Coach Donnie "“Don”" Gibson

Obituary
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Coach Donnie (Don) Gibson, recently of Lakewood Ranch, Fla, and formerly of Port St. Lucie, Fla., and Las Vegas, N.M., passed away on Jan. 20, 2019, at age 94.
He is survived by his wife of 70 years, Wertie Bowe Gibson; his three children Donald (Dee) Gibson (wife Janet Gibson) of Boston, Mass.; Ann Gibson of Algodones, N.M.; and Pamela Buchanan (husband Thomas Buchanan) of Bradenton, Fla.; and his grandchildren, Jessica Gibson of Telluride, Colo.; Edward ("Ted") Gibson of San Diego, Calif.; Benjamin Gibson of Austin, Texas; Nathan "Nate" Gibson of San Diego; and Cheryl Martell of Tallahassee, Fla.
Born in Lick Creek, W.Va., to Benjamin Harrison Gibson and Susan Pearl Lacy, Don grew up among the hills and coal camps in southern West Virginia.
An outstanding high school athlete, Don received an athletic scholarship to Marshall University in Huntington, W.Va. He was the first of his family to attend college, and was joined later by his brother, Lou Gibson.
Don's football career at Marshall was interrupted by World War II and his enlistment in the United States Coast Guard. He served distinction in the Coast Guard during the war and mustered out with an Honorable Discharge on Dec. 4, 1945, in Philadelphia, Penn., having served nearly three years - 13 months of which was in sea duty. Don took great pride in his service.
One of his unique contributions was as a member of the inaugural Curtis Bay, Md., Coast Guard football team coached by "Jake" Jacoby. Mistakenly identified by a sports writer as "Dominic" Gibson, Don played against teams from the University of Maryland, Navy, Ft. Dix, Ft. Lee, the University of Richmond, and Bainbridge.
At the 1943 end-of-year banquet, Don was the only "Cutter" team member to receive All-American football recognition (honorable mention) and was named to the All-America Service Team.
GI Bill benefits helped Don return to Marshall where he, along with Lou, cared for their invalid mother "Pearlie" in an apartment close to campus while they attended classes and played football.
Selected as a co-captain of the Thundering Herd football team under the legendary Coach Cam Henderson, Don was voted the "Most Valuable Player" on the 1946 Green and White Eleven.
Named Marshall's "Most Outstanding Player" in the second Tangerine Bowl in January 1947, Don also was recognized as Marshall's "Most Outstanding Lineman" in 1949.
He was also named to the All-Ohio Valley Conference Second Team in 1949.
He would ultimately be inducted into Marshall's Athletic Hall of Fame in 1985.
Don married Wertie Bowe, of Cedar Grove, W.Va., a fellow Marshall student and a cheerleader. Following his undergraduate education and a master's degree at Marshall, Don accepted a position as line coach and scout for the West Virginia Tech football team in Montgomery.
His career path in coaching led him next to Clear Fork High School in Raleigh County, near Beckley, where he served as head football, basketball, and baseball coach for two years.
In 1953, at the request and invitation of President Dr. Thomas C. Donnelly, formerly of Charleston, Don accepted the position of head football coach, physical education instructor, and supervisor of pool and fields at Highlands University.
He soon would also be named head basketball coach and athletic director. Don brought the first African-American athletes to Highlands and was instrumental in integrating the University's athletic program.
While at Highlands, Don was recognized as Frontier Conference Coach of the Year in 1960-61. He also would send several players on to professional careers in the NFL and the NBA.
On occasion, he would serve as a scout for several NFL teams.
Don left Highlands University at the end of the 1963-64 basketball season, but returned later to coach the basketball team for two years.
Following his Highlands tenure, Don accepted a position with Mercantile Security Life Insurance Company of Dallas, Texas, where he was recognized in 1965 as the Mercantile Security Rookie of the Year and named to the Million Dollar Round Table in 1965, 1966, and 1967.
Moving from Las Vegas to Albuquerque in 1973, Don managed the office of Reserve Life Insurance Company. In 1977, Don and Wertie relocated to Port St. Lucie, Fla, where Don worked as an elementary and high school administrator until he retired.
Perhaps Don's greatest legacy was his devotion to the young men and young women from the hollows and coal camps of Appalachia and from the small towns of the Southwest, who may never have had the opportunity or the financial means to attend college.
Many good high school athletes who lacked the athletic ability to compete at the collegiate level were awarded athletic scholarships by him so that they could continue with their sport while earning a college degree and escape the cycle of poverty and a life in the coal mines.
Don was much more than a coach and educator. He counseled his players, visited them when they were sick, taught them social graces and manners, and provided much-needed discipline and structure to their lives.
For many, he was a surrogate father. He changed lives and enabled his charges to go on to successful careers in all fields.
His players revered him and returned again and again years later to be present at reunions at Highlands, where a scholarship was created in his honor. The Athletic Hall of Honor was named after him.
Don never lost his love of Appalachia and those West Virginia hills. He embodied the American values of hard work and perseverance.
He was one of a kind, and will be missed by all who knew and loved him.
In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to the NMHU Foundation at Box 9000, Las Vegas, N.M., 87701. Please indicate on the memo line that the contribution should be credited to the Don Gibson Scholarship Fund.
Donations may also be made online through NMHUFoundation.org. There is a place on the form entitled "Specific Fund" where one can specify Don Gibson Scholarship Fund.
Published in Las Vegas Optic on Feb. 1, 2019
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