Next fall, when Cusick hopes to be marching toward the State B-11 football playoffs, Fred Vogel hopes to be hiking to elk camp. It will be the first time in more than three decades Vogel will forsake the Panthers for elk.
“I’ve been debating the last two years,” Vogel, 62, said after his decision to retire. “I just decided I wanted to do it while I could still get up to elk camp in the fall. I haven’t been able to do that ever because of football season.”
His decision ends a perfect marriage from the only teaching and coaching job he has ever had.
Well, that’s not exactly true, because, while he has coached the Panthers football team for 32 years, he has coached almost every other sport at every level at Cusick at various times, too.
“He is coaching his third generation here in some cases,” Cusick native and boys basketball coach Nick Pease, 43, said.
Pease said Vogel may be the exception to the axiom that says, “when you stick your hand in the bucket of water and pull it out, that’s how much a guy’s gonna be missed. I think there will be a handful of water coming out when he leaves.”
That wasn’t the game plan, but Vogel didn’t know he would need Cusick as much as the small school 55 miles northeast of Spokane in the Pend Oreille Valley needed him.
“When you go into teaching and you’re in your first teaching position, you always think you’ll be here only a couple years and you’ll move on,” said Gloria Vogel, Fred’s high school sweetheart at Lewis and Clark and wife of 42 years. “We just fell in love with the area, the people … we have just never wanted to leave.”
“This is my home. I have a family here, this is their home,” Fred added. “Cusick kids deserve to be well-coached, too. I really had no inclination to go anywhere else.”
After a stint in the Navy, family and Fred’s desire to get back to “God’s country” brought them home, and he started college at Eastern Washington.
“When I got out, I applied in Cusick, Kettle Falls and Newport,” he said. “I wanted to get out in the smaller areas, closer to the mountains.”
First came football, then paradise and, finally, tragedy, woven into a fairy tale.
“The first year, the head coach asked if I would be willing to help out as an unpaid assistant,” Vogel said. “I thought it would be a good way to get to know the kids. I’ve always loved football, but I didn’t take any coaching classes in school. I was an industrial arts teacher. After the second game he had a nervous breakdown and I suddenly had acquired a football team.”
Meanwhile, Gloria found 50 acres west of Usk on Winchester Creek.
“Everybody thought we would be in culture shock,” Gloria said. “We have a beautiful, beautiful view. The creek runs right through our property. … The county road is close, but we can’t see it. We’re kind of in our own private little heaven and we love it. It wasn’t a difficult adjustment at all. The people in this area are very, very friendly. They made us feel welcome.”
“It was my boyhood vision of where I wanted to be,” her husband added. “I’ve always been an outdoors person.”
That never meant the Vogels wouldn’t leave, it just meant they could be pretty picky.
“I’ve had a lot of opportunities to go up many times, especially the first 10 years I was coaching,” Vogel said. “I just always thought I’m not going to make a move just to make a move.”
Tragedy struck a few days before Christmas in 1977. Their house burned down and their youngest child, 6-year-old son Vincent, died in the fire.
“The community really took care of me, just took care of me, got me through that. That’s basically it,” Fred said.
So they rebuilt on the same site.
“Some of our friends wondered how we could even build on the same property,” Gloria said. “We really, truly love our place; this is home. The community itself was so supportive of us. Truly, we never ever thought of leaving.”
When Gloria retires from Ponderay Newsprint later this year, she wants to hunt antiques more frequently, Fred wants to fish in Alaska more often and they both want to visit their oldest child, Vicky, and two grandchildren in Michigan.
But Cusick will always be home.
It will just be different.
“I’ve enjoyed all the years that he’s coached,” Gloria said. “I’ve gone to all the home games and most of the away games. … My voice is probably the loudest in the gym. … I get to ride the team bus. I think I’m going to really miss the trips; being with the kids. … We have lots of other things to look forward to.”
Pease, who is helping plan a retirement bash, said how to replace his mentor is an “unanswerable question. We don’t know what it’s going to be like.
“I’m concentrating more on not puddling up when I start talking (at the retirement party). I want to try to keep the tears from flowing.”
Sometimes, Vogel can’t believe he won’t be coaching.
“I think I’ve been blessed,” he said. “I’ve had the opportunity to get paid for playing with kids for 32 years. Our kids are top-flight kids, wonderful kids. I really hate to leave them.”
The pressures of too many high profile coaching jobs led him to give up the boys basketball job just before the Panthers made state twice while son Vance, who is 6 years older than Vincent, was in high school. Included was a 27-1 season with the loss coming in the 1981 state championship game.
Vogel has no idea what his football record might be, but 200 wins is a pretty safe guess. His teams made the playoffs 11 times and reached the semifinals three times.
“I’ve never taken much stock in what I’ve done in the past; I was always looking to the future,” he said. “It was really, really neat to coach my kid for four years. Then I got to thinking, I’ve got a lot of kids who are my kids.”
The Panthers have struggled in recent years, the only playoff appearance in a dozen years coming in 1996. Vogel believes they’re headed in the right direction, though, making it a good time to pass the torch.
He believes strongly in what he has been doing the past 32 years, even if kids and society have changed, one more so than the other.
“(Kids) have got more things to do and a fewer percentage of them turn out for sports,” he said. “As everybody knows, the lack of mothers and dads in the home have affected them. A lot of young guys are looking for a father figure to help them along. Basically, I think they’re the same kids with a lot more problems.”
And he can relate to that.
“I wasn’t much of a student when I was in high school,” he said. “The only thing that kept me in high school was football. The ONLY thing … When a kid really loves sports, and gets into them, that can be the catalyst that can make them successful in life. I know here for a fact, and I’m pretty sure it’s pretty common, very few of those kids who come out of playing football or basketball or baseball or any of the sports, are failures in life.
” The successes they learn to deal with in sports, that’s what helps them. That’s a foundation for them.” Pease, a 1972 Cusick graduate, has been a Panther for all but 5 of his 43 years and couldn’t agree more.
“I learned to win playing for him,” he said. “I learned to do things the right way … those are things that have been done here since 1966 when Fred first got here.”
Next fall, things will be different.
“He always said he would retire and volunteer to come back and keep up the grounds,” Pease said. “You may see him with his fertilizer sack and seed spreader rather than his whistle and clipboard.”
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