by Matt Wing
used with permission
© Jacksonville Journal-Courier
Wednesday, Aug. 30, 2006
Some people will remember Don Kemp as a coach and teacher at Arenzville and Triopia high schools. Those who knew him a little better will remember him for much more.
Kemp died Monday morning at the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics in Iowa City at the age of 79.
“He was a lot more than just a football coach,” said former Triopia football coach Jay Wessler, who played under Kemp in the mid-‘70s. “Obviously, that’s where he made his mark, but he was quite a man, quite a gentleman. He was like a dad to all of us at some point during all our lives.”
Born and raised in Stronghurst, Kemp played football at Western Illinois University before coming to Arenzville in 1953. He taught biology and driver’s education at the school and coached football and boys’ basketball.
Kemp retired in 1989. During those 35-plus years, he compiled a football record of 254-79-9 and a basketball record of 564-236. Kemp guided his football team to the Illinois High School Association championship game in the state playoffs’ first three years of existence from 1974-76. Kemp’s Trojans won the state title in 1975.
Kemp coached hundreds of student-athletes during that time, and helped unite the Arenzville, Chapin and Concord communities when the school districts consolidated in 1959 to form Triopia High School.
“Don thought that the school and the community were one thing,” said Ken Bradbury, who taught with Kemp at Triopia. “Without the community’s support, we wouldn’t have a good school.”
Bradbury, who taught English, speech and theater, shared that belief with Kemp. Bradbury attended Friday night football games, and Kemp always had a seat in the audience for Bradbury’s plays.
“When I did my first play, it was sold out,” Bradbury recalled. “It had nothing to do with theater – it was the fact that the Triopia community was used to attending school events in large numbers.
“A lot of my success at Triopia was due to Don Kemp because he had already established that pattern.”
Kemp’s former players also remembered him for his love of the school and the community.
“I think Triopia was probably the most important thing to him,” said new Triopia football coach Andy Phelps, who played for Kemp in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s. “My mom and dad were in school when Triopia became Triopia, and Mr. Kemp was a big part of bringing the three communities together and making it work.”
Steve Carls, another of Kemp’s former players, had fond memories of the coach on the playing field.
“He was somebody that you respected,” Carls said. “You respected him and wanted to play for him because he earned the respect. That was the most important thing to me. That’s why I enjoyed playing for him.”
Carls remembers missing a key block in one game. Kemp, a Marine Corps veteran of World War II, let him know about it at halftime, and that inspired Carls to play better in the second half.
“Every guy out there has a story like that,” Carls said with a laugh. “He was from the old school, rough, and he would get in our face in practice, and it was probably an act, and as kids, we were probably a little scared, but he got it out of us. He got what he wanted out of us. We wanted to play for him. We wanted to go out and do our best for him.”
Bradbury said Kemp always made sure that all of his seniors had a class ring, and that all of his players had letter jackets. If a player couldn’t afford one himself, Kemp would purchase it out of his own pocket.
“I’ve heard of several cases where kids didn’t have enough money to buy class rings, and then they would mysteriously have the money for it the next day,” Bradbury said. “Same thing goes with the letter jackets.”
Carls remembered Kemp washing his teams’ jerseys.
“He washed the uniforms himself,” he said. “He stayed there after a Friday night and washed jerseys in the home ec room because he didn’t want our moms doing it. That’s how devoted to the school and team he was.”
Carls said that Kemp’s constant presence at Triopia and around the community made him a larger-than-life figure. Triopia’s football field is named after him.
“The one thing that probably kind of binds us all together is the memories,” he said. “You go through high school and you just don’t have that many memories, but you sure did about him.”
Kemp’s funeral will be held Saturday, Sept. 2 at the Carman Cemetery in Carman. The visitation will be from 1-8 p.m. Friday, Sept. 1 at the Banks and Beals Funeral Home in Stronghurst. The family will be present from 6-8 p.m.
A special memorial service will be held at the Triopia High School gymnasium at 2 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 10.
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