|Interview with Coach Blanke|
|When he walks into the room, you start to hear comments like, “There’s Coach”, or “Coach is here”. Then you see the smiles and handshakes and hugs and kisses as he is warmly and lovingly welcomed. And, you smile to yourself, knowing that it’s going to be a good day for our gathering ... Coach has arrived. You might wonder who this person is as he “works the room”, greeting and being greeted by old classmates and former players and students. But, if you went to McKinley High School, you have no doubt who it is. For no one embodies the McKinley Spirit or generates so many feelings as our “Coach”, Jules Blanke.|
Although his quick smile, twinkling eyes and hearty hug or handshake belie his age, Coach was a 1936 graduate of McKinley, and part of the group that began the luncheon organization now known as the “McKinley Goldbugs”.
He gives a lot of credit to Charlie Dunn, a fellow “36’er” (and his wife, Ruth) for helping to keep the “McKinley 36’ers” organization going until it eventually became the McKinley Goldbugs group we enjoy today.
During a conversation with Coach, he said he should never have gone to McKinley. He went to Rock Springs School, and everyone from that school went to Central High School. The principal asked him if he was going to go to high school. He replied that no one in his family had ever gone to high school. The principal said, “If I get you lunch money and carfare, would you go to McKinley?” They were just opening up McKinley at that time, and Coach agreed. He got the lunch money and carfare - for two weeks - and then someone stole the money. But, that’s how he ended up at McKinley - by accident, really. And he is eternally glad that accident happened - “I love McKinley,” he says.
He must ... he lived near Kingshighway and Forest Park and not in the McKinley neighborhood. In a recent conversation, he mentioned walking from a baseball field on 13th and Wyoming all the way home. “Sometimes,” he said, “I wouldn’t get home until 9 o’clock at night.” And, he still walks a lot - 3 miles a day at the Crestwood Mall!
When Coach was asked about his fondest coaching memory of McKinley, he responded, “Just being the coach there was the biggest thing for me.” He said he used to tell his players ... “these are your best days.” You will not get him to single out a particular athlete or ball team as a favorite. To that question, he responds, “I always say you can’t do that, because one time is different than another time, and the kids are different.” And we know that Coach would never put one player above another - or one team above another - that is just not his way. And - he says, “It’s almost like they’re all my kids.”
When asked what honor (click here for list of honors), was the most important to him, he responded that they were all “just part of the job”. (Yeah, right!) And, when asked what he was proudest of, he chuckled and said, “I guess going through high school.”
We discussed the “McKinley Phenomenon” ... why McKinley alumni like to stay connected, spend time together, and just enjoy each other. Coach says, “that’s just the neighborhoods.“ He thinks it’s because the kids were neighbors - and walked to grade school and high school with each other - that encouraged camaraderie. And he thoroughly enjoys attending the bi-monthly McKinley Goldbugs luncheons at the Royale Orleans and visiting with everyone. His comment: “Boy, those pork chops - they sure are tender!”
When he speaks about some of his former players, you can hear the pride in his voice. He mentions what some of them have gone on to become ... very successful men. While he does not mention any particular athletic achievement they had accomplished, he talks about their successes in life after they left McKinley. Those are the things that make him proud - what his “kids” have gone on to become.
As you visit with Coach, you cannot help but be amazed at the memories he has! He recalls name, dates, teams, and events as though they were yesterday. He recalls graduates who played for him that he later officiated with. He officiated 32 years in football and 30 years in basketball, and it was something he truly enjoyed. He recalled a time when he went to officiate a football game in Washington, MO where a former student was the Athletic Director. During the game, one of the players collided with him, and they had to take Coach off the field. He ended up in the hospital and said he never forgot that game!
He spoke about getting together with some guys from the early 60’s and going to shingle John Rappe’s house. Amazing that he recalled Fred Varney and Frank Pinkard and John Rappe and what they did ... and that was probably about 1963 - 40 years ago!
One story Coach told:
“Ivan Mills ... he walks in the mall and I do, too. We walk and
talk. Ivan says, “One thing I like about McKinley people ...
they’re always - 'Hi, how you doing? How’s everything?'. They
don’t ask about how much money you’ve got, or what you did
for a living - that’s one of the good things about McKinley people.”
Coach agreed - and as Ivan said, “Everybody’s the same
Before ending the interview with Coach, I asked him, “What do you want people to say about you after you’re gone?” He laughed “Oh - it doesn’t make that much difference, I think. I’d like to get up and tell them - everybody from McKinley - how nice they are to me. They all treat me great. That’s about all” ... he said with reddening eyes. You see, Coach gets emotional when it comes to him and his “McKinley Kids.” He says they’re his family!
-- Jackie Robinson Maloney '52