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Popular former Whitworth coach Cal Riemcke dies

UPDATED: Thu., April 18, 2019, 7:03 p.m.

“As good a coach as he was, he was a better man,” Sam Brasch said.

“Coach definitely left his mark,” Dave Tikker said. “It may not be seen just in wins and losses, but it is in the lives of his players. He was more concerned with the quality of our lives.”

Cal Riemcke, who spent the last seven years of a 26-year basketball coaching career at Whitworth and the last 23 years of his life in the Spokane area, died March 26 after a bout with pneumonia. He was 92.

Brasch and Tikker were members of Riemcke’s final Whitworth team in the 1975-76 season and remained close friends through the years.

“His last game was my last game,” Brasch recalled. “We went out together.

“That was on a Saturday night. On Monday morning I went into Sacred Heart Hospital to have surgery on both of my knees.”

During his hospital stay, Brasch fondly remembers visits from Riemcke and his wife, Eileen.

“The first time Eileen brought me a huckleberry pie,” Brasch said, and you could almost savor it with him. “The second time she brought a chocolate cream pie.”

Brasch would return the favor, but it took a while. He resurrected a recipe he had clipped from The Spokesman-Review in 1995 for “Johnny Appleseed Awesome Apple Pie,” baked it, and took it to Eileen in February following her recent hospitalization.

“Coach Cal recruited me three times,” the former Central Valley star said, laughing at the recollection.

Brasch spurned the first offer and went on to play two all-conference years on the first Spokane Community College team. When Brasch finally accepted Riemcke’s offer after realizing that being a hod carrier wasn’t what he envisioned as a career, he went on to be a two-time all-conference player at Whitworth, too.

“He showed so many of us the way just by being himself,” Brasch said of Riemcke. “He may be the finest man I ever met. I respect him greatly.”

“I could never call him Cal,” said Tikker, who simply calls him “Coach.” “There’s a reverence to that name; to the man. He was my coach for 45-47 years. He modeled what a husband should look like, what a dad should look like.”

Tikker added that Riemcke “was a good man with a servant’s heart. Every place he went, people wanted him to serve; to be involved.”

Riemcke was, indeed, involved – with substance abuse and prevention in Yakima County, in which he did groundbreaking work; as an American Red Cross volunteer and board member; a volunteer at what was then called the Inland Northwest Blood Center; president of the Fairwood Retirement Community; and as an active member at Whitworth Presbyterian Church, to touch on a handful.

Born in Yakima on Oct. 2, 1926, Riemcke moved with his family to northern California at the age of 13. He attended the University of California and played football for two years and basketball for three years. He played in the NCAA Final Four with the 1946 Golden Bears.

Riemcke launched a 40-year teaching and coaching career in 1950 at his high school alma mater, Alhambra High School in Martinez, California, from which he graduated in 1944.

He started a 12-year hall-of-fame career at College of Marin in 1957. Seven conference championships later, he accepted Whitworth’s call in 1969 to become men’s basketball coach, golf coach and athletic director.

“He was a teacher first,” Brasch said. “He wasn’t a yeller. We went into each game totally prepared for anything the opposition might throw at us.”

Riemcke adopted his coaching strategy from the “Pyramid of Success” espoused by a friend, Hall of Fame coach John Wooden. He would go on to write his own book, “The Guard Freedom Offense for Winning Basketball.”

During his tenure at Whitworth, he was instrumental in getting basketball games moved from the antiquated Graves Gym into the school’s new Fieldhouse, which had been completed in 1962.

So unimpressed was he with the dark confines of Graves that he recruited his players, family members and anyone else who could hold a paint brush to give it a fresh coat of green paint. Most games and practices continued to be held in Graves until the basketball venue was finally switched to the Fieldhouse in his final season.

He compiled an 84-98 record at Whitworth and had a 384-292 record in 26 years of coaching.

After leaving Whitworth in 1976, he returned to his hometown to head the Yakima School District P.E. and athletic programs, a position he held for 15 years before retiring from professional life in 1990. He and Eileen returned to the Spokane area in the spring of 1996.

“He’d been very active right up until the end,” daughter Robin said. “He swam three times a week (at Fairwood) and he hung out with a group of guys who played pool regularly.”

Riemcke is survived by his wife of 69 years, Eileen, and daughters Robin, Karen and Sandy. He was preceded in death by a fourth daughter, Vicky.

A celebration of life will be at 1 p.m. on April 27 at Whitworth Presbyterian Church.

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