On This Day…100 Years Ago Rockne Wed

100 years ago today, on July 15, 1914, exactly one month after receiving his Bachelor of Science degree from the University of Notre Dame, Knute Rockne married Bonnie Skiles in a simple ceremony in the parish rectory of Saints Peter and Paul Catholic Church in Sandusky, Ohio. The witnesses were Charles “Gus” Dorais, the groom’s close friend and Notre Dame teammate, and Marie Balzarina, a friend of the bride.

Knute and Bonnie Rockne later in life. They married on July 14, 1914 in Sandusky, Ohio.

Knute and Bonnie Rockne later in life. They married on July 14, 1914 in Sandusky, Ohio.

The couple had met in the summer of 1913 while both worked at the Cedar Point resort on Lake Erie, just outside Sandusky. Bonnie, from nearby Kenton, Ohio, worked as a waitress. Rockne and Dorais carried on a well-established tradition of Notre Dame students working the summer at Cedar Point. They put in shifts as restaurant checkers, night-watchmen, telephone operators, night clerks, lifeguards – whatever was available that might add up to a decent payday.

“But we played our way on the beach with a football, practicing forward passing. There was nothing much else for two young fellows without much pocket money to do,” Rockne would write.

Rockne wasn’t exactly a ladies man. His friend and fellow trackman John Devine and his future wife Kitty Leeper would occasionally set up double-dates including Rockne. Kitty later recalled Rockne “was so bashful and self-conscious that he would scarcely say a word all evening and hence rarely had a repeat date with the same girl.”

But in the demure, dark-haired Bonnie Skiles, Knute felt he found someone special. They maintained their long-distance relationship while Rockne returned to Notre Dame for his senior year, which would include an historic football trip to West Point, New York, where Notre Dame upset Army, 35-13, behind the passing combo of Dorais to Rockne. Knute captained the Irish to a 7-0 record, completed with a 30-7 rout of Texas in Austin.

A few weeks before the wedding, Bonnie had come to Sts. Peter and Paul to make arrangements with Rev. William F. Murphy. The priest would later describe Bonnie as “a pious and devout young lady, without ostentation, modern in her ways and manners, capable of winning the hand and heart of the staid and judicious Rockne. Her womanly qualities were of a superior kind.”

Bonnie enjoyed Knute’s maturity, as he was nearly four years her senior, yet she saw a playful, kind, and gentle nature in contrast to a sometime rugged exterior. The two began married life in a boarding house on St. Louis Blvd. just south of campus. Rockne was eager to start his new assignments at Notre Dame – as head track coach, assistant football coach, and chemistry instructor in the prep school, for a salary of $1,000 per year.

Though filled with hopes and optimism, it’s hard to imagine either could have foreseen that in a few short years, Rockne would attain the status of one of the nation’s best-known and most respected celebrities – always realizing that, as he traveled the nation, Bonnie tended to home and their four children with love and grace.