Battling cancer, Jeskewitz honored at Falls football game
Crowd gives him standing ovation
The ovation at half-time of last Friday's Menomonee Falls-Brookfield East football game just got louder and louder until everyone was standing and clapping Indians Athletic Director Ryan Anderson said.
It's also important to note that the subject of that resounding show of support was standing at the time he received it.
Because in the coaching history of Menomonee Falls football, before John Baker, before Bob Vitale and before Pat Cerroni there was Jim Jeskewitz.
In fact, it's hard to think of anyone before "Jes" in Falls football coaching history except for his strong righthand and assistant of many years Bob Hessler.
Many conference titles, that lone great WIAA State championship in 1976 at old Falls East, hundreds of memorable games and countless great memories for players, parents and fans were created with that man on the sideline with the firm manner, the friendly grin and the hearty handshake.
He always advised his players to keep the many great wins in perspective because there was always another game ahead of them and of the tough losses, which there were a few, he was fond of saying, "The sun will always rise in the morning" or "If this is the toughest thing you have to go through in your life, then you're doing all right."
A hometown Falls kid who was a small college All-American at UW-La Crosse, old Jes retired from coaching on his own terms in 1996 one win short of the coveted 200 mark ("It's just a number," he said). He was inducted into the Wisconsin Football Coaches' Association Hall of Fame shortly thereafter and a few years after that the Falls Athletic Hall of Fame.
Fighting a health battle
He's gone on to become a fine public citizen in the village, but right now, however, he is going through a very tough thing of his own right now.
It's a cancer, and it's a bad one. It's in several organs and he's also dealing with blood clots in his lungs.
He and his family were at the famed Mayo Clinic in Minnesota last week seeking treatment. He's lost about 20 pounds off of an already trim frame and is not the normal energetic man people in the Falls have counted on for decades for any number of civic duties, be it public office (village trustee for years), or volunteering time for any number of charitable events (there are those who know him only as the friendly bartender at "Jes's Place" the specialty beer stand at Falls Fest).
People in the village got to view the public side of his illness on Friday during Falls Athletic Hall of Fame night. Others were being honored that evening (see separate story) but Jes, as noted, got the biggest round of applause as he was rolled out in a wheelchair and then later sat in a school golf cart with his loving wife, Sue, by his side.
She's the former state legislator for this area who was fond of keeping a hand-carved sign by the fireplace that said "We interrupt this marriage to bring you the football season." Son, Chad, who played for Jes in the early 1990s, and daughter, Jamie, were also on hand.
The wheelchair part must really gall Jes, this normally towering pillar of strength, this handy "do-it-yourselfer," this fountain of energy to whom so many look up to.
So it came as no surprise to anyone that when Anderson asked him if he needed any aid getting out of his seat to accept the accolades the crowd was showering upon him, Jes just quietly shook him off, pulled himself up and said "I don't need any help."
Coaches support Jes
But if he wants it, he should know that the coaching fraternity has his back.
Retired Falls Athletic Director Dave Petroff was one of the inductees for the Athletic Hall of Fame on Friday night. He also famously butted heads with Jes on the football field back in the 1970s and 80s when he was football coach at Falls North (now the middle school) and Jes was at East.
At the dinner before the ceremonies, Petroff graciously and copiously thanked the village and the district for the grand life it has given him and his family, but then the famous old tough guy ("conditioning never killed anybody" he was fond of yelling in practice) had to choke back a bit of a tear when he asked the rest in attendance to remember his "dear friend Jim Jeskewitz who is very sick."
That sentiment was not lost on Baker either, who is trying to guide the Indians to their first Greater Metro Conference title since 2004 (see separate story).
"I can't tell you how much he's meant to me and to the village," Baker said of Jes. "He's been a huge supporter. I've worked with him on set-up for Falls Fest and he's always been proud of our players. Anything we can do to help him fight this we will."
One suspects that as his treatments continue there is a lot more fight left in this excellent example of a human being, this man who was not afraid to go for it on fourth and long when needed.
"He's a great man, great for the village," Baker added. "He's been a mentor to me ever since I got here.
"You just don't find any better."
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