Lebanon Valley Mourns Passing Of Coaching Legend
Nov. 17, 2008
Courtesy of Lebanon Valley College
George Reynolds “Rinso” Marquette ’48 of Annville, who in his nearly 40-year career at Lebanon Valley College served as an inspirational dean and a legendary coach, died on Nov. 15. He was 84. Marquette, vice president emeritus for student affairs, retired in 1990. He was one of a handful of College leaders in the 20th century who was so closely identified with the Valley that he had an impact on nearly every facet of life here. “He simply is Lebanon Valley College,” a colleague said of him nine years ago, when Marquette and his wife, Rufina ’51, were guests of honor at the dedication of the new Marquette Residence Hall.
The Liturgy of Christian Burial will be held on Wednesday, Nov. 19, at 1:30 p.m. at the St. Mark Lutheran Church, 200 E. Main Street, Annville, with interment at the convenience of the family in Mt. Annville Cemetery. There will be no viewing. The family would like to encourage friends to attend a gathering at LVC's West Dining Hall in the Mund College Center, following the services at the church.
Marquette, a gifted athlete and musician, came to Lebanon Valley College in 1942 after winning a half-scholarship in each of those areas. “When I was notified that I had been awarded the [music] scholarship, I knew I would attend Lebanon Valley. At the time, I wanted to be in music and I wanted to teach, so the scholarship provided a welcome opportunity.” It also filled a need. “My father was a blacksmith and I could not have attended college without some type of significant financial assistance,” he told Robert J. Andrew ’90 for a commemorative piece in La Vie Collegienne. The article, published 18 years ago to mark Marquette’s retirement, is the basis for much of what follows.
When Marquette arrived on campus as a freshman from Shamokin in the fall of 1942, he expected to be drafted soon for World War II. After just one semester, Marquette was called to serve his country, as were most of the males in the freshmen class. “We all left together from campus, Marquette remembered. “There used to be a train station behind where Funkhouser [Residence Hall] currently stands, and I remember we were all lined up on the platform on a cold February day waiting to leave. The College gave us a send off, but it was so cold that the band couldn’t even play because the valves on the instruments froze. It was a solemn time, all of us young men waiting to go out into the unknown, not knowing if we would ever return.”
Marquette served for 34 months in the Air Force as a radio operator/gunner on bombing missions. From his base in England, he flew 34 missions in B-17 aircraft and one mission in a B-24. It was during one of these missions that Marquette almost lost his life. “Our plane was hit and the oxygen was knocked out so we had to rely on walk-around tanks of oxygen.” He recalls becoming lightheaded and groggily crawling around in search of an oxygen tank. When he found one, he was on the catwalk of the bomb bay of the aircraft. Wearing his Air Force-issue silk gloves, he grabbed the oxygen tank, but it slid out of his slippery hands and into the bomb bay, out of reach.
“At that moment I knew it was over,” recalled Marquette. “They say anoxia is a peaceful, painless death so I thought my departing thoughts, nodded my head and passed out.” Luckily, one of the other crew members found oxygen and was able to revive Marquette just minutes before it would have been too late. Being just 19 years old and so close to death made a deep impression on Marquette. “My life since this incident has been a gift. I made up my mind that if I could be in a position to help someone, the rest of my life would be worthwhile.”
As soon as he was discharged from the service, Marquette immediately came back to continue his education at Lebanon Valley College, where he was known as an energetic student with a magnetic personality who liked to be a jokester. He lettered in baseball, playing second base, and scored a career total of 30 points in football, even though his mother had never allowed him to play the game in high school because she thought it was too dangerous. Marquette recalled, “When I was on the football team, the helmets were leather. We would put them in our back pockets on the way to practice.” He also captained the basketball team. In addition to being a “terrific trumpeter for the dance band” one of his classmates recalls, Marquette was active in student government. His athletic achievements were to be hailed years later when he was elected to both the LVC and the Pennsylvania sports halls of fame.
Lebanon Valley College is the place where Marquette met his future spouse, Rufina F. Balmer. “I had an unobstructed view of Rufina walking to dinner. I used to yell out my window to her. The war was a terrible thing, but without it, I might never have met my wife.” Marquette was a senior when the freshman music major from Lititz arrived on campus. They were married for 57 years.
After graduating in 1948, he took a teaching/coaching job at the former Myerstown High School, where he taught history. While there, Marquette played minor league baseball for the Detroit chain in the Pennsylvania-Ohio-New York League and then in the Canadian-American League. Marquette was summoned by the Detroit chain to go to Panama City, Fla., as a player/coach. He took time off from teaching and spent a year playing baseball full time. “It was the best year of my life. To get up every morning and be a little boy—to play a game and have fun is a great experience.”
The scout who signed up Marquette said he was probably the second-best second baseman in the leagues at that time. But, in order to even be considered by the major leagues, Marquette would have to go to spring training and really make an impression. “At the time, I was madly in love,” Marquette remembered fondly. “I knew I had found the woman I wanted to marry.” Instead of going to spring training, Marquette earned a master’s degree in health and physical education at Columbia University in 1951 and then got married. “I have never regretted it,” he said.
A year later, Marquette returned to Lebanon Valley College as chairman of the Physical Education Department and as the head coach for both the baseball and basketball teams. In 1953, during his first year as men’s basketball coach, he led the Dutchmen’s Seven Dwarfs—no player was over 6 foot 1—to the NCAA playoffs. With an enrollment of just over 400, LVC made history as the smallest college ever to play in the Sweet 16, a feat that can never be duplicated now that the College competes in Division III. Marquette was one of the first to coach the now well-known zone matchup strategy. After upsetting mighty Fordham in the first round, LVC fell to heavily-favored Louisiana State University in the next round.
Marquette continued to coach baseball successfully for four years until he became dean of men in 1956 and he stayed on as basketball coach until 1960. “I suppose his achievements could easily be accounted for by his basketball teams’ excellent records, but I think most importantly, Rinso’s great accomplishment has been to train students’ minds as well as muscles,” wrote a fellow student in nominating Marquette for an alumni award.
Marquette’s career took a turn away from coaching following a campus visit of a well known education consultant, advised him to choose either athletics or administration. After thinking it over for nearly two months, Marquette decided that administration was where he really wanted to be. He worked part-time to earn his doctorate in education, which he received in 1967 from Temple University. Of the 53 doctorates awarded that year by Temple’s School of Education, Marquette’s dissertation was chosen as the most outstanding.
After being promoted to vice president of student affairs in 1984, Marquette described the job as a “weighty position” because his decisions could seriously affect a person’s life. “Because of this important responsibility, I always try to leave people with a way out,” Marquette reflected. “I know I’ve been criticized a lot,” Marquette added, “but I am the one who has to live life inside this skin, so I can’t worry about what others think. Coaching taught me to handle criticism. Everyone uses the coach as a punching bag; it’s always the coach’s fault. I make my decisions based on how I can create good from a situation, not based on how or what others will think of me.” Marquette illustrated his philosophy by quoting Shakespeare: “The evil that men do lives after them / The good is oft interred with their bones ...” His colleagues and students remember him as someone who was caring and brought a sense of family to the College. He recalled, “The greatest job of being in student affairs is seeing the success stories and turnarounds of the students. The students make this job very rewarding.”
In the community, Marquette was known for his many years of energetic service to the Annville-Cleona Recreation Association, where he helped to plan the community swimming pool and organized youth sports.
As he contemplated retirement, Marquette got glassy-eyed when he admitted, “Stepping away will be tough. Lebanon Valley College has really been my life.” By the time he retired in 1990, Marquette had helped nine students over a 15-year-period win Fulbright awards—a remarkable achievement for a small college, and he continued to serve as a Fulbright coordinator after his retirement. Marquette also spent time doing what he enjoyed most: attending sporting events, going to the Opera at the Met, traveling and spending time with his family, including his two sons, Reynolds and Robby Leigh. Marquette won the Distinguished Alumnus Award in 1993.
Other than health, Marquette believed that two things are necessary for a happy and fulfilling life. “The two key ingredients are a job you enjoy and a good spouse.” George R. Marquette found both at Lebanon Valley College.
Surviving in addition to his wife are two sons, Reynolds B. and his wife, Kala M. Marquette, of Lynchburg, Va.; and Robby L. Marquette of Lebanon; four grandchildren, Jeremy J. Marquette, Jason S. Marquette, Stefanie L. Marquette, and Zachary Marquette; and one greatgrandson, Dillon Marquette.
In lieu of flowers, contributions may be made to the LVC George Marquette Scholarship Fund, 101 College Avenue, Annville, PA 17003; or the St. Mark Lutheran Church Extended Ministry Fund, 200 E. Main Street, Annville, PA 17003. Kreamer Funeral Home and Crematory, Annville, is in charge of arrangements.