Remembering "Coach" Harlacher

Claudia Loucks
"Coach" Gary Harlacher surrounded by his grandchildren, Left to right: Hayden Schaaf, Connor Schaaf and Reese Schaaf

Gary Harlacher passed away on Tuesday, Oct. 5, and his celebration of life was held on Monday, Oct. 11

His career was spent in teaching and coaching and those who taught or coached with him, or did both, call him their friend. I asked some of those people to share some memories of him.

He was often referred to as “Coach Harlo.”

MIKE KISS

Retired Geneseo High School teacher and Coach Mike Kiss said, “It is an honor to speak of Coach. We think of him as a Maple Leaf institution for the past 40 years.”

“He was a man of deep pride,” Kiss said. “Pride in his profession; pride in the many, many relationships he had with students and athletes and fellow coaches; but above all, great pride in Ryan, Devin and Dan, and the grandkids.”

“We shared coffee on a regular basis. Many years, an infinite number of coffees. Many years, top 10 stories of all time. First, at Geneseo High School and in recent years, at McDonald’s. Always with many fellow coaches.”

He said, “Coach had a master’s degree in coffee conversation. Our favorite memories from the conversations came from the unique, captivating stories he told at the table. They were always positively motivating; and centered on his students, athletes and teams. Almost all of them had him in a starring role. He also had a PhD in giving good natured jabs. But above all, they ended with antidotes about the kids and grandkids. No matter how funny they were, the pride always displayed in them was authentic, deep and constant.”

Kiss recalled the last time having coffee with his friend was  Tuesday at 1:30 p.m….”After the usual dose of humor and ribbing, the last stories he told were how Ryan came up with tickets to the Field of Dreams game, how Devin wouldn’t let him take the kids out of school for the whole day and what a great time was had by all. And all underscored by that great sense of pride.”

“Our deepest sympathy goes to Cheryl, Devin, Ryan, Dan, Hayden, Reese, Connor, Drew, Owen, all the Harlachers and Cousin Louis,” he added.

In conclusion, Kiss said, “Life will not be the same without him. The Geneseo community has suffered a great loss. He will be missed.”

JOSH PIERCE

Josh Pierce’s relationship with Coach Harlacher began when Pierce was a freshman at GHS and Harlacher was his basketball coach. Most recently, Harlacher and Pierce were on the same coaching staff of the basketball team at GHS.

“Coach Harlacher was my freshman basketball coach at Geneseo High School in the late 1980’s,” Pierce said, and added that he considered “Coach Harlo, as we called him, was an old-school coach who was not afraid to tell you what he was thinking. Sometimes that was good, sometimes that was bad, but you always knew where you stood, and I respected that.”

“One thing I always admired about him was his desire to make his players better, and wanting to compete at the highest level,” Pierce said. “Back then I never imagined 30 years later, I would be on the same coaching staff with the man who coached me when I was playing. He was truly one of a kind and will be missed not only by the community, but by the Geneseo High School basketball program.”

BRAD STORM

Coach Brad Storm, current GHS Boys’ Varsity Basketball Coach, said, “I feel like I could write a book. But, it’s actually hard to do because his death is so fresh and the pain is still sharp. I still can’t believe it.”

“First and foremost, he was a really good friend and a good person,” Storm said. “Whether it was serving as my assistant or as a fan or as a friend, he was always supportive and was willing to tell me what I needed to hear, not what I wanted to hear. That alone is a mark of a good assistant and of a good friend. When I needed picked up he was there, when I needed a sounding board he was there. When I needed to vent he was there. When I needed to hear something difficult he was there. When I needed advice and to draw from his experience, he was there. And then he would follow through and follow up with everything. He paid attention to what needed done and to what would help me.”

Storm said, “It goes all the way back to when he was first at Geneseo and I was a player. That’s a long time ago…But he took enough interest in me and some other players to get us to attend basketball camps at universities, which hadn’t really been done before. He was willing to work with us and help us grow. And that desire to serve kids never left him.”

“He had a big heart,” Storm commented. “He really cared for kids. He might have been perceived by gruff and rigid by some officials, students, fans, and players, but only until they got to know him and got to know how much he cared. He would help anyone and everyone and he loved Geneseo High School and Geneseo athletics. He especially had a love for Maple Leaf basketball. He wanted it to grow and do well, he wanted players to grow and do well. He was emotionally invested as well as physically invested.”

He was all about family…”He really loved his family,” Storm said. “He would often talk about his grandkids, to the point where I felt I knew them well. It was fun to see him light up telling me about hockey games, plays, basketball things, golfing, or whatever it was they were doing at the time. He loved when they were at the gym with him, in his element. My heart hurts that he and they won’t get to do all the things that he would have done with them. But, they will never have to wonder how he felt about them.”

“I have so many stories involving him,” Storm said. “Many involved our time together, but some are stories he or others told me about him over his many years as a teacher and coach. Some were funny, some made me wonder about his sanity or grasp on reality, some astonished me in multiple ways, and some were quite impressive.”

“He also was never short on stories to tell. He had some great ones. And, he often said some really funny things – some with varying levels of wisdom attached, but often funny. All of those things are examples of the fabric that he was made of.”

“He was one of a kind, for sure,” he said. “And I’m really going to miss him. He was a great friend, a mentor, a supporter and I enjoyed being around him. I’m probably a better person in some way form being around him. And I know my life was definitely richer because of him being in it.”

BOB VANKERREBROECK

“Gary and I taught and coached at Geneseo High School for many of the same years,” VanKerrebroeck said. “He coached golf and girls’ basketball after my time with those programs, and enjoyed being a head coach and having his own program. He held players to a high standard and he knew how to get the most out of their abilities.”

“Gary loved talking basketball to whoever would listen and loved attending basketball clinics,” he said. “The basketball court was one of his favorite places.”

“Gary knew and was respected by many coaches in the area. Recently, he asked me to go with him to visit a former Kewanee coach who we both coached against and who is having some health issues. If you knew Gary, you were a friend for life. He will be missed by many in the athletic community."