The death of Robert "Bob" Bohn deprives Lewistown of one of its great men and wise citizens. I say this as someone who benefitted from his remarkable talent for leadership, his strength and compassion.
I was a member of the 1966 Lewistown Panthers football team, which ran up a 9-1 record and captured the Western Conference Championship. Bob Bohn was our head coach.
It was a miracle season, for our 1965 team was awful. We were 0-9-1 and many of us approached the '66 season with doubts about our prospects.
Coach Bohn had no doubts. His ram-rod straight bearing reflecting his time in the Marines, he was a confident task master, pushing us in brutal summer practices to prepare for a comeback season. He told us we could win, that we would win, if we worked and believed and worked some more.
He willed us to victory.
Our "Friday Night Lights" experience was the highlight of our young lives and brought back jubilation to Mitchell Field. For me it was also a life lesson that determination and preparation can turn your dreams into reality. Apart from the values I learned from my parents, Virginia and Massey Goodwin, Coach Bohn's steely resolve had the greatest influence on my life in Lewistown.
I left to go to Columbia University, admitted in part because of the football team's success and my role in it. Coach Bohn consistently encouraged me to finish my education and insisted it was more important than football. I did, and will be forever grateful for his timely pushes.
In hindsight, his emphasis on education is not surprising. He gave up coaching, got a doctorate at Penn State and rose to become county superintendent of schools. He retired in 1997 as a respected educational leader, leaving a legacy of success in both sports and academics.
I didn't have much contact with him for some years, but as the 40th anniversary of the '66 championship season approached, Wade Breon, the son of teammate Willy Breon, suggested a reunion. No Lewistown team since had matched our record and Coach Bohn enthusiastically embraced the idea.
About 25 members of the '66 team and coaches made it to the celebration, which featured our introduction on the field before the 2006 Panthers played. The coaches found old game films and other mementoes, making the night a glorious reminder of a wonderful time.
True to form, however, Coach Bohn didn't just want a happy trip down memory lane. He wanted to keep the championship spirit alive and permanently honor the '66 team.
Over breakfast one morning, Jim Johnson, our team captain, Coach Leon Grassmyer, Coach Bohn and I came up with the idea of an annual college scholarship fund for Lewistown athletes. We would collect donations from the '66 team to help Panther grads going to college pay tuition and buy text books.
We hoped to raise a few hundred dollars each year, but the response from our teammates was terrific. We were able to give two scholarships of $1,000 each in 2007, and increased it to $1,500 for the last three years. So far, the 1966 Champs Fund has given $11,000 to eight Lewistown football grads.
As usual, Coach Bohn led the way. He organized a committee of former players and wrote a newsletter to every team member he could track down. He talked of "Panther pride" and always included a direct plea to participate.
"This is the only scholarship from one football team to another," he wrote at one point. "Any amount you give will help."
Another time, he mentioned plans to publish the names of donors, adding "Try to get your name on the list."
"We are striving for 100 percent participation," he wrote. "Help us get there."
We averaged 28 donors a year, and he was proud of us again, as if we had won another championship. "You came through on this endeavor just as you did during our challenging football season back in 1966," he wrote glowingly.
Always, he signed off as "Coach Bohn."
I would often respond by email, and he would write back with thoughts on subjects from politics to football.
He approved of my conservative-leaning commentary and we agreed that too much money was spoiling sports. "My first paycheck for coaching junior high football for Coach Alex Ufema was $50 and that was for the entire year!" he told me. "Really hit the big time when I was appointed to the head coach position at $1,800."
Last November, after Tulsa, his alma mater, (his email name was "tulsabob") upset Notre Dame, I wrote to congratulate him. He was worried about the nation's continuing job losses but happily planning the 45th team reunion this September.
Since none of us knew he was sick, his death came as a shock. But one thing about it was not. Instead of flowers, his family asked that contributions be made to our scholarship fund.
So in death, as in life, he remains our leader.
Rest in peace, Coach.
Michael Goodwin is a New York Post columnist and Fox News contributor.