Battling cancer for some time, former North Central High School teacher and baseball coach Ken Eilmes – who instructed Hall of Fame baseball player Ryne Sandberg – held on until Wednesday.
The day of his death also marked the 49th wedding anniversary to his wife, Diane. Eilmes was 76.
“We thought we were going to lose him Sunday,” his son, Kenny Eilmes, Jr., said. “But he stuck around a couple more days to make it to his 49th anniversary. Pretty incredible.”
His death ended the era of a man who gave countless hours to coaching young players, and then decades more gathering news clippings that chronicled all things local in high school sports.
The younger Eilmes on Wednesday spoke to Sandberg, who recently was named manager of the Philadelphia Phillies. Efforts by The Spokesman-Review to reach Sandberg were unsuccessful.
“He and his wife are in Arizona,” Eilmes said of Sandberg. “He just sent his condolences.”
According to news archives, Eilmes graduated in 1956 from Rogers High School, where he was selected All-City as a football quarterback, baseball catcher and a basketball guard, at which he twice earned all-state recognition.
He later coached baseball from 1975-86 at NC, where he took a Sandberg-led team to the state finals. He taught for many more years.
“Maybe I was lucky,” Eilmes told a reporter in 1997. He stood 5-foot-7 and weighed maybe 145 pounds in high school. “I probably got by more on determination than anything. Today, everybody’s bigger, faster and stronger now – I didn’t say they were better.”
Kenny Eilmes followed his father’s footsteps into teaching and he also puts on infield clinics for baseball in the summers. He said his father died following a prolonged battle with cancer.
“It’s no secret in regards to his playing career and his coaching career,” Kenny Eilmes said. “But the thing that stands out to me more than that was how he was such a great father and great-grandfather. He loved his three children and six grandchildren more than anything else.”