Article Last Updated:
Saturday, December 01, 2001 - 6:58:32 AM MST

Humboldt County great Elta
Cartwright dies at 93 

The Times-Standard



Humboldt County lost its first great women's athlete, and perhaps its greatest of all, Thursday when Elta Cartwright Stromberg Hendricksen died at age 93.   Hendricksen, a native of Eureka and a resident of Ferndale, died in Fortuna. 

On July 4, 1928, Elta Cartwright keynoted an outstanding track career at age 20 by winning the women's 100-meter dash in the Olympic track-and-field trials in Newark, N.J.  Because the 100 was the first women's final of the trials, Cartwright became the first woman to qualify for a U.S. Olympic team for the Summer Games held that year in Amsterdam.

The then Humboldt State student posted a time of 12.6 seconds that tied the world record and has been bettered only once in 56 years of Humboldt State women's track and field competition.  In 1959 she would become the first female athlete named to the Humboldt State Sports Hall of Fame. On the eve of 2000, she was listed No. 3 of the Top 100 North Coast Athletes of the Century by The Times-Standard.  In 1928 she earned an instant nickname from the nation's press of "Cinder-Elta."  "They called me, 'Cinder-Elta' because I ran on a cinder path and my name was Elta," she said in a 1992 interview published in the Times-Standard.

It was a Cinderella story to many in the nation, including Cartwright.

"Over 100 people tried out of the 100 meters alone, and I won it," Elta said in 1992. "I was so thrilled and happy. .... I never thought I'd be able to make the team, but they kept telling me I was good material."  Still, her triumph didn't come as a surprise to many back home. 

The Humboldt State College student enjoyed one of her biggest victories, in fact, in Eureka at Albee Stadium, where on Sept. 3, 1927, she won both the 100- and 50-yard runs in the AAU National Championships held on one of her home tracks.  It was at Eureka High and Albee Field where Cartwright really began to excel as a sprinter under the guidance of Laura Herron. Every year she ran in telegraphic events, held simultaneously across the nation, with results wired in to central headquarters from each school.

"Eureka always seemed to come out first," Cartwright said, and she did well enough to qualify for four national competitions between 1925 and 1928.  She won the 50-yard dash and finished second in the 100 at the 1925 AAU National Championships in Pasadena, and then won the 100 and placed third in the long jump a week later at the Pacific Coast Championships in San Francisco.  In 1926 at the AAU "Sesquicentennial National Championships," celebrating the nation's 150th birthday in Philadelphia, Elta won the 50 and placed third as a member of a 440-yard relay team and in the long jump.

In those days they ran most events in yards, at least in national, college and high school events. The main sprint event was the 100-yard dash, then the 220-yard and 440-yard dashes.

In the 1928 Olympics in Amsterdam, Cartwright failed to qualify for the finals, after becoming seasick on the ocean voyage from New York. She was happy, though, that Elizabeth Robinson of Chicago, who finished second to her in the U.S. trials, won the gold.

The trials in Newark, which also were the national championships, was the highlight of her running career. She also won two non-Olympic events that day, the 50-yard dash and the long jump, then called the broad jump, with a leap of 17 feet, 10 inches.  "I had to run three 100-meter races, and I won them all," Elta recalled in a 1984 interview. "I ran three 50-yard dashes and won. Then my coach, Laura Herron, said it would be wonderful to get a third gold medal. I said, 'I'm going to do it.'  "And I just made up my mind and jumped out there and got my third medal. That was really the highlight of my athletic career."

When she returned to Eureka from the Olympics, arriving by train, she was greeted by hundreds of cheering fans, and a decorated car carried her in a parade to her home at 12th and H.  That afternoon she drove to Petrolia to begin her career as a school teacher.

In 1932 she married Les Stromberg of Arcata, and they traveled to the 1932 Olympics in Los Angeles on their honeymoon. They lived in Arcata where she had three daughters and in the 1950s operated the Mickey and Minnie Mouse Nursery School.

After her husband's death in 1957, she remarried Menard Hendricksen in 1961. She met the Humboldt County rancher while touring Europe with friends in the summer of 1960 before attending the Olympics in Rome. They lived just outside Ferndale.

She is survived by her three daughters, Judy Dresser, Nancy Murray and Mary Lee Carson.

Friends are invited to a memorial service at Our Saviors Lutheran Church in Ferndale on Monday at 2 p.m. Private interment was held at Greenwood Cemetery in Arcata.

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