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A Tribute to Glenn Sundby
(20 votes, average 4.85 out of 5)

Glenn Sundby, who founded INTERNATIONAL GYMNAST magazine in 1956, is 87. He has faced some health issues in the past couple of years, but would be delighted to hear from the worldwide gymnastics family. You can send cards to him at this address: Glenn Sundby, Tenenbaum Villa, 3463 Circulo Adorno, Carlsbad, CA 92009.

In the meantime, we offer the following story about Glenn's life in gymnastics and passion for serving the sport through his publishing efforts. It first appeared in the January 1993 issue of IG. And at the end is a special proposal for all of you.

The Sundby Saga
After 43 years in publishing, Glenn Sundby is gymnastics' biggest promoter

At 14, Glenn Marlin Sundby was the smallest in his class, still too light to be a 98-pound weakling. Knowing conventional sports were out of the question, Sundby thought gymnastics might be the answer. After all, he had always wanted to learn a handstand ever since he saw his uncle do one. So he went out for the gymnastics team at University High School in West Los Angeles in 1936. "It took me a year to learn a handstand and a year to learn a kip," Sundby laughs.

1950s: Sundby, in a handstand, with sister Dolores and George Long atop a 25-story hotel in Miami Beach

In short, he wasn't very good that freshman year, so he didn't bother trying out as a 10th grader. But he did spend that sophomore summer at Santa Monica's famous Muscle Beach, a playground for acrobats, weightlifters and Hollywood stunt workers. Sundby's skill increased so quickly he rejoined the gym team as a junior and became the school's top scorer.

Muscle Beach became Sundby's hangout — and professional training ground. He met people like Jack LaLanne, Steve Reeves, Vic and Armond Tanny and Joe Gold. Reeves went on to become Hercules, LaLanne pioneered an exercise show (and now pitches juicers), and Vic Tanny and Gold made their marks in the health club business.

Sundby built his future at Muscle Beach too. That's where he met his handbalancing partner, George Wayne Long, and the two hit the road in 1939 to perform in "anything from carnivals to theatres to small nightclubs." Sundby was only 18 at the time, but his father's sudden death had forced him to choose working over attending college. "Wayne and Marlin" did their thing, but after seven years, itched for a change. "We decided we needed a trio, because the girl always helps the act," Sundby says. "So we taught my sister, Dolores, and she joined us and we just traveled around doing shows everywhere."

"The Wayne-Marlin Trio" was based in New York City, and Sundby, looking for something extra to do, launched his first publishing effort in 1949. "A lot of friends discouraged me," he says. "They said, 'What do you know about type? What do you know about agates?' It didn't bother me. In spite of all the conflicts, I just went ahead and said, 'I'll do it,' and had fun."

ACROBAT For about two years, Sundby published ACROBAT magazine with the volunteer help of a few friends. Dick Wilson, who had an art background, helped with the layout, and Joe Shuster contributed a cartoon, "The Adventures of Jim Nast." Wilson went on to become Mr. Whipple ("Please, don't squeeze the Charmin!"), and Shuster had already created the Superman comic book character.

"The final curtain for ACROBAT came when we joined "Spike Jones and His Musical Insanities" and traveled all over the country on one-nighters and one-week stands for the next five years," Sundby says. "Our final tour with Spike was to Australia in 1955, with a stop-over in Hawaii. On our return to California, which had become our home base, we decided to break up our act. My sister got married and my partner became a Jesuit Brother, tired of traveling at the ripe old age of 34. At 36, I retired to manage the property investments I had made during the previous few years."


Sundby balancing work and pleasure at THE MODERN GYMNAST office in the late 1950s

Retired? Not for long. "Since I had the time and a little capital I thought I would try publishing again," Sundby says. "Five years after I quit doing the ACROBAT magazine I was still getting letters from subscribers. So, as a hobby, I went back into it a little bit. First, I sent out a card that asked, 'Would you like to get a gymnastics magazine?' And those cards that came back gave me a mailing list. Then I did my first complimentary edition (December 1956) and sent it to everybody, free, with a subscription form. I sent out probably 2-3,000 magazines and got back about 450 subscribers. And by the time I got the first official issue out — May '57 — from there on it was just up and down, and I had incomes from the properties that kept me going.

"I did everything in the first magazines. I took most of the pictures, wrote all the articles, did all the layout, stapled them together and trimmed the edges, stuck all the stamps, and sorted them all into bundles for the post office. But it was kind of exciting and fun. It was a challenge, but at the time it was not a livelihood. But through the years it came to a point where I either had to make it a business or quit."

And there is one thing Sundby just won't do, and that's quit. "The interest in gymnastics was low in those days, and the growth was slow," Sundby recalls. "But my interest and the need for the magazine seemed to be important to me, so I hung in there, selling my properties little by little to keep it going."

The 1960s brought new challenges to Sundby, and he met them head on. He helped found the U.S. Gymnastics Federation (USGF) and was on the committee that selected Frank Bare as executive director. Sundby served as a vice president and THE MODERN GYMNAST became the unofficial publication of the USGF.

"When he committed to the USGF (now USA Gymnastics) when it was brand new in 1962-63," Bare says, "there was a lot of pressure on him, politically, that his magazine would suffer, etc. But he never wavered. He just hung in there from day one, and even though we were not the governing body (the AAU was until 1970), and we didn't have any money, and we didn't have any clout with anybody overseas, he nonetheless decided that that's the way he was going to go. He's always been such a great idea man, and he believes in what he's trying to do."

In 1963 Sundby started the Santa Monica Gymfest "to have a fun competition where all could enjoy gymnastics without caring who won." After covering the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, Sundby married Barbara Bach, and four years later they adopted a son, Scott.

In 1965 Sundby continued his quest to serve the sport better. "Originally, we did mostly men in the magazine, because women's gymnastics was not that big," he says. "And the women were complaining, so I decided to try a magazine just for women, MADEMOISELLE GYMNAST, and it lasted a few years until the cost of doing two magazines became prohibitive.

Sundby sits proudly in his office in 1966


A new name and a new look, the GYMNAST combined men's and women's gymnastics in 1972. But the sport itself was not thriving and again the magazine faced trouble times. Until the Munich Olympics, that is.

"Something's come along each time we were about to go over the edge," Sundby says. "The Olga Korbut phenomenon of the 1972 Olympics stimulated interest in worldwide gymnastics, and we had a tremendous growth in the magazine."


Nadia Comaneci's domination of the 1976 Montreal Olympics fed more fuel to the fire, and Sundby's magazine took on yet another new name, but one that would stick. "Dr. Josef Goehler was doing OLYMPISCHE TURNKUNST magazine out of Germany, a very fine magazine in several languages," Sundby says. "When that magazine folded I asked Dr. Goehler to be our foreign correspondent, and in the process, changed the name to INTERNATIONAL GYMNAST."

Always looking to promote the sport more completely, Sundby started up ACROSPORTS in 1975 and took over GYMNASTICS WORLD from RUNNER'S WORLD in 1977. The former became the official publication of the U.S. Sports Acrobatics Federation, which Sundby co-founded with George Nissen. GW became sort of a children's version of IG.

Neither magazine made it past 1982, but both served a purpose at the time. You see, Sundby never was the type to make a profit and use it on himself. He always put it back into the business. But many outsiders believed he was living the high life, rich from his gymnastics publications. That was never his style, nor his goal.

"I think so many people over the years haven't supported the magazine because they never felt he needed it," Bare says. "So many of them would buy one issue and pass it around the gym, which they probably still do, with the idea that, 'Well, Glenn travels all over the world, and Glenn lives in California. Therefore, he probably doesn't need any support.'"

Instead of support, Sundby received competition when the USGF came out with its own magazine — one that resembled IG quite a bit. The USGF's publication came 'free' as part of a gymnast's annual registration fee, so IG felt the effect in its circulation. Gymnasts just entering the sport didn't know there were two different gymnastics magazines, even after they had seen both.

"I felt the USGF was a non-profit foundation, and I was fighting an unequal battle with one hand tied behind my back," Sundby says. "But I figured, 'This is American, that's their right.' They used to have a newsletter, which I fully agreed with. I think they should have a newsletter. What bothers me is that the USGF is the federation of the AAU, Sokols, Turners, YMCAs, etc. All of these groups are under the federation. But when you look in their magazine you don't see reports from all these organizations."

Sundby has seen more than one gymnastics magazine sprout up trying to imitate what he has been doing for 35 years, but when he's at an event, he learns what the people really think. "They say, 'We skim through their magazine but we sure look through yours,'" Sundby says. "They like the depth and the detail that we have."

That's because of Sundby's tenacious character. That's why every score for every gymnast at a World Championships or Olympics is printed in the magazine. That's why he took individual head shots of all 305 gymnasts at the 1985 Montreal World Championships — during the competition. (And he got most of them to smile.) That's why all of the teams that competed at Barcelona are pictured in the 1992 Olympic issue.

"To me, every Olympic competitor is important," Sundby says. "They are the best from their country. Win or lose, it is an honor they can pass on to their grandchildren with pride."

Sundby among the photographers at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics

Leafing through the more than 500 publications Sundby has produced is a nostalgic trek through gymnastics history. His magazines and posters fill most every gym in the country, and subscribers feel a special bond to their own collections. If not for Sundby, the magazine would never have made it into the 1960s, let alone the 1990s. "I have a tenacity of some sort," he admits. "It's not talent, it's just not giving up."

"There are some people that you'll meet — not many — throughout your lifetime that are completely devoted to a particular idea," says Bruce Frederick, long-time Education Editor for IG. "And sometimes the devotion isn't rational and people think that you're crazy. But these people persist, and in the end they accomplish things."

But usually not alone. Sundby has had many instrumental co-workers along the way. "Dick Criley was very helpful," he says of his Associate Editor. "And, of course, Bruce Frederick was very helpful as an historian."

There is something about the man that evokes a fierce loyalty where his long-time employees are concerned. Before she passed away in 1983, Office Manager Eleanor Brown had "held him together" for 23 years, and Carolyn Booth (the pleasant voice that answers the IG phone) is now in her 17th year.

"Glenn is a unique person, in his personal life and in his business," Booth says. "He would give away the store to friend and stranger alike. He always looks on the positive side of gymnastics, and everything in his life, which he attributes to his deep faith in God. He also has a way of seeing things and carrying through, even when no one else thinks it is possible."

Sundby, who always ended his editorials with "Have a Happy Handstand," admits that the magazine couldn't have survived without the multitude of contributors from around the world. While Dr. Goehler's monthly reports were integral to IG's international coverage, Eileen Langsley has unselfishly shared her excellent photography with IG readers for more than a decade.

But nothing lasts forever. As the 1990s hit, Sundby found himself finalizing a divorce from his wife and searching for someone to purchase IG. Now he is handing over the publishing reins to Paul Ziert, who coached Bart Conner to Olympic gold in 1984 and who now manages the careers of Conner and Nadia Comaneci.

Sundby isn't retiring, though. After his daily morning workouts — "I can finally do a hollowback press again" — he stays busy working at his latest project, the International Gymnastics Hall of Fame in Oceanside, Calif. He'll remain as a consultant to IG, but his boundless energy will be directed toward opening the Hall of Fame, once and for all.

Like his early magazine ventures, Sundby sees a parallel with the Hall of Fame. He conceived the project in 1977 but couldn't begin work on it until 1986, when he finally found a facility in Oceanside. (In 1996 Ziert and Conner moved the Hall of Fame to Oklahoma City, where it is still growing today.)

Sundby may have been small and sickly as a child, and he may not have been a top-level gymnast, but his impact on gymnastics worldwide may never be matched. "He's the most decorated person in the sport," Frederick says. "There's no one who's gotten more awards than Glenn."

The awards mean little to someone like Sundby, though. "I have enough plaques, enough awards to last me for the rest of my life," he says. What's really important to Sundby is his life's work. "Is gymnastics a better place since I've been here?" he asks. "Have I made a contribution to the sport that gave me health?"

Indeed, he has, many times over. On behalf of Glenn Sundby, Have a Happy Handstand.

Sundby poses for the January 1993 IG cover


If you've read this far, you must be like so many of us who absolutely love gymnastics. When I was in high school in the early 1970s, my older sister subscribed to MODERN GYMNAST. She bought me a subscription too. I carried it everywhere. By the end of each month, I had read my "MG," cover to cover, numerous times. I kept my subscription going until 1982, when I joined the IG staff. IG has truly become my life, and my sister still subscribes.

I know I'm not alone in my love for gymnastics. I recognize the names of some of you who have faithfully written Letters to the Editor for years. Abby, Anita, Toby, and everyone else. Thank you.

Remarkably, IG is one of the longest-running magazines of any kind in the world. So I am asking all of you to do something special for Glenn Sundby. Something to keep his publishing dream alive and well for many years to come. And we all know how difficult that can be in the Internet age. But I remember Glenn often saying, "A little bit from a lot of people can make a huge difference."

Here is what I propose:

To IG Subscribers: If IG has had a positive impact on your life, send a subscription to someone you know will love it as much as you.

To Non-subscribers: Sign up today online. You won't regret it. I know I didn't.

We all need to give back to Glenn Sundby, the man who sacrificed so much to help so many. I'll be the first to make a difference. Today I have bought a subscription for my niece, who is a gymnast in Maryland. Who will be next?

Thank you,
IG Editor Dwight Normile

Comments (4)add comment

Uzilee Swinson said:

Uzilee Swinson
Glenn is so amazing and did such a wonderful job creating and directing this magazine.
March 13, 2009
Votes: +7

bodrum tatil otel said:

bodrum tatil
Glenn is so amazing and did such a wonderful job creating and directing this magazine.
September 26, 2009 | url
Votes: +0

Rick Russell said:

IG Founder Glenn Sundby Passes Away
I was thinking of Glenn Sundby, and the last time I saw Glenn, he was down at the Encinitas street fair and Glenn was there alone walking around the crowd and he was looking kind of white and pale and didn't look like he had any sun for awhile, and he always seemed to be in the Sunshine and we have gone to the beach before when he was staying at his Hall of Fame of Gymnastics and after I helped him move to the Oceanside Towers Apartments and he was always at the beach and that kept his body and skin healthy and looked good.
Rick Russell smilies/smiley.gif
February 27, 2010
Votes: +0

Harry Ahn said:

Mr. Sundby was my Sunday school teacher at First Baptist Church in west Los Angeles. He gave me a ride in his Sunbeam sports car. He was a humble man and a servant of God. We the students loved him.
He influence my life. Thank you, Mr. Sundby.
April 07, 2012
Votes: +0

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