Joe Burk, Penn Athletics Hall of Famer and retired rowing coach, passed away January 13 from complications of an accidental leg fracture. He was 94 years old.
As a competitor, Mr. Burk was the national single sculls champion four years in a row (1937-40) and two-time winner of the Diamond Sculls at England’s Henley Regatta (1938 and 1939). In addition, he was the 1939 recipient of the James E. Sullivan Award as an outstanding amateur athlete in the United States. Mr. Burk, W ’34, Hon ’88, captained Penn’s crew team of 1936.
He won the 1940 Olympic trials and was favored to win, but the games were cancelled due to WWII. During the war, Mr. Burk commanded the PT-320 in the Pacific, sinking at least 26 enemy barges. He received the Navy Cross and the Silver and Bronze Stars for heroism in action.
After the war, Mr. Burk coached Penn’s rowing team from 1951 to 1969, which included coaching three crews at England’s Henley Regatta, with his 1955 squad emerging victorious. His 1967 varsity eight won the IRA championship, the first time Penn had won the title since 1900.
Mr. Burk was also a training innovator, initiating weight and interval training programs that were not commonly used in the 1950s and the 1960s.
In 2005, Mr. Burk was honored with a bronze sculpture created by Elizabeth Doering that sits in front of the Penn Boathouse on Kelly Drive.
Mr. Burk is survived by his daughter, Kathy. Memorial donations may be made to Penn Rowing. Contact the Penn Athletic Development office at (215) 898-4717 for details.