WADSWORTH: Richard “Dick” Fortner lived his life as a proud man.
A man with integrity, morals and values.
He was self-made and self-taught, according to his family and friends. He contributed to the lives of thousands of children and young adults as a teacher and head football coach at Randolph, Stow, Kenmore and North.
Mr. Fortner, a Copley resident, passed away at age 80 Thursday with his family by his side in Akron.
Hundreds of family members, friends, former coaches and former athletes gathered for a Celebration of Life at The Chapel on the Wadsworth campus Monday.
“Our father was really a self-made man” son Neil Fortner said. “He was very versatile. Whatever he decided to do he did well, and in some cases very well.”
Mr. Fortner served as a teacher and head football coach for 23 years at Randolph, Stow, Kenmore, and North high schools, where he turned struggling programs into championship teams. His outside interests included award-winning vegetable gardening, fruit trees and hang gliding.
“Coach was a family man,” said Gary Pinkel, who played football at Kenmore for Mr. Fortner and now is the head coach of the University of Missouri football team.
“I’m really honored that I was asked to speak here. I really wanted to get here to speak about him. My father, Dick Fortner and [former Kent State coach] Don James, those are the three most influential people I have had in my life.”
Pinkel said Fortner was a great model and was the reason he got into coaching.
Mr. Fortner accumulated a 131-71-13 overall record as a head coach for 23 seasons.
“He was all about the minute details,” said Joe Lutz, a friend and assistant to Mr. Fortner. “He jumped into everything full speed. It was a wonderful time for the North community when he was there.”
Mr. Fortner was born in Navarre to Gilbert and Elizabeth Fortner on Aug. 12, 1932, and was president of the Navarre High class of 1950. He earned a BS from Wilmington College and an MA from New Mexico University. He played football in high school and college as a tight end, linebacker, kicker and punter. He was also an accomplished tennis player.
“I owe my success, simply, to Coach Fortner,” said Akron Mayor Don Plusquellic, who played for Mr. Fortner at Kenmore.
“He developed great football players and great football teams, but he cared about more than just that. He cared about his players having successful lives after football. He had such a strong character, and led by example.”
Mr. Fortner led Stow to a Metropolitan title in 1962 with a 9-1 mark. He posted a 58-25-4 record at Kenmore as coach in 1963 and from 1966-1973, and won City Series titles on Thanksgiving Day in 1969 and 1970. He went 28-17-1 in five seasons at North, and stepped down in 1979 at age 47.
“My father was known as a master of rebuilding struggling high school football programs,” son Dale Fortner said. “That started with his first head position at Randolph, where his 1959 team claimed the Class A state title, scoring over 200 points and allowing only touchdown on their way to an undefeated season.”
Mr. Fortner coached three players who later appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated: NFL Hall of Famer and Stow graduate Larry Csonka, who starred at Syracuse University and won a Super Bowl with the Miami Dolphins, and twin brothers Don Buckey and Dave Buckey, who led Kenmore teams and later played for North Carolina State.
All three men shared words about how their coach helped in their lives. The Buckey twins recalled how excited a Saturday could be at Kenmore’s Stadium for a day game.
“I remember the marching band marching six blocks up 13th Street to the stadium,” Don Buckey said. “For my brother Dave and I, a Saturday morning felt like Christmas morning. I remember how we had 200 guys go out for the team and 100 would dress for games. ”
Dave Ben, Eric Schoch and Mike Nall were some of the other successful players that played college football.
Stow graduate Ron Marhofer recalled how Fortner was a master motivator and created a family atmosphere.
“You knew you did a good job when you got that big smile,” Marhofer said.
Preceded in death by his parents and brother, Glenn; Dick is survived by his wife, Lillian, of 60 years; children, Neil (Linda) Fortner, Sharon (Rick) Seitz, Lee (Sherry) Fortner, Dale (Debbie) Fortner, and Karen Fortner Boykin; 18 grandchildren; brother, Ray (Nancy) Fortner; sister-in-law, Linda Fortner; and many nieces, nephews, and friends.
“I am so proud that he touched the lives of so many people, but without all of you he would not have been successful,” Lillian Fortner said.
Michael Beaven can be reached at 330-996-3829 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Read the high school blog at http://www.ohio.com/preps. Follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/MBeavenABJ and on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/sports.abj.