If it were not for an error in the men's soccer career record book, the unusual and unforgettable personal story of Rolf Valtin '48 could have remained hidden forever.
During the nomination process for the Garnet Athletics Hall of Fame, an alumnus notified the athletics department of a mistake in the online edition of the book. According to the caller, two of the players listed - Rolf Wiegelmesser '42 and Rolf Valtin '48 - were actually the same person.
The record book was corrected and Valtin was discovered to be a three-sport star and three-time soccer All-American. In 2013, Valtin was honored for his athletic achievements with induction into the Garnet Athletics Hall of Fame.
Yet an investigation into Valtin's background revealed much more. It turned out that a simple name change and strong athletic career just scratched the surface of his illustrious personal story.
The facts of Valtin's life read like they were stolen from a Hollywood script:
- As a teenager, Valtin, his mother, and his two brothers fled Nazi Germany due to their Jewish and Quaker heritage and fled to America.
- Quakers in Pennsylvania secured his family's place in America, providing housing and scholarships for all three boys at the George School. The Quaker connection is what eventually led Rolf and his brother, Heinz '49, to Swarthmore.
- After just one year at Swarthmore, Valtin was drafted into the U.S. Army during the height of World War II. As a member of the 16th regiment of the first infantry division, he participated in the assault on Omaha Beach during the Normandy invasion.
- He returned to Swarthmore in 1946, but with a new last name. While in the Army, he changed his last name from Wiegelmesser to Valtin, a variation of his mother's maiden name.
- Once back on campus, Valtin returned to the soccer pitch and again exceled, earning a pair of All-America honors to finish his athletic career. As a senior, he scored 11 goals, a program record that stood for approximately 30 years.
- Valtin's strong play earned him a spot on the U.S. Olympic soccer team, sending him to the 1948 London summer games. One of the few Swarthmore alums ever to participate in the Olympic games, Valtin scored a goal in an exhibition match against the team from the newly formed State of Israel.
Today, Valtin, 88, recently retired from a long career in labor relations and lives in Alexandria, Va., with his wife, Nancy Eberle Valtin '47. For a war veteran and Olympian, he is exceedingly humble and even a bit bashful of any attention he receives. Yet he described the details of his extraordinary life to members of Swarthmore athletics and the communications office who traveled to his home in late September to present him with his Garnet Athletics Hall of Fame plaque (Valtin was unable to travel to the event). Even when discussing his accomplishments, he continually deflected praise and instead complimented others.
"For you to come all this way with all these people is quite unusual," says Valtin. "And it shows once again what a classy place Swarthmore College really is."