Wheaton College legend Pfund dies

Special to the Daily Herald
Updated 6/3/2016 11:32 PM

Former Wheaton College coach, professor and administrator Le Roy (Lee) Pfund died Thursday. He was 96.

He served as professor of physical education, baseball coach, men's basketball coach and executive director of the Alumni Association in nearly 39 years of service at Wheaton College.

Prior to his time at Wheaton, Pfund spent eight seasons in Major League Baseball and made his major league debut as a pitcher with the Brooklyn Dodgers on April 21, 1945. In his time in the Dodgers' organization his teammates included Hall of Famers Jackie Robinson and Pee Wee Reese. He appeared in 15 games for the Dodgers in 1945 however his major-league career was cut short due to a knee injury.

Pfund earned his bachelor's degree from Wheaton in 1949 and later attained a Master of Arts degree from Northwestern University. He began his coaching career at Wheaton in 1949.

"As Wheaton's head basketball and baseball coach, Lee Pfund is a revered figure from my childhood," said Wheaton College President Philip Graham Ryken. "When my father and I ducked into the gymnasium to watch a few minutes of basketball practice, or when I walked over to Lawson Field to watch a baseball game, Coach Pfund was always there: teaching, encouraging, strategizing, and occasionally arguing with the umpires and referees. His exceptional spirit of competition and sportsmanship produced generations of Christian leaders. We will miss his presence courtside and on the sidelines immensely."

Pfund is the winningest coach in Wheaton history for both men's basketball and baseball. He won 362 games on the basketball court and guided the Crusaders to 249 victories on the diamond.

He served as men's basketball coach from 1951-75, guiding Wheaton to the first NCAA Small College Division Men's Basketball Championship in 1957 as his squad garnered a 28-1 record. Overall, he mentored the Crusaders to five College Conference of Illinois championships; and from 1955-59 his teams won a conference record 58 consecutive CCI contests.

"Coach Pfund is the Wheaton men's basketball program," said current men's basketball coach Mike Schauer. "I have always said that the challenge of following in Coach Pfund's footsteps has never been about trying to win as many games as he did but to influence as many lives as he has. The number of men I meet who have been impacted in one way or another by their relationship with Coach Pfund is almost impossible to calculate -- it is virtually every person that has come through this program in some way, shape or form."

Pfund led Wheaton's baseball program from 1948-59 and 1961-74. His 1951 team is the only Wheaton baseball team in school history to win a CCI or CCIW championship.

"Coach was always interested in how things were going in the baseball program and how the team was doing and was always encouraging," Wheaton baseball coach Matt Husted said. "We would talk a lot about our personal lives, our families, his life in professional baseball and many other topics.

"Coach is so revered by his former players. They look at him as more than a coach, almost like a second father. I have been amazed by people that only played one season for him, or maybe didn't even play for him, but they would share in how he would care for them and take an interest in them."

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