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John Thome, head coach during Lakeland College's golden age of football and a founder of the Illini-Badger Football Conference, passed away on Friday. He was 69.
A Mass of Christian Burial will be celebrated on Thursday, November 10, at St. Thomas Aquinas Catholic Church (94 N. Lincoln, Elkhart Lake) at 2 p.m. with the Reverend Dennis E. Van Beek officiating. Friends may call on Wednesday, November 9, at Zimmer's Westview Funeral and Cremation Care Center (Hwy 42 & JJ, Howards Grove) from 4 p.m. until 7 p.m. Visitation will continue on Thursday at the church from 1 p.m. until the time of the Mass. Entombment in Holy Cross Mausoleum.
Thome was Lakeland's all-time wins leader in football, compiling a 78-53-2 record and winning seven conference championships in 14 seasons as head coach from 1967-1980. He guided the Muskies to five straight Gateway Conference titles from 1967-71 as Lakeland finished 35-10-1 during that stretch. He was a six-time conference coach of the year and a three-time NAIA coach of the year nominee.
He was inducted into the Lakeland Athletic Hall of Fame in 1997 and into the Wisconsin Football Coaches Association Hall of Fame in 2001.
Lakeland will honor his memory with a moment of silence before Saturday's home football game against Maranatha Baptist Bible College. Kickoff is at noon.
Thome coached some of Lakeland's best football players, including five of the 13 Lakeland players to achieve All-American recognition: Pat Curran (1967 and 1968), Elease "Skip" Davis (1970), Jeff Johnson (1975), Jim Wisniewski (1980) and Peter Butch (1980). Curran played in the NFL from 1969-78 for the Los Angeles Rams and San Diego Chargers.
Several of his players have joined him in the Lakeland Hall of Fame, and dozens earned all-conference honors, All-NAIA District 14 honors and many were named to the Wisconsin Independent College Association All-State Team. They remain today a close-knit group that has kept in touch over the years.
In the mid-1970s, Thome was instrumental in the creation of the Illini-Badger Football Conference, which included schools from Wisconsin and Illinois. His last league title (1979) was when Lakeland was a member of the IBFC. Lakeland is now in the Northern Athletics Conference.
A former assistant athletic director for Lakeland, Thome also served as the Muskies head baseball coach (1972, 1977-80), guiding teams to four conference titles, plus he coached three conference championship track teams. He was an assistant basketball coach to Duane "Moose" Woltzen from 1967-1970.
He was a three-sport standout at Port Washington High School, including all-state recognition as a quarterback in football. He was also a three-sport standout at the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh, and in 1988 was inducted into the UWO Athletic Hall of Fame. He later earned a master's degree in health, recreation and physical education at Northern Michigan University.
His professional career began at Chilton High School where he taught English and was the head football and basketball coach. Under his leadership, Chilton's football teams won three consecutive Eastern Wisconsin Conference championships and amassed a 24-2-1 overall record.
After leaving Lakeland, he taught and coached at Illinois Benedictine College before returning to Wisconsin to be involved in high school football in the Sheboygan County area. He served on the coaching staffs at Kiel, Howards Grove, Oostburg and Plymouth, wrapping up his career as physical education teacher at Howards Grove High School and coach of the golf team. He coached golf for 16 seasons (1990-2005) at Howards Grove, winning back-to-back Division 3 state championships in 1992 and 1993.
He also worked as a WIAA basketball official, football camp counselor and coach, motivational speaker and at McPherson College as an adjunct professor.
He was a fixture at local sporting events, both at Lakeland and local high schools, always sitting at Lakeland's Taylor Field in the corner near where Lakeland's players would enter and exit the field so he could talk with Lakeland's players.
Read a complete obituary here.