Bo memorial
 

Public says goodbye

 
Mourners line up, pay respects

BY ROB HOFFMAN
News Sports Reporter

Ann Arbor News, November 20, 2006

Slowly but surely, they all found themselves at St. Andrew's Episcopal Church in downtown Ann Arbor on Sunday afternoon.

The diehard University of Michigan football fans, sporting everything from Wolverine sweatshirts to block "M'' earrings. The former players, many of them with Rose Bowl rings on their still-beefy fingers. The average citizens, dressed in funeral attire to pay their final respects to one of the university's last remaining icons.

They all came as part of a public tribute to longtime Michigan football coach Bo Schembechler, who died Friday at the age of 77. A private funeral service was scheduled for today.

Coming just two days after his death and two days before Tuesday's public memorial service at Michigan Stadium, the tribute gave those closest to Schembechler and those who only knew of his reputation a chance to pay their final respects to the man as they passed before his flower-draped coffin inside the church.

Former Michigan quarterback Rick Leach was among the first 100 or so people to line up outside St. Andrew's before mourners were allowed in at noon. The line to see Schembechler stretched along Catherine Street, but subsided by 12:30 p.m. The viewing ended at 3 p.m.

"It was one of the special times of my life,'' said Leach, who played under Schembechler from 1975 to 1978. "He was a unique football coach. And he created his own legacy.''

Another early mourner was Karen Kasaric, who grew up in Schembechler's hometown of Barberton, Ohio, and moved to Ann Arbor in 1969, the same year Michigan hired Schembechler. Her best friend's father coached Schembechler at Barberton High School.

"It's kind of sad,'' she said.

Other former players waited a little longer to say goodbye, such as James Humphries, who brought his wife and two of his children. An offensive lineman who played under Bo from 1976 to 1979, Humphries remembered Schembechler showing up at his porch in Detroit one day for a recruiting visit.

"Bo was that kind of person: When you played for him, you were part of his family,'' the Farmington Hills resident said. "This is fitting. Bo would have wanted this. It gives people a chance to say goodbye.''

Inside the church, many did just that in both public and private ways.

Flanking Schembechler's closed coffin were a U-M flag and a United States flag, along with an oil portrait of Schembechler, a framed photograph of the former coach and a plaque commemorating Schembechler's 1969 to 1989 tenure at Michigan. Aside from the flowers that covered the coffin, there were several floral arrangements, including one from golfing great Jack Nicklaus and his wife, Barbara.

As they walked past, several mourners touched the casket and said prayers. One girl, about 11 or 12 years old, held onto her father as they walked away from the coffin. "Don't cry,'' she said softly.

Another girl, even younger, waved upon exiting, as if she were saying goodbye to an old friend.

To many of those at the tribute, Bo was a friend - either because they knew him personally or from afar as a presence marching along the sidelines of the Big House.

Former Michigan offensive lineman Tom Dohring, who was on Schembechler's final 1989 team, said he learned a lot of life lessons from his former coach.

"He made the most out of you,'' said Dohring, who now lives in Canton Township and works for Ford Motor Co. "You didn't want to fail him.''

Matt Whale, a teacher at St. Francis of Assisi Catholic School in Ann Arbor, last saw Schembechler at Don Canham's funeral in Crisler Arena in May 2005. Until he heard of Bo's death on Friday, he considered the longtime coach "invincible.''

"Bo was a great man,'' he said.

Bill Rotramel, 50, said he grew up in Ohio and was attending Purdue in the mid-1970s when he decided he wanted to enroll at Michigan because of Schembechler. Now a Daimler Chrysler executive, Rotramel has a signed photo from Schembechler hanging in his Detroit office.

"Bo was like a father figure to me,'' he said. "He's been a big part of my life.''

Softball coach Carol Hutchins, who was hired at Michigan while Schembechler was still coaching, made sure to stop at the church and say farewell to the man whom she said taught her everything about the Wolverines.

"I don't know how anyone who met him couldn't fall in love with Michigan,'' she said. "He just was everything that was Michigan.''

Rob Hoffman can be reached at rhoffman@ annarbornews.com or 734-994-6814.