Dwight Church

Annual Picture 1962 Lewiston Lewiston Morning Tribune,

Dwight Church; 'Men like him only come around once in a awhile'; Valley and beyond reacts to death of Dwight Church, Jeff Robinson, Friday, July 15, 1994

The Lewiston-Clarkston Valley and places beyond reacted with shock and sadness to news of longtime baseball coach Dwight Church's death.

Church, 69, died of cancer about 3 p.m. Thursday at St. Joseph Regional Medical Center. Church, who was in his 39th season as coach of the Lewis-Clark Twins American Legion baseball team, was diagnosed with lung cancer on June 10.

''I can hardly talk,'' said former Legion coach Dunc Branom upon receiving word of Church's death. ''He was a great, great friend and a great player, and of course, he will always be remembered as one of the greats of this Valley.'' Branom, who started the American Legion baseball program in 1939, coached Church in his first season when Church was just 14.

''He didn't play much that first year because he was so young, but in '40 and '41, when we had great teams, he was an integral part playing center field. ''...Men like him only come around once in awhile.''

In 38-plus seasons with the Twins, Church recorded a 1,763-659 record (.730 winning percentage) and led Lewis-Clark to 23 Idaho state American Legion titles and six runner-up finishes. Church also spent 30 years at Lewiston High School as a teacher, coach and athletic director before retiring in 1989. He coached Lewiston High to seven state titles and also served as head football coach in the 1960s. His combined Legion-high school record as a baseball coach was 2,436-890.

Church was inducted into several sports halls of fame: the North Idaho Hall of Fame (1983); the Idaho High School Activities Hall of Fame (1990); and the National High School Federation Hall of Fame (1993).

Church's coaching career spanned several generations and his impact was felt throughout the Valley.

Ron Karlberg played baseball for Church in 1956 and later became his colleague at LHS, where Karlberg was the school's football coach from 1969-71.

''Dwight was my teacher, my coach, my mentor and my colleague,'' Karlberg said. ''I learned a lot from him. I've been around him a lot of my life. This is a tough moment for me.''

Church's associates and opposing coaches said his love for people is what they'll remember most about him, even more than his legendary winning percentage.

''When I first started competing against him in 1974, I recognized right away that he was a quality baseball man,'' said former Coeur d'Alene High School baseball coach Ted Page. ''The kids played their heart out for him because the guy put in the time and effort.''

Ron Mickelson, who coached basketball and golf during Church's tenure as athletic director, said, ''Dwight always had time for kids. Sometimes he didn't have much time for adults, but he always made time for kids. If a kid had a problem, Dwight was there for them.

''Kids were his life and he made sure they came first. That's probably the premise of the business of education the man lived the job.''

Kids weren't the only ones to benefit from Church's caring. Bob Yeoman, who coached basketball and tennis at LHS, said Church also took time to help others. Yeoman said Church went to St. Joseph Regional Medical Center each morning to deliver newspapers to patients.

''He cared for people so much,'' Yeoman said. ''He delivered newspapers at the hospital right up until (cancer) incapacitated him. Every morning at 4 a.m. he would take the Tribune around to the rooms. It gave him a chance to do what he always liked to do shoot the breeze and give some encouraging words.''

Gary Johnson, who retired as Moscow High School's baseball coach in 1993, said Church helped him many times over the years both on and off the field.

''Dwight, as far as I'm concerned, is my closest and best baseball friend,'' Johnson said. ''He's the person I respect the most. To me he is synonymous with winning. If one word describes him best, it's winner.

''...I'm so thankful for the time I spent with him. He helped me a lot ... and he was a truly great friend of mine in all respects, not just as a baseball person. This is a definite shock. I'm deeply saddened. I really liked Dwight.'' Others recognized Church as a champion of the sport of baseball, especially at the Legion level.

Jim Guy, Sr., coached at Deary before becoming the athletic director at Caldwell High School. He scheduled many a game with Dwight's Lewiston teams.

''He had a fabulous career,'' Guy said. ''He really was a great contributor to high school baseball and Legion baseball in the state of Idaho. Without him, it probably would've died.''

Guy's son, Jim Guy, Jr., pitched the Caldwell American Legion team to the state championship in Lewiston in 1974. And when the senior Guy mentioned that game, in the same breath he mentioned Church's Twins.

''His kids were outstanding hustlers,'' he said. ''They played way above their ability because he made them play that way.''

At times, Church would let the umpires know what he thought of a particular call that didn't suit him. Keith Farnam of Yakima umpired numerous Twins games.

''If you made a mistake, you expected to be in for it, but he was always a gentleman about it,'' said Farnam. ''He was from the Buck Bailey/Chuck Brayton school: gruff and rough but a gentleman at all times.

''Sometimes umpires don't always get along with coaches, and you had to be on your toes with Dwight. He knew the rules.'' Farnam even went to great lengths to ensure Church had the best.

''We made sure we had veteran umpires when he was in town,'' Farnam said. ''He deserved it.'' Although Farnam and Church had ''some good nose-to-nose arguments,'' according to Farnam, he never ejected Church from the game.

''Oh, no, I never even came close. He had his say and I listened to him. I never even thought of throwing him out.'' Would have Farnam ejected a different coach in the same situation?

''Maybe a younger coach, coming out to show an umpire up,'' Farnam said. ''He never really showed you up. He just knew that maybe he knew the rule better than you did.''

Idaho High School Activities Association Executive Director Bill Young remembered Church ''as an individual with an extreme amount of integrity and ethics. He was always doing what was right.''

Young said Church stood for what was right with activities. ''If he was going to do it, he was going to do it right,'' Young said. ''It's not only a tremendous loss to Lewiston but it's a tremendous loss to the state of Idaho.''

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