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Frank Kuhn: Remembering a midstate legend

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Photo by Lebanon Daily News — File Photo

(Undated) — If you measure the wealth of a man based on his number of friends and the lives he touched during his time on earth, then Frank Kuhn was among the richest men in Lebanon history.

Kuhn passed away on Saturday at the age of 97 at ManorCare, where he had spent the last two months.

Born in Progress, Pa., he had a stellar sports career at Lebanon Valley College, which was interrupted by a stint in the Army during World War II, before he returned to earn his degree in 1946. His athletic feats in baseball, basketball and football at LVC earned him an induction into the college’s hall of fame.

But it was his 37-year career teaching in Lebanon School District’s classrooms and coaching on its athletic fields where Kuhn made his mark in the community.

His influence did not end with his teaching days, however. After retiring, he went on to become a fixture at the Lebanon Country Club, where for 40 years he managed the swimming pool — which now bears his name — and for 20 years coached its swim team. Throw in a couple of years of coaching golf at LHS after he retired, and it comes to a remarkable total of more than 150 athletic seasons.

When word got out on a family member’s Facebook page Sunday that Kuhn had died, there was an immediate flood of comments, all saluting the man who influenced so many lives as a teacher, coach, mentor, friend, and father.

Those closest to Kuhn were his family members, which included six sons and a daughter, their extended families and his beloved wife of 56 years, Agatha, who preceded him in death in 2002.

The outpouring has been amazing, but it did not come as a surprise, said Mike Kuhn, the middle child in the Kuhn clan.

“All my life hardly a day has gone by, living in this town, that somebody hasn’t asked me if I’m Frank Kuhn’s son. When I tell them yes, their eyes light up, and they will tell me a story of how much he touched their lives,” Mike Kuhn said, reminiscing about his father on Tuesday. “I’ve been hearing people speak highly of my Dad since I was 9 or 10 years old. But I didn’t fully grasp all that then. It wasn’t until I was hearing it 10 years and then 20 years and then 50 years later, and continuing to hear stories from people I didn’t know about how my dad impacted their lives.”

His father’s devotion to his family was paramount, said Kuhn, who recalled that despite his dad’s busy schedule, he and “Aggie” rarely missed one of their children’s sporting events, the couple usually sitting in a remote part of the stands or behind the end zone.

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Photo by Lebanon Daily News — File Photo

As an experienced coach, you might have expected him to analyze the finer points of each of his kids’ performances at home later. But that wasn’t how his Dad operated, said Mike Kuhn.

“He didn’t want to be overbearing,” he said. “He just wanted to be there for us. He would certainly help us with the fundamentals of how to hold a baseball or release a shot in basketball. But the only advice he would give us was to keep our mouths shut and do what the coach tells you to do. It was a great life lesson.”

Kuhn also recalled the wonderful marriage his father shared with his mother, who worked many years for Lebanon County Children & Youth.

“They had a beautiful marriage,” he said. “I think the strength of their marriage, and also the way they dealt with us kids and all people, was based on their strong (Catholic) faith. They didn’t wear it on their sleeve, but they lived it.”

But Frank Kuhn’s family extended far beyond his biological one.

Mike Kuhn recalled hearing Ron Brewer, a former standout athlete at LHS, talk about his Dad when Brewer was being inducted to the school’s hall of fame. Raised only by his mother, Brewer mentioned a handful of coaches who had an important impact on his life.

“Then he paused and started to break down and said, ‘And then there was Frank Kuhn. I know he had seven kids. But he doesn’t realize he has a much bigger family. He was like a father to me,’” Mike Kuhn said, recalling Brewer’s tearful statement. “I had never known this guy. And I bet my Dad never knew the impact he had on this young man, who was now in his 60s and so emotional.”

Kuhn was known for treating everyone the same from the team’s standout to the water boy. But there is one star athlete, former NBA player Sam Bowie, a 1979 Lebanon High graduate who remembers how Kuhn would open the gym to let him work on his game while he was a gangly junior high school kid growing into a body that eventually reached 7-feet, 1-inch.

“When Mike (Kuhn) called my first emotion was sadness, but that didn’t remain very long because of the memories,” Bowie said from his home in Kentucky, where he starred for the University of Kentucky Wildcats before being the number two pick in the 1984 NBA draft.

“I can still recollect the days when I would meet him before sixth, seventh and eighth grade and work on basketball drills in the gymnasium before class would start. He was very influential in my upbringing in sports as well as life, from a young kid to the man I am today. Whenever I think of Mr. Kuhn, I’m just very, very complimentary.”

Bowie said Kuhn had a rare charm that made everyone feel special.

“He always took a liking to me, but when I talked to my other friends, they always felt he liked them more than anyone else. He just had a way about him. When you say, ‘Mr Kuhn’, you just get everybody’s attention,” Bowie said. “He was a giver; he was a giver in life. He wanted to assist, wanted to help. He was very unique and will be greatly missed.”

And that trait did not end with Frank Kuhn’s life. According to his family, he donated his body to Penn State College of Medicine at Hershey Medical Center.

Tom Brandt, a 1971 LHS grad who played several sports under Kuhn before going on to play baseball at the University of Pennsylvania, also recalled his former coach fondly.

“Outside of my parents, Frank was probably the most influential adult in my life throughout my junior high and high school years,” Brandt said. “Frank was always demanding, but he was fair. I don’t think he ever showed that he had a favorite. I think over the years I realized I was one of his favorites, but it took me 20 years to realize it.”

Many of Kuhn’s coaching contemporaries have passed, but a few still remain and recall their fondness for him.

Norbie Danz is one of them. Although 15 years his junior, Danz struck up a quick friendship with Kuhn when he moved into the area in 1955 to take a teaching job at Lebanon Catholic, where he also coached football. He and his wife, Dolores, would frequently go out to dinner and socialize with the Kuhns, he said.

While never sharing a sideline with Kuhn, Danz did cross paths with him as his own coaching career included a stop at McCaskey and two stints at Cedar Crest, where he coached the Falcons for a total of 18 years before retiring. He also coached several of Kuhn’s boys.

Danz said Kuhn was easygoing on the football field but commanded respect in the classroom. Having taught the students in junior high and then coached them in senior high, he was very influential in their formative years, he said.

“He was a great teacher,” Danz said. “He was very kind and stern as a teacher. The kids respected him, and he cared about them. They would always call him coach or Mr. Kuhn. He just taught them the way to live: to be honest, play hard and love your parents. And he practiced that. He had a large family and was a great family man.

As for the accolades being showered on his old friend, whose life will be celebrated Saturday with a mass at The Church of St. Cecilia’s at 11 a.m. beginning with a visitation at 9 a.m., Danz said, “He deserves every bit of it and then some.”

This article comes to us through a partnership between the Lebanon Daily News and WITF.

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