Legendary Wheaton College coach remembered for sportsmanship, faith

 
 
Updated 6/5/2016 9:56 PM
hello
  • LeRoy Pfund, a former Brooklyn Dodger and legendary Wheaton College coach, died last week at the age of 96.

    LeRoy Pfund, a former Brooklyn Dodger and legendary Wheaton College coach, died last week at the age of 96. Courtesy of Wheaton Athletics

  • LeRoy Pfund, a former Wheaton College men's basketball coach, died last week at the age of 96.

    LeRoy Pfund, a former Wheaton College men's basketball coach, died last week at the age of 96. Courtesy of Wheaton Athletics

LeRoy Pfund may have been a professional baseball player for years, but his legacy as a coach and community servant is rooted in the suburbs.

Pfund, a former Brooklyn Dodger who later became a Wheaton College baseball and basketball coach, died Thursday. The Carol Stream resident was 96.

Born in Oak Park and raised in Elmhurst, Pfund was a man of many talents. He attended York Community High School, where he played football and basketball, participated in track and was an honor student.

He would go on to play professional baseball for eight seasons, including in 1945 when he made his MLB debut as a pitcher for the Brooklyn Dodgers. Pfund played in 15 games with teammates Jackie Robinson and Pee Wee Reese until a knee injury ended his baseball career.

His career in the suburbs began in 1949 when he earned his bachelor's degree from Wheaton College and became a coach and physical education instructor there. He planted his roots in Wheaton, where he raised his children with his wife, Mabel Tillman, to whom he was married 64 years before her death in 2006.

During his tenure, Pfund was the winningest coach in both men's basketball and baseball in Wheaton College history, according to a Wheaton Athletics news release. Under his leadership, the men's basketball team also won its first NCAA College Division Men's Basketball Championship in 1957.

"As Wheaton's head basketball and baseball coach, Lee Pfund is a revered figure from my childhood," Wheaton College President Philip Ryken said in a statement. "His exceptional spirit of competition and sportsmanship produced generations of Christian leaders. We will miss his presence courtside and on the sidelines immensely."

Pfund's success as a coach extends far beyond statistics, current basketball coach Mike Schauer said in a statement.

"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," he said. "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 will also be remembered at Wheaton College as more than a coach, athletic officials said in a statement. He served as executive director of the Wheaton College Alumni Association from 1975 to 1987, was the executive director and vice president of alumni relations at the college and founded the Wheaton College Basketball Camp.

He was inducted into the Wheaton Athletics Department's Hall of Honor in 1985 and received the Distinguished Service to Alma Mater award in 1977. He later became the namesake of Pfund Gymnasium, a practice and recreation space at Wheaton College, and the Lee Pfund Stadium, home of the baseball program.

In the community, Pfund served on the Wheaton History Center board and helped to start the town's Little League Baseball program, according to his obituary. He was involved in Glen Ellyn Rotary International, where he served as president.

A longtime member of the College Church in Wheaton, Pfund was also a man of great faith, Wheaton College baseball coach Matt Husted said in a statement.

"His relationship with God was in his fabric and is who he is," he said. "It was a part of everything he did."

Pfund is survived by three sons, two sisters and several nieces and nephews.

According to his obituary, a visitation will be held 3 to 8 p.m. Friday at the Hultgren Funeral Home, 304 N. Main St., Wheaton. A memorial service is scheduled for 11 a.m. July 9 at College Church in Wheaton.

Article Comments ()
Guidelines: Keep it civil and on topic; no profanity, vulgarity, slurs or personal attacks. People who harass others or joke about tragedies will be blocked. If a comment violates these standards or our terms of service, click the X in the upper right corner of the comment box. To find our more, read our FAQ.