Beloved Fairmont West coach Hoppe dies at 82 after living a ‘magical life’

Longtime area football coach led Fairmont West to 10-0 season in 1974

A steady stream of friends and family members visited Dick Hoppe at Hospice of West Chester in recent months, adding a happy final chapter to a full life.

“It was just such a blessing,” said Hoppe’s wife, Linda. “At first, I was afraid it was too much for him. I talked to the doctor, and he said he perked up with every visit even though he couldn’t communicate fully. They would come and tell stories and laugh. He just enjoyed it so much. It was a complete blessing. I’ve never seen anything like it.”

Hoppe died on July 24, two days after his 82nd birthday. He battled a rare form of Parkinson’s disease but was active until March when he entered hospice, Linda said.

“He was pretty lucky that way,” Linda said. “He had a good life until almost the end.”

Hoppe made his name on the football field, coaching Fairmont West to a 67-30-3 record in 10 seasons (1968-78). He spent time on the staff at the University of Dayton, and he also coached five seasons as an assistant at Alter and was part of the staff in 2008 when the Knights won a state championship.

Hoppe followed that with three seasons as an assistant at Waynesville. He and Linda also spent 16 winters in Naples, Fla., and Hoppe helped the Naples High School (Fla.) football team condition in the offseason in 10 of those winters.

Football was a big part of his life — but just one part of it. The Hoppes ran Crazy Quilt Antiques in Waynesville after Dick retired from teaching at Fairmont. They traveled the world. They raised two daughters. They enjoyed spending time with their four grandchildren.

“We’ve done everything on our bucket list,” Linda said. “We’ve had a magical life together. It’s gone several directions, but it always came back to coaching. He had the most amazing rapport with kids.”

Several of those kids, now adults, talked about their coach this week, looking back at his life and marveling at how he influenced them.

Tim Kritzer, a 1975 Fairmont West graduate who now lives in Pendleton, Ind., played for Hoppe’s most famous team: the group that finished 10-0 in 1974.

“The first thing he tried to impress upon us was the tradition of Fairmont football,” Kritzer said, “having unbridled pride in the purple jersey and in the concept of team itself. It was all about the history of the program and about the people that have come before us to lay the groundwork for such a rich tradition of football history.”

The 1974 team added a memorable chapter to that tradition, completing the first perfect season in school history with a 33-21 victory against Wayne on Nov. 8, 1974.

“I think this is the best team the Western Ohio League has ever had,” Hoppe told Dave Long, of the Dayton Daily News, after the game.

John Spears, a 1976 Fairmont West graduate who now lives in Newnan, Ga., was a junior on that team and called Hoppe a great man.

“He instilled a lot of character in us,” Spears said. “A lot of hard work went into that team.”

Bob Kesling, a 1972 Fairmont West graduate who is the longtime play-by-play voice for Tennessee Volunteers football and men’s basketball teams, saw that hard work on the 1969, 1970 and 1971 teams.

“He was so intense and just such a stickler for fundamentals and toughness,” Kesling said. “That was back in the days when you didn’t get water during practice. You got salt pills because water made you weak and all that kind of stuff. He’d get up there every year and would tell us this story about going to the Hall of Fame Game in Canton every year.

“This one year, he was coming back, driving his little Volkswagen, and the Volkswagen quit. It just broke down on the way back. He said at first he started feeling sorry for the Volkswagen, and then the more he thought about it, the madder he got. Then he just started kicking the Volkswagen because if the Volkswagen had any guts, it wouldn’t have quit on him. He said, ‘I don’t want you guys quitting on me. If you’re going to quit, you quit right now. Don’t quit during the season. Don’t quit during the middle of the journey. We’re not going to put up with that.’”

Kesling will deliver the eulogy at a celebration of Hoppe’s life at Tobias Funeral Home on Far Hills Avenue in Kettering on Saturday, while Kritzer will emcee the event.

Kesling kept in touch with Hoppe over the years. They got together in New York City in 2010 when 1972 Fairmont West grad Chet Moeller, who played at Navy, was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame.

Kesling also helped arrange one of Hoppe’s great college football experiences one year when Hoppe visited him in Knoxville. When Lane Kiffin was the Tennessee coach in 2009, his dad Monte Kiffin, one of the game’s great defensive minds, was the defensive coordinator and allowed Hoppe to observe film sessions and practices for three days.

Hoppe’s life in football began when he was a player. He graduated from Fairmont in 1957 and then played at Ohio Wesleyan University, graduating from the school in Delaware in 1963. He then earned a master’s degree from Miami University. Following graduate, he was hired to teach at Fairmont and started coaching seventh-grade football at Southdale. According to his obituary, his first team was undefeated.

No team left a larger mark on Hoppe’s life, however, than that undefeated 1974 team, which reunited in 2014 at Roush Stadium.

Lowell Vorpe, who assisted Hoppe throughout his tenure at Fairmont and then succeeded him as head coach in 1978, remembers the team well and marvels at the impact Hoppe had on so many players and coaches.

“He was like an older brother to me,” Vorpe said. “I was the oldest in my family. I didn’t have an older brother. He was about six years older, and for me personally, he’s probably one of about four people that were most influential in my life along with my father and grandfather and my younger brother. He not only developed athletes and students but coaches and assistant coaches. He was a mentor to us. I think there were like 17 coaches that worked with him under him, and many of those guys, once we left football, became superintendents of schools or principals, leadership types.”

Hoppe is survived by Linda, his wife of 61 years; daughters, Heidi (Mark) Johnson and Mindy (Rinaldo) DiSalvo; four grandchildren, Jennifer and Kristina Johnson and Gina and Ronnie DiSalvo; and brother-in-law Steve Milby. In lieu of flowers, contributions may be made to Affinity Hospice of West Chester.

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