Farewell to my First Coach – My Dad, My Hero

Dad was my lighthouse, guiding me ashore when lost in life’s stormy sea. He died on August 8, 2022 just nine days shy of his 91st birthday. Without him I drift bereft.

My dad and I shared a special bond made stronger through a love of sports and our fierce determination to overcome obstacles.

My athleticism was a genetic gift; my fighting spirit part of the McKinzie bloodline.

Growing up, I never appreciated his athletic talents. He never boasted about his own accolades, but was always the first to applaud others’ achievements.

As a college athlete at Northern Illinois State University, he was a 3 sport division I athlete and MVP in 2 major sports. He was inducted into the NIU hall of fame three times, as an individual player and as a team member in the 1951 football and baseball teams. He was part of the NIU Century Basketball Team and Decade “50’s” football team.  As a coach, he was also inducted into the Sterling High School Hall of Fame and the Illinois Basketball Coaches’ Association Hall of Fame.

But he remained humble. His passion lay in helping others achieve their goals. He impacted countless young lives in his role as an educator, coach, and mentor.

He will be remembered for his kindness, generosity, tolerance, humor and compassion for the underdog. He treated everyone equally regardless of class, age, ethnicity, nationality, religious affiliation or gender identity. He also advocated for women’s right to participate in sports in the infancy of Title IX.

Fondly remembered as ‘Papa Mac’ for leading his daughter Karen and her “Golden Girl” teammates to the first girls State Basketball Championship in 1977, he also guided the 1979 third place and 1980 Elite 8 girls state basketball teams.

And he coached me.

At a time when women’s sports was taboo, his guidance made me an outstanding pioneer basketball player — one of the 1st female athletic scholarship recipients at Illinois State University, professional players in the USA and American women to play in Europe.
In one of our last visits, we reminisced about the hours we spent shooting baskets. I re-enacted how he taught me to drop into 3 point football stance and run a v-slant pattern with my fingertips stretched to the sky, ready to catch his perfect spiral pass.

“You also taught me how to swing a baseball bat, serve a volleyball, swish a hook shot!”

“I betcha I taught you all the ball games,” dad said and chuckled.

“You also showed me how to balance a check book, change a flat tire, catch a fish, ride a bike, drive a car.”

“You were a good learner,” he told me.

“You were the best teacher.”

Just ask his former campers at Camp Neyati Wisconsin or the hundreds of students and athletes whose lives he touched in his 35 year teaching/coaching — basketball, football, baseball, track — career. He served as a pillar of the community, a brick in the foundation of Sterling High School.

My dad, a man of integrity, walked the talk. He saw the best in each of us and then coached it out of us.

How many of his former students and athletes went on to dedicate their lives to teaching and coaching?

Like my grandfather, and my father, when my playing career ended, I became an ambassador of the game. I guided athletes on the global arena teaching and coaching 33 yrs in Europe. I passed on not only dad’s basketball expertise, but also his philosophy of life.

In a ripple effect, my dad’s ethos — honesty, acceptance and fair play — echoed around the world when my former international players returned to their passport countries to advocate for social justice.

Dad, I wish I could play my guitar for you one last time.

“I can’t sing on key to save my life,” dad would say as he whistled along.

You may not have had a musical bone in your body, dad, but your life was a rhapsody. Your spirit united the chorus of humanity.

You were a gifted artist.

Whether teaching city boys to appreciate nature at Camp Neyati, counseling teens on the playing fields and in the classrooms, painting landscapes for loved ones, or writing a letters of encouragement, your work comforted us all.

A hug from you could lift a soul for a lifetime.

As I reflect back on how hard it was to stand after my accidents, I hear your voice inspiring me to walk again. Whenever I hike the Swiss mountains or wander Wisconsin’s Northwoods, I remember you.

Every breath I take, every step I make, every word I speak, every kindness I share, I think of you.

Your light shines eternally as we offer our guidance to the next generation while whistling your song in our hearts.

You left the best kind of legacy.

Your love lives on.

A Memorial Service will be hosted on Sunday, August 28th at the Schilling Funeral Home in Sterling (visitation11-2 PM and service 2 PM.)   In lieu of flowers, his family requests donations be made in his name to Jim & Lenore McKinzie Scholarship Fund care of Sterling-Rock Falls Community Trust, (Midland States Bank, 302 1st Ave, Sterling, Il 61081) to help a deserving student going into education or to the  Sterling Schools Foundation (510 East Miller Rd, Sterling, Il 61081 www.sterlingschoolsfoundation.org

Cards to Lenore McKinzie 1424 W. 21st St. 61081 Sterling, IL USA

Posted in education, family, inspiration, relationships.


  1. My deepest condolences,Pat. I too shared a special bond with my Dad and miss him tremendously. He will forever be both on a pedestal and along side my heart as a guiding inspiration to me. Hugs to you and all the family.

    • Thanks Fran. I will remember your beautiful image of my dad, like yours, who will remain forever alongside my heart as a guiding inspiration.

  2. I am so blessed to have shared the love of Papa Mac. His legacy indeed lives on in his children. I have felt this tenfold in Sue’s compassionate and steadfast friendship and sisterhood more times than I can count. He was a joy to chat with and gift from God. May all your memories remain ever tight in your heart, but share them with the world in your eloquent words as well. This way, he’ll live forever. Much love and prayers to see you through.

    • Thanks Sheila for always supporting me even though I haven’t seen you in years, your words often bring me comfort. Yes, Sue our family angel, has inherited so many of my dad’s fine qualities. I will always be reminded of him when I see that twinkle in her blue eyes. He will live on in each of us.

  3. A beautiful tribute, Pat! Jim’s light will shine on through his loving children, grandchildren and all the generations to come!! May your memories bring you comfort!

  4. What a wonderful, loving tribute to your father, a great man who touched so many lives. I am honored to have known him, glean his coaching expertise from, and share many good laughs with at the lake. He is missed but I am grateful for the fond memories he has dished out to all who knew him over the years. And I witness his spirit living on in you and your siblings.

    • Thanks. Love your line…”grateful for the fond memories he dished out to all who knew him.” Thank you for bringing your own special brand of your Tinie laughter and joy to his life.

  5. Pat, thank you for a wonderful tribute to your dad. Growing up in Summit Lake, it was always a treat when your dad and mom stopped by my parents’ home. I had tremendous respect for your father and grandfather. They were role models for young people. I feel I got to know them even more through your writings. God’s blessing to your family. Joe King

    • Joe, thank you so much for sharing your uplifting words. Dad truly love the Northwoods and its people like your folks. We find comfort in knowing he will be buried in the tranquil Summit Lake Cemetery overlooking the beautiful place where he shared so many happy memories with family and friends.

  6. A true gentleman in every respect. So very happy to have known him. I see his strength and compassion in my dear friend Sue whenever I have the chance to get together with her. My sincere condolences for you loss. It is truly remarkable how many people’s lives he had an impact on. Your pride in your father is infectious. ❤️

    • Thanks Dave for your kind words Dave. We were fortunate to have had him as part of our so long. That of course in part is because my mom and Sue were such loyal, loving caretakers over the last few years.

  7. This Greatest Generation of adults made Sterling such a great place to grow up. Your father prime among them. It was such a privilege to know him and your entire family. I treasure our neighborhood and the foundation for our lives.
    All my condolences to you Pat and your entire family

    • So well said Jeff. We were so fortunate to grow up on E. 19th under the guidance not only of our strong, loving fathers, but also the kind, caring neighbors. Thank you for taking the time to write us.

    • Thanks Lynne. I was blessed to have had dad as a part of my life for so long. I will miss him everyday just as you must miss your beautiful mom, who inspired you. Thinking of you also during this time of loss. May we find comfort in our writing in the days ahead.

  8. Aw, gee, Pat, I’m so sorry to read this. I understand the close bond between a daughter and her dad, and I know you’re going to miss him. My own dad has been gone nearly 14(!) years now, and I still miss him. Still think of things I wish I could tell him about. Your dad would’ve loved this tribute, my friend. Hugs to you from Central Illinois!

    • Thanks for your kind words, Debbie. We are both lucky to have been raised by good fathers who treated us as equals in a time in society when strong athletic daughters were not the norm.

  9. Dear Pat,I am saddened by the death of your father. My thoughts and condolences are with you and your family. It’s a great loss for your family. But I think he lived a fulfilling life and your love and gratitude went with him.
    With love
    “Oma” Renate

    • Thank you for your kind words, Oma. Dad did have a wonderful life and we were lucky to have him so long in hours.

  10. How beautiful and what an extraordinary man and father. An angel among us. My sincerest condolences on his passing. We hold our father’s in our hearts forever. ♥️ Cathy

    • Thank you Cathy for your kind words. Yes, we hold our father’s in our hearts forever and he will never leave mine.

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