Jerry Nudelman sat hunkered underneath a large pile of strange carrot-shaped tubers deep in Nazi Germany, waiting to make his move. Nudelman, a sergeant in the 104th Infantry, had been captured 42 days earlier when German soldiers surrounded a farmhouse his platoon had been hiding in. He was thrown onto a truck and forced into hard manual labor, digging for unusual vegetation and searching for any hope of escape.
Jerry Nudelman sat hunkered underneath a large pile of strange carrot-shaped tubers deep in Nazi Germany, waiting to make his move.
Nudelman, a sergeant in the 104th Infantry, had been captured 42 days earlier when German soldiers surrounded a farmhouse his platoon had been hiding in. He was thrown onto a truck and forced into hard manual labor, digging for unusual vegetation and searching for any hope of escape.
The opportunity to escape came just before lunch on one of those miserable days, when Nudelman asked his buddies to bury him in one of the piles before the guards signaled the lunch break. While the rest of the prisoners and guards wandered up the road to eat, Nudelman busted out of the pile and took off for some nearby woods without looking back.
After a three-day trek, Nudelman made it back to his regiment before sustaining a serious leg injury that knocked him out of the war for good. After being discharged in 1946 with nothing but a slight limp and three Purple Hearts and a couple of Bronze Stars to show for his trouble in WWII, Nudelman moved to Texas with his young wife Elinore before eventually settling in Portland in the 1960s.
More than sixty years after escaping from Nazi imprisonment, Nudelman is fighting a different sort of battle—against Grizzlies, Hornets, Eagles and even the occasional Lumberjack.
For the past 40 years, Nudelman has been one of Portland State athletics’ biggest supporters, doing everything from drumming up support for Pokey Allen’s football team (he once gave $1 to each student who attended a game) to making generous monetary donations.
A talented businessman with an MBA from Columbia University and the owner of several businesses during his lifetime, Nudelman said he’s been fortunate to be able to donate hundreds of thousands of dollars to Portland State over the decades, some years donating as much as $50,000.
Once a part-time professor at PSU, Nudelman was introduced to Viking athletics by a close friend, former PSU professor Mike Tichy. Nudelman said he started donating the money because the program was hurting for cash and he wasn’t, but the time and energy he’s expended has been just as valuable as the ridiculous checks.
“We really became involved within the athletic department when Pokey Allen was here,” Nudelman said. “Pokey Allen and his staff and I became good friends. I became very much involved in the development of funds for the program. I became president of the Viking Athletic Club for two years trying to raise money.”
Nudelman has been around for some of the best times—back-to-back Division II football championship appearances feature prominently in his mind—and the worst, including when basketball was cut in the ‘80s prior to moving to Division I in 1996.
He said one year Safeway donated 1,500 hotdogs to give to students at a football game, but only 600 were actually consumed.
“Pokey actually woke up this town and the whole state,” Nudelman said.
Aside from his deep friendship with the legendary Allen, Nudelman said much of the pleasure he gets from supporting the Vikings stems from getting to know the players and watching them grow and develop.
The same was true for his wife of 60 years, Elinore, who passed away two years ago. Elinore’s name is on the walls of both the men’s and women’s locker rooms as a tribute to her passionate support for the Vikings.
“It’s so great for the coaches and the players to know there’s someone like Jerry out there who cares as much as he does,” said athletic director Torre Chisholm. “He takes the time to get to know the players, shows an interest in things they care about. Overall, it’s great to have someone like him around the program.”
Nudelman was born in Brooklyn, N.Y., on July 2, 1923. His father, Mike, was a first baseman for a semi-pro baseball team, the Brooklyn Bushwicks. The team would play a doubleheader on Saturday and a doubleheader on Sunday, passing the hat around after each game, then dividing the money between the visiting team and the 20 Brooklyn players.
“My dad had a season ticket [to the Brooklyn Dodgers] on the box alongside third base. The other three seats were for the Archdiocese. We’d be sitting with nuns, priests, bishops, that sort of thing,” Nudelman said.
An athlete from a young age, Nudelman recalls playing stickball, punchball and basketball while growing up in Depression-era New York.
“Since I was a baby, I grew up around sports. I enjoy seeing people feel like they’ve accomplished something. It’s a great confidence builder,” Nudelman said. “I’m a risk taker. I think that’s due to the background I had.”
Nudelman and his wife moved to Texas in 1954, a year before their daughter Jamie was born. The family bounced around the Lone Star state, as Nudelman owned and ran several businesses until making the decision that whenever Jamie started school, the family would put down roots.
In 1961, the Nudelmans arrived in Portland and haven’t left. Jerry, 84, lives steps away from the Peter W. Stott Center and his beloved Vikings, and he sees his daughter Jamie at least twice a week.
Always opinionated, especially about Viking athletics, Nudelman said he likes what he sees this year. A good friend of former football head coach Tim Walsh, Nudelman likes new coach Jerry Glanville and said he knew the team needed more talent to compete and wasn’t surprised by their 3-8 year.
“Jerry is a good recruiter, there’s no question about that,” Nudelman said. “I think we’re all looking forward to it [next season].”
Nudelman has a good relationship with most of the Portland State coaches. Women’s basketball head coach Sherri Murrell occasionally allows Nudelman to give her team advice-filled pep talks, and former softball head coach Teri Mariani is close with Nudelman, who calls her his “fiancée.”
“I know Jerry very well. He is probably my favorite all-time PSU supporter. Anytime you need anything, he’s the guy you call,” Mariani said.
When Mariani was interim athletic director for 13 months, Nudelman became one of her closest advisers, giving Mariani someone she could vent to and bounce ideas off of.
“He knows it from the business side. He also knows the fan/booster perspective,” Mariani said. “He comes to a lot of the events. He’s not just into one sport. He comes to women’s sports, men’s sports. And he knows the historical perspective of things.”
Nudelman also chafes at the Vikings’ place within the Oregon sports universe and even the PSU community, once cornering a prominent professor who didn’t support having an athletic program and grilling him for an answer.
“I still go to all the games. I still support all the teams. I’m very positive about everybody,” Nudelman said.
The last time Nudelman saw Pokey Allen before he died from a rare form of cancer, the coach asked the booster to never forget him. Allen’s place in Portland State history is secure. So is Jerry Nudelman’s.