Blog post by Randi Richardson
Cotton Berndt, according to the Bloomington World on August 23, 1917, was offered a job as athletic director at the state university in Gainesville, Florida, but opted instead to remain in a sales position with Showers Bros.
Now Cotton is an odd name and in all the years I’ve done research in Monroe County, I’ve never come across anyone named Berndt, a man obviously so committed to Bloomington that he rather suffer through Indiana’s chilling winters than live in luxury in sunny Florida. Just who was this man? In order to answer that question, I burrowed down a rabbit hole. Here’s what I found.
Cotton, whose given name was Arthur Henry Berndt, was born January 26, 1884, in Indianapolis to a German couple, August and Ernestine Berndt. He graduated from Manual High School as a star athlete and enrolled as a student at Indiana University in 1907 where he began the study of economics and played sports.
Although Arthur was rather short and stout, as noted on his World War I draft registration card, he excelled at sports—football, basketball and baseball. During his sophomore year he was named captain of the first basketball team to get varsity letters and, eventually, according to Bob Hammel who co-authored Glory of Old IU with Kit Klingelhoffer in 1999, was the only Hoosier to captain teams in three sports winning eight varsity letters– three in football, three in baseball and two in basketball—to become one of the most popular athletes in IU history.
After graduating in 1910, Arthur took a coaching job at DePauw University in Greencastle. Two years later he returned to Bloomington and remained connected to Bloomington for the rest of his life. For the first few years he coached basketball and baseball at IU. Subsequently he went to work at Showers working his way up from a sales position to “welfare director.”
From 1935-39, Arthur was Bloomington’s mayor. It was during this period of time that, with the permission of the county commissioners, he took responsibility for the removal of the hitchrack/railing and water troughs from around the courthouse square following decades of resistance to that very thing.
After his stint as mayor, Arthur took a job with IU as the safety and personnel director. In 1947, while serving in that capacity, he became ill. The diagnosis was lung cancer. He died of the disease at his home, 409 N. Indiana Avenue, on July 18, 1947, at the age of 63. Burial was in Rose Hill Cemetery.
He was survived by his wife, Ruth (Griggs) Berndt, and three sons—Arthur Henry, Jr., Hugh Edward and Thomas Griggs. Half a century after his death, in 1997, Arthur Henry Berndt, Sr., was inducted into the IU Athletic Hall of Fame.
So now you have it. At the end of the rabbit hole was a pretty good answer as to Arthur “Cotton” Berndt’s identity, a talented man who few today remember. But just how and why he was called “Cotton.” Well, that remains a mystery.
- “Berndt Heads IU Safety Department,” Indiana Alumni Magazine, October 1939, p. 14. Available online at http://institutionalmemory.iu.edu/aim/bitstream/handle/10333/3173/IAM_October1939.pdf?sequence=1&isAllowed=y.
- “Cotton Berndt, Ex-Bloomington Mayor, IU Athlete, Died,” Martinsville (IN) Daily Reporter, July 19, 1947, p. 1+. Available online at https://www.newspapers.com/image/551401432/.
- Penelope Mathiesen, “Update: Hitchrack ‘Down’ around the Square,” Monroe County Historian, February 2011, p. 10. Available online at https://monroehistory.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/10/vol2011issue1.pdf.