The Roosevelt dime. Do you know how it came about? And do you know its link to polio? Of an unknown cause, polio had been called the summer or swimming disease. And though it usually struck the young, in 1921, it made a wheelchair-bound cripple of a tall, robust politician named Franklin Roosevelt for the rest of his life.

Throughout my youth, he was the only president I ever knew, and amazingly, none of us knew he couldn't walk unaided. The press of that day shielded him.

Then, in 1938, he launched the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis to aid young people similarly afflicted and also uncover the mysteries of this cruel disease.

Later, a grassroots campaign urged the public to contribute a flood of dimes to aid the cause. The subsequent March of Dimes campaign began each year on January 30, FDR's birthday, as collection cans appeared on counters of diners and stores across the nation.

Enough money for research eventually enabled Dr. Jonas Salk to discover the preventive vaccine which would bear his name. Significantly, it was licensed on April 12, 1955 -- exactly 10 years after Roosevelt's death. Subsequent inoculations of youngsters nationwide virtually wiped out polio in this country in the following years.

Eight months after his passing, the Roosevelt dime was issued -- on Jan. 30, 1946.


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Adding a personal note to all this, we repeat the story of Don Grant, my fellow track coach at Encinal High School. Don had been an active 10-year-old with aspirations of becoming a top-rated ball player when he was laid flat on his back by polio in the mid-1930s. The doctor told his mother he would never walk again.

That doctor knew Don physically, but not mentally. His mother couldn't keep him in his wheelchair. Sheer determination soon had him crawling all over, grabbing chairs, counters and anything else handy to pull himself upright again. Still on his knees, though, he began playing baseball and football.

When I was attending Cal in 1948 and 1949, Wally Laster, a classmate of mine and a linebacker on Cal's Rose Bowl-bound football team, told me, "We have a guy out there who plays on his knees." I wondered aloud how that was possible, when Laster added, "He's mainly with the Ramblers, but, if you're within 10 yards of him, he'll get you!"

He was talking about Don Grant, all 5-foot-6, 140 pounds of him. Later, he went from using two crutches, to one crutch, to a cane, then clear and actually running. While coaching with him, I learned he was in San Francisco City College's Football and Baseball Halls of Fame.

"Don," I asked him, "How could you play baseball on your knees?"

"Same way I played football," he answered. "I'd hustle on all fours, catching and throwing like everybody else, and I wasn't bad with the bat either."

I've never known anyone else like him -- determination personified!

Contact Joe King at alamedanews@bayareanewsgroup.com.