James L. Gardner
With his family and dog by his side, a much-loved husband, father, grandfather, brother, and uncle passed away on January 31, 2018. For almost 10 years, Jim valiantly battled his multiple medical problems with a smile on his face and encouraging words for everyone.
James L. Gardner was born March 16, 1940, to Frank and Reva (Jennings) Gardner in Springfield, Illinois. He graduated from Feitshans High School in 1958 where he wrestled and played football. He also wrestled and played football at Eastern Illinois University until his graduation in 1962. In 1961, he took third place at the NAIA tourney and also received a trophy for the fastest pin (20 seconds) in the tournament. In 1962, Jim was Eastern’s first NAIA All-American champion wrestler at 177 pounds. After another year at Eastern as a graduate assistant and assistant wrestling coach, he obtained his master’s degree in 1963.
Jim’s teaching career began at West Leyden High School in Northlake, Illinois, where he taught history and coached football and wrestling. In 1965, he returned to Springfield to teach history (and eventually physical education) and to coach wrestling and football at Lanphier High School. Jim retired from teaching in 1994, but he never retired from wrestling.
During his illustrious career as a wrestling coach, he received numerous honors and awards: Springfield State Journal-Register Coach of the Year (1979), Eastern Illinois Hall of Fame (1985), Illinois Wrestling Coaches and Officials Hall of Fame (1986), State Wrestling Tournament Grand Marshall (1993), Springfield Sports Hall of Fame (1999), and National Wrestling Hall of Fame Lifetime Service Award (2003). Jim was also honored in 2002 when the wrestling gym at Lanphier High School was named the Gardner Wrestling Gymnasium.
But there is something more important than all of the awards – the man who received them. He was loved and admired by his wife, children, and grandchildren. Respected and cherished by his wrestlers, he became a surrogate father to several of them. As an extremely knowledgeable wrestling coach, he was a mentor to his peers and often offered advice on a myriad of subjects. As a friend, he was there whenever needed. During the last 9 years, when he needed support, it was reciprocated repeatedly. There was an outpouring from family, close friends, and the incredible wrestling community who volunteered to assist in every possible way. We have been blessed!
He was preceded in death by his parents; a son, Jeffrey Scott Gardner; twin grandchildren, Isabelle Grace and Jackson James Gardner; and his brother and best friend, John (Jack) Gardner.
Jim is survived by his wife of 45 years, Marilyn (Schaffner) Gardner, and by the children and grandchildren of their blended family: Frank (Jenni) – Maddi and James; Christie (Grant) Wood – Danielle and Luke; Mike (Kellie) – Gabrielle (Sam) Gilbert, Carly, and Connor; Drew (Suzanne) – Taylor; his sister, Janet Gardner; his sister-in-law, Donna Gardner; his nephews, Mark, Greg, and Brad Gardner and their families; and his dearly loved dog, Shiloh Lyn.
“Pop Pop” is our HERO and will continue to inspire us.
In lieu of flowers, contributions can be made to the Jeff Gardner Memorial Scholarship Fund, please.
Memorial Gathering: 1-5 pm Sunday, February 4, 2018 at Staab Funeral Home – Springfield.
Memorial Service: 11 am, Monday, February 5, 2018 at Staab Funeral Home – Springfield, with John Oaks officiating.