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Menomonee Falls' Jeskewitz won in life by engaging everyone

Area coaching legend passes at age 74

Jim Jeskewitz (left) and Carl Taylor pull weeds on the village grounds in front of the library in Menomonee Falls in 2004.

Jim Jeskewitz (left) and Carl Taylor pull weeds on the village grounds in front of the library in Menomonee Falls in 2004.

Nov. 18, 2013

There were simply so many things that Jim Jeskewitz was beyond being the legendary state championship football coach at Menomonee Falls East and later Menomonee Falls high schools that it's simply hard to quantify.

That's why so many people right now are feeling sad, awkward and just plain off-center, because there's a large hole in the village and it will be very hard to fill.

Jeskewitz was a husband, father, grandfather, friend, teacher, coach, landlord (a good one, a fact I can testify to), village trustee, country board member, public citizen (in exponential terms) and cancer survivor.

Yes, cancer survivor.

Though it was a fast-acting cancer only diagnosed this past summer that eventually took the energetic, dynamic and engaged 74-year-old from our midst far too soon this Sunday morning, it was a small miracle that the world had this great man for as long as it did.

"What a gentleman and extraordinary coach. He always got the best out of his kids and always competed so above board. Such a solid person."

— Dave Keel, four-time state championship Homestead coach

Cancer ends playing days

A Falls High School graduate, he was a small-college All-American at defensive back at University of Wisconsin-La Crosse in 1961 and was all set to play Canadian League football with Toronto when he was hit with a bout of testicular cancer at a far too youthful age.

His playing days were done and his life was in question.

But early surgery and a fierce will to survive kept Jeskewitz in the game of life. He survived that cancer, shaking it off like a pesky tackler.

After that, he didn't just survive, he thrived. He helped initiate the football program at Bay Port High School near Green Bay working there until 1967. When opportunity presented itself in his rapidly growing hometown in 1969, he came back to the Falls and became head coach at the new Falls East High School that fall.

Friends and allies like Bob Hessler, Terry Thomas, Terry Schmidt, Paul Kipping and Ken Heckler became trusted assistants. They began successfully and continued to be successful for years with four Braveland Conference titles in quick succession.

Philosophy yields state win

His conservative, ball-control philosophy backed by great defense became the program's stock-in-trade. A miraculous 12-7 victory over Clintonville in the championship game of the first WIAA state championships in 1976 cemented that reputation as it included three critical turnovers and a great goal-line stand at the end of the third quarter.

His positive attitude and engaging manner were a magnet for coaches and players.

He dove-tailed into a sound 12-year run at Falls High School when the district consolidated in 1984 retiring on his own terms in 1996. Highlights included another run to the WIAA state finals in 1985 ("Just a great bunch of kids running around and making tackles," he said at the time); leading an underdog team that featured his son Chad at linebacker to a conference title in 1991; and a state semifinals run in 1994 that included a near-epic victory over unbeaten border rival Sussex Hamilton.

His valedictory was a muddy, physical 7-0 playoff loss to eventual state champion Arrowhead in 1996 by a group that was decimated by injury, but long on heart. That latter trait was always a trademark of Jeskewitz teams, representative of the man himself.

He was inducted into UW-La Crosse's Hall of Fame in 1990, was enshrined by the Wisconsin Football Coaches' Association in 1999, was placed on the Menomonee Falls High School Wall of Recognition for his civic involvement in 2003 and got his long due slot in the Falls Athletic Hall of Fame in 2007.

"When you think of the term 'coach,' you think of him. Such a loss to our profession, our community."

— Phil Datka, retired Germantown head coach and fellow Wisconsin Football Coaches' Association Hall of Famer

More than just a coach

He retired from coaching but hardly from life and he went into politics (village trustee) and volunteered for any number of events that would help the village. He proudly supported his wife Sue's successful venture into politics as a state representative for several years happily stepping back into the shadows.

His children Jayme and Chad have made marks in the world on their own terms and made him a proud "Bumpa" to six grandchildren.

He leaves behind them, along with his loving wife, Sue, not to mention a raft of friends, coaching colleagues, and hundreds upon hundreds of former players who remain fiercely loyal to him. Fittingly enough the wake will be held at the high school from 4 to 9 p.m. Nov. 20 and a service will be held at St. Mary's Catholic Church in the Falls at 11 a.m. Nov. 21.

"The big thing for me was to make it a good experience for the kids," he said in his WFCA induction biography. "Have fun. High school is the last opportunity for the vast majority of them to play interscholastic sports. I wanted to leave them with a good taste in their mouths because something like that can last a long time."

Clearly it did, based on the stunned and unhappy feeling many now have when suddenly they realize that they have to talk about this fine human being in the past tense. Just much too soon, much too soon.

"One of the classic gentlemen and a great coach."

— Jim Tietjen, Whitefish Bay coach

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