June 18, 1948-July 19, 2017
Coach John Cheek finally met an opponent he couldn’t beat. After an 8 year battle with prostate/bone cancer John transitioned from his temporary earthly home to his eternal heavenly home on Wednesday, July 19, 2017, at his home in Butte surrounded by his loving family. This is his obituary.
I was born on June 18, 1948 in Missoula, Montana. I was the second of four siblings, and the only son, of Catherine Sarah Jackson and John Blodgett Cheek. Dad had just finished college at the University of Montana and that fall we moved to Kalispell where he started his teaching/coaching career. We moved to Anaconda when I was four years old. I attended St. Paul’s Catholic School for grades one through six then completed my regular education in the public school system and graduated from Anaconda High School in 1966. I was an all-state basketball player for AHS and then went on to play for the University of Montana Grizzlies on a full ride athletic scholarship while attending college there. I married my high school sweetheart, Debbie Kelly, on September 18, 1967 and started the most wonderful life that a person could ask for. We finished college after earning my BS from the U of M and then my ME in education and school administration at Montana State University. I then began my educational career that lasted 33 years as a teacher/administrator and 45 years as a coach. I spent 23 years as a math, social science and health teacher then 10 years as a principal/superintendent. I have many fond memories of my years teaching and felt I choose a very rewarding career path. I loved the little ones in PE class, the junior high and high school students who would bribe me with either cherry or blueberry cheesecake and liverwurst to delay a math test for a day or two and the ever present “paddle” for those who really got out of line. My favorite kids were the ones that no one else could seem to handle…the ones on the edge. I seemed to always have a way to get them through school and survive whatever issues they struggled with in their young lives. Debbie and I started our family young and we were blessed with two beautiful daughters, Cynde Rae and Wynde Kae. Later we adopted a son, Harry Clark, and also have a foster son, Jim Paul. Debbie raised all our kids, and me!
Most of our married life was spent in central Montana where I taught and coached at Geyser, Stanford, Whitefish and Cascade. It was during this time that I became a highly successful coach of several sports, but my greatest achievements were in Track and Field where my athletes excelled as both state and national champions. As head track coach, my teams won 6 state championships, 13 Divisional titles and 16 District titles. I also won two additional state championships as an assistant coach. I was chosen Montana Track and Field Coach of the Year several times during my coaching career. I was a nationally recognized coach for AAU and TAC athletes and teams in the USA and China and coached USATF teams in foreign countries. I coached summer track for decades and received numerous awards while serving on various boards and committees throughout my coaching career. I was the youngest coach ever elected to the Montana Coaches Hall of Fame in 1994 and I was elected to the National High School Coaches Hall of Fame in 2014 after being a finalist several times. I was only the fourth track and field coach in Montana history to receive this prestigious award and the first one to represent smaller Class B and C schools. I was also honored in 2016 by being the only coach inducted into the Anaconda High School Wall of Fame. I was always grateful to the hundreds and hundreds of parents who allowed me to “borrow” their sons and daughters from junior high through college and teach them a sport I loved and become a part of their lives and shaping their future in some small way. My goal was always to teach them how to achieve excellence; how to overcome adversity; how to set goals, and how to be part of a team and help others. I think I achieved that whether I was coaching football, basketball, cross country, wrestling, volleyball or track. I coached at 15 schools and helped many athletes in other schools including; Anaconda, Geyser, Whitefish, Stanford, Cascade, Broadview, Augusta, Drummond, Helena Capitol, Corvallis, Deer Lodge, Choteau, Fairfield, Butte High and the University of Montana. Besides my regular coaching activities, I also spent thousands of volunteer hours researching records of various sports dating back many decades for the Montana High School Association. I really enjoyed being their record keeper and was awarded their highest Service Citation Award for my contributions to making sure all the records in all sports are accurate. I hope everyone enjoys reading them. I also enjoyed serving on the Board of Directors for the Montana Coaches Association for several years, being Director of the Meet of Champions during the 1990’s, serving on the Golden West Invitational Advisory Committee during the 1990’s, serving as the Montana State High School Development Representative during the 1990’s and being heavily involved with my commitment to Montana’s youth athletic and educational programs for literally decades. I always felt teaching and coaching went hand in hand.
My love of statistics and research was evident in all of my coaching endeavors. At each school where I taught and coached, I developed a Hall of Fame that included “Top 10 Best” boards for each event in track and field. For the others sports I coached I did “Top 10 Best” boards for things like free throw percentage, blocked shots, tackles, yardage gained, 3 mile run times, aces, assists, take downs, etc. Each sport had several unique categories that encouraged my athletes to “get on the board” and move up the board. They served as great motivators, along with what my athletes called “Cheeks wallpaper” that was posted in the locker rooms each week indicating where each athlete in the district, division and state stood beside my athletes in various stats. The athletes strived to constantly improve and have “bragging” rights the following week for moving ahead of a rival athlete. They became extremely dedicated to the sport, the team, the school, the fans and to me. We were all connected to a single goal…to be the best we could be, regardless of the final outcome. I would always put together my predictions on a score sheet for district, divisional and state track meets that both my wife and I would follow and record as the meets progressed. I was always proud of how very close I was each year on the final outcome and scores, but I put in hundreds of hours of research on each athlete and their abilities. It was something I really enjoyed. I know I coached literally hundreds of all state athletes, dozens and dozens of individual state champions and relay teams, a dozen or so athletes who received 5 or more state track medals in one year and 2 all national athletes (one a national champion decathlete and one who placed third in the national decathlon). I hauled athletes all over the nation to regional and national competitions. What great times those were! I was also remarkably blessed to have four generations of my family experience the thrill of being a state champion; my dad, me, our son and our grandson. I am not sure many people can boast the accomplishment!
I loved to hunt and fish and spent literally thousands of hours hunting, mainly in central Montana. I spent many a day on the McDonald, Evans and Wirtala Ranches and up Sheep Creek hunting with good friends, family and my three hunting grandsons, Hayden, Carsen and Clement. Most of my fishing was done on the Big Hole River in my Dad’s old aluminum boat and at Uncle Richard’s cabin on Tim Creek. I went to the cabin every year for decades and Debbie and the kids would go too and then we added our grandsons. Hayden went every year for 20 years. All the kids and grandkids learned how to fish there and listen to me tell stories around the campfire. We caught tons of fish, lots of frogs, a few snakes, and anything else that the boys thought were interesting. We hiked miles and miles and saw grizzly bears, moose, elk, deer, sandhill cranes, coyotes, and lots of smaller mammals. The wildflowers and mushrooms were incredible every year and nowhere on the planet is the sky as full of stars as at the cabin! The memories from our yearly trips there are some of the best of my life. It was a very special place for us each summer.
I had a number of summer jobs over the years in between coaching summer track and some vacations. They range from picking hay bales for .02 each, to diamond core drilling to managing my own painting business call EZ Painters. We painted everything from houses, barns and out buildings to many Conoco stations around the state. I actually became a pretty good painter, especially cutting around windows. Needless to say, this side profession created many painting jobs for family and friends…including their homes inside and out!
Debbie and I spent all kinds of time traveling around the country, and the world, but we spent even more time watching our kids and grandkids in sporting events, concerts, plays, church and school activities and taking them all over the nation to one place or another. Gosh, we sure loved taking them places like Disneyland, Hawaii, Las Vegas, Florida, Seattle, Minneapolis, cruising in the Caribbean, etc. to professional sporting events and other special places to play and just have fun! We lived for 20 years on Hauser Lake in Helena and had many wonderful family gatherings there too. Family has always been the soul of my life and no matter if it was a holiday, birthday, baptism, first communion, wedding, anniversary, or some other kind of special event, we were always together and it was great! We always had enough food to feed an army and there were always the traditional family favorites like clam dip and chips, LOTS of mashed potatoes and gravy, meats, salads and amazing sweet things like fudge, sweet rolls, cream puffs, and pumpkin chocolate chip cookies that Deb made 10 dozen at a time! When I finally decided to totally retire, we moved to Butte and I have enjoyed living back in southwestern Montana closer to our extended family. I probably put together over 1,000 puzzles in my lifetime. The card table was always up somewhere with a puzzle on it. I also enjoyed my daily Sudoku and going to the movies during my retirement, along with our cats Jaxsen and Flour, who have been my “bed buddies” since I have been pretty sick. Believe me, I had a fabulous life. Thanks Deb! I want to thank everyone who was in my life (good or bad) because I sure had some super experiences and I’m sure I will see you “down the road”. Oh, one more thing…my biggest pet peeve in life was people not being on time. I hated it when someone was late! Don’t be late for my funeral.
My surviving family includes my wife of 50 years, Debbie; daughters: Cynde (Mike) Ascheman, Wynde (Nick) Ford, son: Harry (Lori) Clark; foster son Jim Paul; sisters, Kathy (Bob) Keltner, Penny (Pat) Leary, Mary (CJ) Cheek Gribble; brothers-in-law Fred (Karen) Kelly and Tom (Kathleen) Kelly; aunts, Irma Harrison and Alice Burgess; five grandsons: Hayden Boynton, Carsen Boynton, Dexter Clark, Cole Clark and Clement Ford; nine nephews: Jason Keltner, Dustin Keltner, Mackenzie Keltner, Patrick Leary, Mike Kelly, John Kelly, Donnie Erickson, Jon Kelly and Nick Kelly; four nieces: Jill Leary Evans, Marla Conie, Laura Gaibler and Tara McConnell and numerous cousins, and great nephews and nieces.
Visitation will begin Friday, July 28th at 5 PM in Holy Spirit Catholic Church followed by parish vigil services at 7 o’clock. Funeral Mass will be celebrated Saturday, July 29th at 11 AM in church. Cremation will follow. Express condolences at www.wayrynen-richards.com.