By Cecily Markland
When Wilford Parley “Whizzer” White died on August 1, 2013, at 84, headlines in the Arizona Republic called him an “ASU football legend,” an “all-time great athlete” and “the first star in Arizona State football history.”
Wilford excelled in four sports while attending Mesa High School and was ASU’s first All-American in football. He went on to play professionally for the Chicago Bears. Indeed, on the gridiron, the Mesa native was known for his “speed and toughness” and how “he always found ways to gain extra yards.” A charter inductee into the ASU Sports Hall of Fame, his number—33—is one of only five ASU has retired.
The article also noted that Whizzer White was “father of former ASU great Danny White”
All of that adds up to reason enough to remember Wilford White.
Yet, says his daughter, Teresa Yetter, of the Hermosa Vista Stake, “He was so much more than his state and national football records or track records. He was an incredible all-round athlete, but he was an All-American dad.”
He was born September 26, 1928, to Isham Erdy White and Annie Belle Garner—“who had migrated west from Alabama to be with the Saints and near the temple,” Teresa says.
That commitment to the gospel spilled over into Wilford’s life as well. He was a faithful member of the Church and served in many callings throughout the years.
“He made sure we were at church every week,” Teresa says. She says her brother, Danny, often tells a story that speaks much about their father’s priorities. Danny had been out late with a sporting event on a Saturday night and slept in Sunday, missing the early-morning Priesthood Meeting that was the practice before the block plan. “Danny says dad later told him that if he ever missed Priesthood meeting because of sports again, he would have to give up sports.”
“More than anything, he loved his family,” Teresa says. First on that list is his high school sweetheart and wife of 62 years, Shirley Merrill White; and his children: Danny White (JoLynn), Teresa Yetter (Rich), Tammy Malone (Scott), Cristall Hall (Mark), Chad White (Michele); 26 grandchildren and 42 great-grandchildren.
“He enjoyed supporting his grandsons and granddaughters in their endeavors, whether in sports, music or Scouting,” Teresa says.
He also shared his own talents and interests freely.
“It wasn’t just sports, but so many other things that brought us so much fun and entertainment with our dad,” Teresa says.
He loved the outdoors—and hunting, fishing and camping with the family. He enjoyed gardening, especially growing black-eyed peas and okra—foods he grew up on that haled back to his parents’ Alabama roots.
“He loved music, and was never found without a harmonica in his pocket,” Teresa says. While many think his nickname is tied to football, Teresa said, “He got the nickname ‘Whizzer’ after playing his harmonica as a freshman at Mesa High at a school assembly. The press called him the ‘wizard of the harmonica,’ which then was changed to ‘Whizzer.’”
“About six years ago, we got dad in the studio and recorded him playing hymns, the Mesa High Fight Song, ‘Home on the Range’ and other favorites,” Teresa says. “I am so glad we preserved those memories.”
At the time of his death, Wilford owned the Mesa Merchant Police, founded by his father in 1938.