PAOLA — The Paola Panther family lost one of its true legends and community leaders with the passing of Joseph Richard “Dick” Gilman.
Gilman, 92, passed away Thursday, Jan. 2.
He touched thousands of lives in the Paola community, serving the high school for more than five decades as teacher, coach, assistant principal and athletic director. He also volunteered many hours with numerous clubs and organizations, including as a bell ringer for the Salvation Army collections at Christmas.
Gilman was the first person inducted into the Paola High School Athletic Hall of Fame in 1996. He was inducted into the Kansas Wrestling Coaches Association Hall of Fame in 2012.
A memorial visitation will be from 4 to 8 p.m. Friday, Jan. 10, at the Paola Chapel at 305 N. Pearl St. A memorial service will be at 11 a.m. Saturday, Jan. 11, at the Paola United Methodist Church at 209 S. Silver St. in Paola.
He was born in Atchison on July 14, 1927, to JR. Gilman Sr. and Opal Thomas Gilman. His father J.R. was a lieutenant colonel In the United States Army Reserve and was called up prior to World War II. He was assigned to Little Rock, Ark. He was later stationed to Jefferson Barracks in Webster Groves. Mo.
Gilman graduated from Webster Groves High School in 1945 and enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps.
He was a starting quarterback for the University of Kansas in college. Gilman still holds several school records. He was an All-Big Seven Conference quarterback that season.
Gilman has his own Topps football card, printed in 1950 when he was a prospect coming out of the University of Kansas.
In addition to football, Gilman was an outstanding pitcher for the Jayhawks. He struck out 90 batters in 107 innings in 1949. Another record that has stood the test of time is his 10 complete games pitched. The baseball team went 11-7 winning the Big Seven Conference that year. It was the Jayhawks last baseball conference title until 2006.
Gilman signed a contract with the New York Yankees and played with Mickey Mantle. He was Mantle’s roommate during a camp in Phoenix which was for selected prospects. A shoulder injury ended his baseball career.
He returned to Lawrence and married Mary Wilkins on Nov. 24, 1950, at the Plymouth Congregational Church. The two were married for nearly 65 years, raising four children — Joe Gilman (Judy), Tom Gilman (Patti), Georgia Gilman (James) and Mary Minden (Bruce).
Gilman began working at Paola High School in fall 1957 where he served as a teacher and administrator. He was vice principal for more than 30 years.
He served the community as a member of the Paola Foster Grandparents, Paola Lions Club, P.A.C.A, the Paola United Methodist Church, the Paola American Legion Post 156, and the Salvation Army where he served as a bell ringer for the Christmas collection.
Gilman coached the football team and started the PHS wrestling program. He would later serve as athletic director.
Gilman and Dick Burns of Bonner Springs started the first high school wrestling programs in eastern Kansas in 1965. Gilman coached the Paola Panther wrestling team from 1965 to 1985 with three state champion wrestlers and one grand state runner-up. He led Paola to two regional titles and two third-place Class 3A state finishes.
Gilman was the Paola Panther head football coach from 1957 to 1976 with an 87-79 record. He led Paola to four Pioneer League championships and two undefeated league seasons 1970 (8-0) and 1971 (7-0).
Paola coach Steve Gorsuch started his career as an assistant wrestling coach with Gilman.
“I had the utmost respect for him,” Gorsuch said. “If it wasn’t for Larry McGee and Dick Gilman, there is a good chance I wouldn’t be here in Paola right now.
“Dick Gilman was a hero,” Gorsuch said. “He was a paratrooper. He played football and baseball at Kansas. He gave his time to the community. He loved to give me a hard time. I would see him at Price Chopper and he would always look in my cart and see what I was getting.”
There is a way of doing things in Paola, Panther football coach Michael Dumpert said. It is a way — the Panther way — that was inspired by Dick Gilman.
“Mr. Gilman was larger than life to me as a new teacher and coach,” Dumpert said “In a word, he was iconic. He was a role model in professionalism — a living, breathing resource who was willing to share his incredible knowledge and experiences.
“My core beliefs when working with students and athletes were shaped by conversations I had with him” Dumpert said. “He opened my eyes to the responsibilities that go beyond the X’s and O’s , and the impact we have on the kids.”
He was also a driver’s education instructor at the high school.
“Mr. Gilman was one of a kind and touched the lives of a countless number of students and their families over the years,” said former student and coworker Dorothy Powell. “I have many great memories of being in his driver’s ed class and then working with him a decade later in the Paola High School office. He will be greatly missed.”
Brian Duncan, a 1978 graduate of Paola High School, wrestled and played football for coach Gilman and nominated him for the Kansas Wrestling Coaches Association Hall of Fame.
“He was a mentor, a father figure and a friend to hundreds, if not thousands, of impressionable teenagers,” Duncan said. “I have also followed in his footsteps, being a teacher, coaching football and wrestling. He had a way of tapping into your ability and pushing you to be the best athlete as possible and to be the best person as possible.”