Coach Kemp

Toderescu Family

Gordon Ginder

Glory Days

Hart Family Donates Building to Youth Group

Laying a Wreath

Harvest of Love

John Zuschka

Illinois Stories - Springfield PBS station WSEC



September 10, 2006
Triopia High School gymnasium


Readers, please note: The remarks below have been paraphrased and summarized by Molly Daniel. Any errors of fact or quotation from the speakers at this service can be attributed to Molly.


Reverend Don Hatfield, former pastor of Concord Christian Church

Welcome to all of you. This school system has had a tremendous impact on this community, and we are here today to say, “thank you.” The school has definitely made a difference in my family’s life. There are so many people here today who have contributed to that. I am honored to be here today to pay tribute to someone who poured himself into this community, Coach Don Kemp.

Scripture reading and prayer

Reverend David Hatfield, Triopia graduate and currently Shepherding Pastor of Brighton Christian Church, Brighton, MI

Psalm 91:1-2, 9-12
“He that dwelleth in the secret place of the most High shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty. I will say of the Lord, He is my refuge and my fortress: my God; in him will I trust.”

“Because thou hast made the Lord, which is my refuge, even the most High, thy habitation; There shall no evil befall thee, neither shall any plague come nigh thy dwelling. For he shall give his angels charge over thee, to keep thee in all thy ways. They shall bear thee up in their hands, lest thou dash thy foot against a stone.”

Coach – he was always simply “Coach” to me – others were Coach Farmer or Coach Bartholemew, but there was only one man who was known as simply “Coach.” And everyone knew whom you were talking about when you referred to “Coach.”Coach knew his place and his purpose in life. As a kid growing up in the Triopia community Coach appeared to me to be “larger than life”.  What I came to find out was he was full of life.  He was the kind of man who made you want to do your best. Growing up as kids, we all wanted to play for Coach. He was the face of Triopia at that time.

Philippians 3:12-14
“Not as though I had already attained, either were already perfect: but I follow after, if that I may apprehend that for which also I am apprehended of Christ Jesus. Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended: but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.”

Coach was full of life.  I can remember coming to my first football practice as a freshman under Coach.  Practice started at 6:30, so I got to school at 10 after 6. I met the other players coming out to the field as I was going in. Nobody told me that it takes a while to suit up for practice.  And I thought that I would be there early! Coach Farmer was there and helped me get my pads on and get dressed for practice.

It was well known that Coach liked linemen over backs. So when it was time for the linemen to be separated from the backs I went with the linemen (as did Coach).  I wanted to be one of Coach’s guys.  He took one look at me – all 140 lbs. – and said, “Go over there.”

I think Coach had a way of bringing out the best in all of his players. He had the discernment to know what was your very best.  I believe, even more than winning, this is what satisfied Coach the most – when everyone did their very best and played to their potential.

Coach had as his command in life bringing out the best in others. He did what I Timothy 6:18-19 commands of us

I Timothy 6:18-19
“Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous, and  willing to share  In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the LIFE that is truly LIFE.”And now he has fought the good fight, run the race, and poured his life out as his offering.

II Timothy 4:6-8
 “For I am now ready to be offered, and the time of my departure is at hand. I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith: Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day: and not to me only, but unto all them also that love his appearing.”

“How Great Thou Art” – Wes Hendricker, former Triopia student


Jerry Symons, sports commentator and owner of WEAI/WLDS radio, Jacksonville

Question: Do you remember the first time you encountered Don Kemp? For me, the occasion was an October 1964 game, played at 2 in the afternoon on the ISD field, with Routt hosting Triopia. It had to be an afternoon game as the field had no lights. The game was played there because the Jacksonville Athletic Field was reserved for Jacksonville’s homecoming game that night.

The players sent out on the field that afternoon for the Triopia Trojans were Jim Morrison, Bill Meier, Tom Burrus, Dave Berry, Robert Natemeyer, Jim Paul, Charley Paul, Roger Burrus, Dean Fricke, Dave Schumacker, Art Schumacker, Phelps Sheppard, Randy Schone, Gordon Ginder, Larry Crews and Harlan Fricke. Coach Kemp’s Assistant Coach was Dick Bartholemew. The three officials working the game were Joe Whalen, Tom Mussato, and Harry Fitzhugh.

Routt vs. Triopia – a great rivalry. And Coach fielded a good team. It should have been a great game to report, right? The final score? Zero to zero. Coach Kemp had only nine ties in the more than 300 football games he coached, and I got the first one.

Ron Tendick and I knew that two things were true about the home games coached by Don Kemp:  there would be a large crowd, and the game would not start late. If game time was 7:30 p.m., you knew Coach would be out there on the field with his team. And you could count on him, at 7:29, to turn around and look up in the announcer’s box, raise his hand and give the signal that it was time for the kickoff.

I think it’s fair to say that he was not a patient man. I was very surprised that, upon his retirement, he was presented with a set of golf clubs. Now think about that. Can you imagine Coach Kemp on the green with a foursome, waiting to tee up?

One of Don Kemp’s many great qualities was his loyalty and support of his players. In 1974, when he brought his Triopia Trojans to the first high school football state championship ever, the contest ended in a loss for Triopia. At the press conference after the game, one of the members of the media tried to point out the shortcomings of a particular sophomore running back on the Triopia team. Coach stopped him in mid-sentence, and said, “Look, we would not be here if were not for that young man.” The next year, when Triopia returned and won the state championship, that same running back set records which have not been equaled to this day. In the press conference following the game, the first words out of Coach Kemp’s mouth were, “Do you remember that running back you asked me about last year?”

Yes, he was loyal. I have sought and conducted many interviews with Coach Kemp over the years, and I never knew him to say one negative thing about any of his players.

He liked to be in control, especially in the card games we played in the hotel room the at the state basketball tournament. Coach Kemp and others always stayed at the Prospect Motel in Champaign when they attended the Class “A” State basketball tournaments. And, they always had rooms 30 and 31 – because Coach Kemp never turned the keys back in! They always had a card game on Thursday night before the tournament started, and frequently the tournament lasted into the wee hours of the next morning.

I was invited to one of those card games. Around the table sat Bob Hembrough, Don Kemp, Gene Farmer, Buford Green and myself. We played several hands – till 9 pm, then 10, then 11, then 12. We played cards all night! At one point, we played a hand of dealer’s choice, and I picked Indian Poker. You know what Indian Poker is … each player is dealt one card, you hold it up to your forehead, and the highest card wins. I don’t remember who won that hand, but I know who didn’t. Coach Kemp declared afterward, “We’re not going to play that game any more.” I don’t remember getting asked to play cards again, either.

Consolidated schools don’t always work. But this one did. Not that things always went smoothly for Triopia, but there were three people that made this school work: 

One was Jim Brim, who would meet me at the door of the school building with a firm handshake and, “Good evening, Mr. Symons.” And you knew you had better behave yourself.

A second man is sitting right over there, Ken Bradbury, the Pied Piper of west central Illinois.

And the third, of course, was Don Kemp -- the man who instilled the discipline and respect not only in his players and students but also in their parents and the community. In the military, they would call him the first sergeant.

It was because of these men that this school is the special place that it is now. I am reminded of a verse that Jacqueline Kennedy is said to have quoted to her children at the end of the day when she put them to bed: 

“Don't let it be forgot
That once there was a spot
For one brief shining moment
That was known as Camelot.”

Triopia is a Camelot. With special people. A special place. Don’t ever let it be forgot.

After 36 years at Triopia High School, Coach Kemp received among the tributes to him upon his retirement a plaque from the community, and I would like to read from the second to last paragraph on that plaque:  “… he promoted high moral character among his players and his students.”

Don Kemp is Mr. Triopia.

Buford Green, former teacher in Triopia schools and currently sports announcer and sports writer for the Springfield Journal Register

This is just like Saturday mornings for the past 39 years....Jerry opens with all the good stuff, and I don't get to talk until after the first commercial break.It was my pleasure to have known Coach Kemp for over 30 years. I still remember the day that he asked me to speak at the Triopia Athletic Banquet. The banquet was on a Friday, and he called Tuesday morning to ask me to speak. I wasn’t too keen on the idea, and tried to put him off. “Well, let me think about it,” I told him.
            “Oh, you’re going to do it,” he said. “We’ve already got the programs printed.”

Coach’s reputation went far beyond central Illinois. When the Springfield paper printed the article about him after his death, it attracted email and comments from many, many people. I interviewed several people for the story, and I was touched at the stories of generosity and warmth they told about this man. One of them, Dan Bowman, who coached for Routt, told how Coach Kemp took him under his wing when he had very little and made sure that he had what he needed.

People from miles away knew about Coach Kemp. Why, he even had a reputation that reached to an international level. One time, when I was covering an event for the Jacksonville Journal-Courier in Venezuela, I was boarding a plane and laid a copy of the newspaper in the seat next to me. The guy on the other side of the aisle saw the paper and said, “you mean the newspaper sent you here to cover this event?”
            “Yes,” I replied.
            And the next thing he said was, “Is that little guy still coaching at Triopia?”
            This was in Venezuela!

A few years ago, I started an “Old Coaches Luncheon,” and we meet on the first Monday every month and just talk. Don Kemp was the first one there and the last one to leave. He couldn’t always make it, but when his health was good, he came. And I have a feeling that he came a few times when his health wasn’t all that good, too.

We could always tease Coach a little bit in his later years. In particular, I remember a Triopia game coached by Jay Wessler when the Trojans passed 12 or 13 times in the first half. Unheard of! At the Old Coaches Luncheon that Monday, we asked Coach, “what did you think about that game?” and his response was, “I’ve got to stop by and see Jay.”

The last time I saw Coach was the first Monday in August, and he was wearing his “Triopia blue” shirt. I asked him, “hey, Coach, how did that Columbia blue come to be your colors?” He just grumbled something in that gruff voice you couldn’t quite understand. And I found out later that it was not his choice of colors. But he wore it proudly, and Triopia is rightfully proud to call him one of their own.

Greg Pohlman, former student teacher at Triopia, former teacher and coach at Triopia, played against, coached with, and coached against Coach Kemp, currently the athletic director at Carrolton High School

Dear Friends, today we have gathered to pay tribute to someone we all know very well, to someone who was our friend, our colleague, our teacher, our inspiration, and most of all – to so many – our Coach.

When I think of Coach Kemp, my mind is flooded with a vast number of images.

I see Coach on the practice field, his whistle around his neck, moving, always moving as he supervised the drills – instructing, encouraging, and reprimanding where it was necessary.

I see him during a game, his arms folded across his chest, pacing the sidelines.I see his intensity showing on his face, and I know that in his mind he is out on that field running each and every play.

I see him being carried off the field by his players, parents, and the loyal Trojan fans when his team won the State Championship.

I see him, and he is smiling, and he is proud.

I see these things when I think of Coach Kemp, and I see even more. I see him fighting for an athlete who was in trouble. I see him standing up for the principles in which he believed, against all odds. I see him working on school committees, the Illinois Football Coaches Association, which he dearly loved, to help improve sports programs. I see him speaking up for his kids in the face of budget cuts.

I see these things when I think of Coach Kemp, and I see even more. I see him working long extra hours to help the athletes and the team. I see him speaking quietly to a player or student, helping that person overcome a problem, counseling, offering his advice and standing by it. I see and I feel the deep concern that he felt for each and every player and student at Triopia High School. I see him the  quiet times, away from the din of the crowd, still giving of himself, happy and content to be of service.

Yes, I see these things when I think of Coach Kemp, and I smile. I remember his vitality and his ready wit that could change the gloomiest of days into one filled with sunshine. I remember his commitment to the student athletes, to the highest principles of morality, to sportsmanship and honor, which, to Coach Kemp, were not words but the building blocks of his life.

I remember this, and I am proud to have known a man of his caliber. Then I realize, to my sorrow, that Coach Kemp exists now only in my memory. However, that isn’t true of Coach Kemp. He is alive. He is still part of our lives.

I see him in the players he coached who still carry with them the high moral principles that he instilled in them. I see him in you, who carry on his dedication and involvement. I see him in all of us, who had our lives changed for the better because we knew this outstanding example of a man at his best. I see him, and I know he continues to live. Coach Kemp lived a life of service and of giving. He has given us so much.

Now, it is our turn to give. Let each of us give Coach Kemp our solemn pledge that as he gave to help others, so will we give; as he fought for what was right, decent and best for his students and players, so we will fight; as he worked to be the best person he could be, so we will strive.

He has left us an outstanding model on which to shape our lives.Coach Kemp wouldn’t have wanted this ceremony any other way. His family, his players, his students, fellow teachers, fellow coaches, and many friends all gather – as  he would say – “on my field,” to say goodbye. As far as his memory, each of us present today has their own. But I know as long as there is a Triopia High School and Don Kemp Field, he will never be forgotten.

Andy Phelps, former Triopia student and currently Triopia head football coach

Coach Kemp was a part of this community long before I came along. He lived in the same house with the Kershaw family for 26 years. In fact, he came with the house! When Faye and Ron were married and moved into the house, Coach was already living there, and he stayed for all those years. It was probably superstition – who knows?

On behalf of Coach’s family, I want to thank all our speakers and those of you who have come here today to pay tribute to him.

I always wondered what Coach did in the summertime, and all I ever knew was that he worked construction in Stronghurst. I asked someone what he actually did in those summer months, and I was told that he worked on a construction crew for a company that builds modular homes. He was part of the roofing crew. A fellow who worked with him told me that his job was to keep Coach supplied with shingles, and before he could make a trip back up the ladder with another load, Coach had finished laying the shingles from the bunch he’d just carried up there. He was fast, but his work was perfect.

He joined the Marines at age 17, partly because his brother was missing in action. Coach’s military service came at the very end of WW II.

About three years ago, when the Triopia team reached the semi-final round in the football state championship playoffs, Coach stopped by the locker room. Actually, he was there two hours early, long before the game started. It amazed me how, even though he had not coached in the community since 1989, he still knew all the players by name.

There is one Coach Kemp story I like to tell. At that playoff game on our home field, Coach went to take up his usual spot in the end zone. Just before the game started, a young official asked the crowd to move back, and when Coach didn’t budge, he went directly to him and asked again.
            Coach said, “Do you know who I am?”
            “No, sir, I don’t,” said the official.
            “Do you see that sign up there?” Coach asked him, pointing to his name on the scoreboard. “This is my field!”
            In the end, he did comply with the official’s request, but not without a lot of cheering and encouragement from those all around him in the end zone.

I would like to introduce Coach’s sister, Doris Ferguson, and his nephew Alan and his wife, Rita.

(To Coach’s family): On behalf of all of us from the Triopia community, I want to thank you and the other members of your family for letting us share him. He meant the world to us.

“Amazing Grace” – Wes Hendricker


Don Hatfield

Once, when my wife stopped by the school and was talking to Dorothy Surratt, we learned that not only did Coach have his field, but he also had his own parking space. We found this out because my wife parked her car there that day. Coach searched all over school, asking whose car was in his parking spot, and when he learned whose it was, he was embarrassed and extremely apologetic.

Coach had a big impact on his players and his students. I remember one game against Carrolton. The Triopia team was struggling in the first half and losing the game. It was a game they should have been winning, but they weren’t playing well. After halftime, though, when Coach’s team returned to the field, it was a different story. They racked up some points and went on to win the game. My son Dave was on the team that year, and when we got home, I asked him what it was that Coach had said in the locker room during halftime. “Boy,” I said, “I’d sure like to know what he said so I could use it for my sermon on Sunday.”
            “Dad, I don’t think you could use it,” Dave replied.

It would be nice if we could have an open mike here this afternoon and share many more stories about our favorite memories of Coach, but we know that there are many, many stories to tell and it would be a long afternoon. We who spoke here today spoke on behalf of all. We all know that Coach made a great impact on all of us.

What we have left here with us is his legacy. We have so many things from him to share among us and others.

Each summer, when it was time to start football practice, Coach would send out a letter to the players, and I made several observations about Coach when I read the letter my son received. One of the first things I noticed was that Coach was not an English teacher. But I also noticed that he had a plan. The letter contained his goals for the year and outlined a plan for how he wanted to achieve them. He did not deviate very much from his plan. Nor from his game plan. And why should he change his plans? Look at what he accomplished. He built strong character in young men and women. He taught them how to win and how to lose. He didn’t like losing, but he taught us good traits to have when we face our losses.

As a preacher, I have to tell you that there is another plan out there as well. God has a plan. He is going to make winners out of us all. His plan works. Coach Kemp’s plan instilled in young men and women the drive to give their best and to make it work. God’s plan will work in our lives, too.

Coach Kemp had compassion, commitment, and he loved his players and his students. From washing the team uniforms himself to giving of himself in the classroom and on the field, he went far beyond what he was expected to do. Coach went the extra mile to give others second and third chances – there was a limit, though. There was a limit. But he helped those who fell by the wayside.

In his letter to the football team, Coach outlined his goals for the year, and it always included “win the conference” and “beat Routt.” He had another goal, and that was to help his players to become young men of noble character.

Coach has finished his work here. But there is no way his legacy will fade as long as there is a Triopia High School. He brought out the best in others, and he gave his best to accomplish his goals. We can all thank him for this.

I have to be honest and tell you that there were times that I envied Coach because of the amount of time he spent with my family – from football season, through basketball season, which was sometimes followed by the school play program – it seemed like my kids were always busy. Sometimes I wondered, “Will I ever get to see my own family?” But I could not have entrusted them to anyone better to see to their growth and development.

So where do we go from here? Now what? I believe that the best way that we can honor this man is to stay on the job that he started, and stay on it until it is finished.

“The Lord’s Prayer” – Gerry Roegge

Memorials in honor of Coach are suggested to Stronghurst American Legion (Henderson County American Legion Post 765, P.O. Box 689, Stronghurst, IL 61480) or Triopia High School Athletic Boosters (Attn. THS Athletic Boosters, Triopia High School, 2204 Concord-Arenzville Road, Concord, IL 62631).

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