May 19, 2022

Botu Linum

The Car & Automotive Devotees

Canzano: This Oregon license plate has OHIO ST written all over it

5 min read

His father worked for the United States Department of Agriculture. Marlin Icenogle grew up in the western part of New York state, but he remembers the family moving to Texas for the citrus season and spending his summers in Ohio for the corn and tomatoes.

“We were like carnival people,” he said.

I suppose that’s how you end up in the food business yourself, as the kid later did. But I tracked Icenogle down over the last few weeks with another question: “Are you the owner of the vehicle with that blasted license plate?”

More on that in a bit.

Oregon will travel to Columbus, where the Ducks will play Ohio State on Saturday. The Buckeyes haven’t lost in their home stadium since 2017 when Baker Mayfield beat them, then planted Oklahoma’s flag at midfield. That’s 23 straight home victories, and more impressively, under coach Ryan Day nobody has even played within six points.

The betting line: Buckeyes by 14.5.

The expected attendance: 102,000-plus.

The license plate?

“Yeah,” Icenogle told me over the phone, “that’s mine.”

A few months ago, I met Icenogle’s son-in-law in the parking lot of a Starbucks. I’d noticed a silver 4Runner parked in the far corner of the lot. Normal enough, except for one thing. The vehicle’s personalized Oregon license plate read: “OHIO ST” And I had to know how that driver felt motoring around the state of Oregon getting looks on the freeway lately.

Turns out Icenogle, who now lives in Milwaukie, broke his hip at the beginning of the pandemic. He was immobile for a stretch and because of that lent the 4Runner to his son-in-law, Chris Hoem. He’s been driving around, getting occasional waves, strange looks, some honks, and a Michigan fan even tracked him down to ask, “What gives?” So Hoem wasn’t all that surprised to find me waiting outside his car to find out who owned the vehicle with those prop-Buckeye plates.

Icenogle, 86, has owned a few cars in his lifetime. He told me about them on that phone call. There was a Buick station wagon from the late 1960s, a few Fords including an Explorer, then a Jeep Cherokee and the 4Runner. All of them in scarlet red or silver/gray. He’s transferred that prized “OHIO ST” license plate from vehicle to vehicle. I originally wanted to know the story of the plate, but as I spoke with the guy who owns it I became far more interested in his journey.

He attended college at Ohio State, of course. Graduated in 1957 with a degree in agriculture. Icenogle met his wife in church in Illinois while working one of his early jobs in the industry. He remembers seeing Nancy, now 83, and thinking, “I like the look of that young lady.”

Also, he said, “I thought, ‘I’ll bet I could make her a Buckeye fan.’”

He’s sort of right — and wrong — about that. Nancy, who attended the University of Illinois, sits and watches the games with him. Even though they live in Oregon, the couple had Ohio State football season tickets for years. They’d make the trip to Columbus, wear scarlet, and cheer for the Buckeyes.

What’s it like to be married to an Ohio State fan?

Said Nancy: “I am telling you … it … is … hell.”

On trips across the country, she said her husband plastered their cars with Buckeyes flags and logos. He wears Ohio State T-shirts, more than once they’ve run into other Buckeyes fans on vacations.

“You can’t believe how many Ohio Staters are out there,” Nancy said. “They stand around and have these boring conversations and I get to go see Yellowstone on my own. So that’s what it’s like. I went to Illinois, who hasn’t had a great team since Red Grange.”

Her husband, in the background, had a good laugh at that one.

Marlin and Nancy moved to Oregon in 1965. He was hired by Smuckers to run their plant in Woodburn. He ran another one in the state of Washington. They had three daughters, who gave them 10 grandchildren. There are two great-grand children, too. The entire family has enjoyed Ohio State football in some form or fashion at some time. They’ve rooted for Oregon State, and supported the teams here, but Columbus remains a special place in the Icenogle story.

“Every year we’d go back to games,” Marlin said, “and sometimes we’d take children or grandchildren.”

One of his daughters, Julie, said one of her most vivid family traditions was waking up every Saturday morning during college football season to the sound of the Ohio State fight song blaring throughout their home.

“He’d crank it,” she said, “… Buckeyes are nuts — literally.”

Ohio Stadium is the third largest in college football, with a capacity of 102,780. The National Park Service added it to the National Registry of Historic Places. Also, it might be the toughest place in the country for a visiting college football team to play.

“The size of that stadium is something,” Marlin said. “All you see is red.”

It’s been a tough year for the Icenogles. That broken hip was a bummer. He tripped on a rug on a vacation and fell. The pandemic has made it more difficult to see the kids and grandkids. Football, for a time, came to a stop.

“I looked around,” Marlin said, “and I saw people who had it a lot worse than I did.”

Perspective is a wonderful ally, isn’t it?

Marlin said he subscribes to The Columbus Dispatch to read about his football team. Like a lot of Oregonians, he’s been looking forward to seeing the Ducks play the Buckeyes. He’s been excited about this game for a while. A lot of us have. So I’ll think about him a little as I settle into my seat in the press box on Saturday at the stadium. I’ll look around at the sea of scarlet in the parking lot and stands. There will be 100,000 Marlin Icenogles in one place on Saturday.

Said Nancy: “Don’t get me started on those Ohio Staters.”

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