where do the Green Bay Packers have their summer camp? And I thought, I'm a Bears fan, I'm not going there. But we took a weekend trip over there, me and my best buddy, and we fell in love with the place right off the start," recalls Durkin.

With his Irish blood, Durkin says he was born to talk, love horses and tell stories.

As a theater student at St. Norbert, he nurtured that passion to call races and credits his teacher for sparking his career.

"Kelly Collum taught me the most important lesson of my life, and I would write that down on every race program I ever used, one word: energy," says Durkin.

Two courses shy of earning his degree, Durkin pursued his dream.

"The happiest moment of my life took place at St. Norbert College in front of the statue of Abbot Pennings. It's when a buddy of mine said he had been hitchhiking and he found a guy that ran the county fair races in Wisconsin and he offered me the job. I literally did a handstand in front of Abbot Pennings statue. That was the happiest day of my life," says Durkin with a smile.

Over the next 43 years, Durkin would become a legendary announcer, calling the first 24 years of the Breeder's Cup, and Triple Crown races for NBC before retiring in 2014.

Nine times the stage was set for him to call a Triple Crown winner but it never happened.

"Next year, first horse in 38 years wins the Triple Crown as soon as I take a step out of that booth," says Durkin with a chuckle.

Despite reaching the pinnacle of his profession, one thing always bothered Durkin.

"I always felt bad when someone would say, what's you're degree in? I really didn't get a degree, you know," says Durkin.

Thanks to a couple courses at a college near his New York home, that will change next weekend in De Pere, when Durkin walks across the stage with his much younger fellow graduates.

"I just think it's going to be a gas. I think it's kind of a kooky, quirky thing to do. I'm a kooky, quirky sort of person, and I'm just really going to enjoy the hell out of it," says Durkin, grinning from ear to ear.

We welcome comments and civil discussions. powered by Disqus