Distinguished Alumnus
Class of 2014
Russell S. Ghere
(March 9, 1925 – January 27, 1999)

AHS Class of 1943

L-R: Bob Ghere, Becky Ghere Hettinger
Children of Russell Ghere

Russell Smith “Fudgie” Ghere was born March 9, 1925, in Arcola, the thirteenth of seventeen children of Roy A. and Lillie E. Smith Ghere. His father died when Russ was just nine years old. Russ excelled in football, basketball and track with the Class of 1943, placing first in high jump at the district track meets both his junior and senior years. Following his graduation, Russ was inducted into the Army Air Corps on July 8, 1943. He received his military training at Camp Hulen, near Palacios, TX, where he and 1944 AHS graduate and high school sweetheart, Jean Blagg, were married June 29, 1944. Russ served in the Southwest Pacific until his discharge as a sergeant in 1946. He and his brothers, John, George, Don, Harry, Bobby and Jim, were a Seven Star Family who served this country in the military during World War II.

Following World War II, Russ’ desire to become a coach led him to Eastern Illinois State College in the fall of 1946. He and Jean lived in the Army barracks buildings on campus. Each worked while Russ attended school and their son, Bob, was born in 1948. Russ was an outstanding athlete for the Panthers, who lettered five times in football and track. While he consistently placed in pole vault and high jump, he gained even more success on the football field. His 1948 football team won the Interstate Intercollegiate Athletic Conference title and earned the school’s first post-season berth at the Corn Bowl in Bloomington, IL. Russ was 1949 football co-captain and was awarded Honorable Mention All-IIAC that same year. He completed his B.S. in Education in the spring of 1950.

Russ secured a teaching and coaching position at Bridgeport, IL, in the fall of 1950, shortly before the birth of their daughter Becky. He became head football coach and track coach for the Bridgeport Bulldogs, and also served as assistant basketball coach. Coach Ghere taught Biology and Physical Education at Bridgeport and was Athletic Director in his final year before resigning in 1958.

An opening for head football coach at Villa Grove High School led Russ back to the Okaw Valley Conference in the fall of 1958. He attended summer classes and earned his M.S. in Administration of Physical Education in 1961. Coach Ghere’s varsity football teams won or shared six conference championships and the Blue Devils had two undefeated seasons from 1958-1975 and 1979-1981. Russ was proud to coach his son to Villa Grove’s 1964 conference championship, and as Bob was named All Conference quarterback in 1964 and All Conference-All Area quarterback in 1965. Russ ended his varsity football coaching career with a 123-102-11 record. He taught Biology and Physical Education and also coached track, golf, basketball, girls’ basketball and Little League Baseball. Russ served fifteen years as Athletic Director and was honored as 1974 District 9 Athletic Director of the Year. He was instrumental in the organization of the Villa Grove Boosters Club. The Villa Grove community honored their longtime coach on September 25, 1982, as their football field was named Russ Ghere Field. Russ was then inducted into the Illinois High School Association Football Coaches Hall of Fame on April 14, 1984. On that occasion, it was noted, “His deeply religious beliefs typified his commitment to the young people in the communities in which he coached.” Upon his retirement in 1984, a plaque was displayed at VGHS to recognize their Hall of Fame Coach for “his ability to inspire his athletes to the highest in discipline and spirit. His professionalism has shown in his dedication to the game, school and community.” Russ was further distinguished on September 9, 1995, when he was inducted into the Eastern Illinois University athletic department Hall of Fame.

Russ’ commitment to the Villa Grove community did not end at his retirement. He continued to serve through the Villa Grove Lions Club, Walter Jones VFW Post 2876, Douglas County Retired Teachers and as Villa Grove United Methodist Church Lay Leader, United Methodist Men President and member of the Board of Global Ministries. VFW Post 2876 selected Russ their Villa Grove Loyalty Day parade marshal in 1984, and Carle Clinic Sports Medicine honored Russ with the Warren G. Smith award in 1988. Russ served as Villa Grove AMVETS Post 22 Commander 1992-1994 and Vice-Commander District 14 AMVETS of Illinois 1994. He was Douglas County Board member from 1988-1996 and served as board chairman in 1995-1996.

Russ readily gave credit to Jean for her support and counsel. They shared more than fifty-four years together before his death on January 27, 1999. His desire to coach began at Arcola High School and led to a Hall of Fame career. He dedicated his life to the youth, the communities he served and his family. Russ and Jean are parents of Bob and Becky, with six grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren.

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Last Revision November 11, 2017