DeKALB – Dr. Robert Joseph Brigham Sr., 90, of DeKalb, Illinois, passed away Sunday, May 25, 2014, at Oak Crest DeKalb Area Retirement Center, DeKalb.
Born March 2, 1924, in Marion, Illinois, the son of Robert P. and Marie (Hayes) Brigham, Bob married Gertrude Cameron Fish on June 11, 1949, in Western Springs.
Bob graduated from Chicago Bowden High School, where he played fullback on the football team.
A World War II veteran, Bob served the U.S. Navy, surviving on submarines in the Pacific. He served as an electrician's mate between Feb. 24, 1943, and April 9, 1946, aboard at least three submarines, being transferred off the USS Wahoo just before it was sunk by enemy aircraft in October 1943, the USS Bream and the USS Baya. After leaving the service, Bob enrolled at Northern Illinois University, where he tried out for the football team as a freshman.
Although Bob was cut from the team by Coach George "Chick" Evans, he was not deterred. He returned a year later and eventually became the Huskies' starting fullback. As a member of the fabled "Pony Backfield," he was one of the best blocking backs in school history and left NIU as the school record holder in single-game in 1948, single-season in 1948 and career 1947-49 rushing yards. His single-game mark stood for 25 years until 1973. Bob finished his playing career as a three-year letter winner in football and lettered one season in wrestling.
After graduating from NIU with his bachelor's degree in education in 1949, Bob began his career in athletics as a football and wrestling coach at Tuscola High School. While coaching at Tuscola, he took graduate-level classes at the University of Illinois and earned his master's degree in 1951. He earned his doctorate from University of Indiana in 1963.
Bob's association with NIU, which began as a student athlete, continued for more than 50 years. He returned to the university as an assistant football coach in 1957; he was Huskies' head wrestling coach for 11 seasons and was the leader of the department from 1968-1987, taking NIU Athletics from NCAA College Division to University Division, or major college status; oversaw the Huskies' admission to the Mid-American Conference in 1973; enhanced NIU's athletics facilities; and saw multiple teams qualify for NCAA championship competition.
Many decisions Brigham made during his tenure as athletic director at NIU had a lasting effect on the university he loved.
In 1987, Brigham became special assistant to the president. In that role, he managed the university's compliance obligations until his retirement in 2001. Two years later, the playing surface at Huskie Stadium was named "Brigham Field" in his honor. He entered the NIU Physical Education Hall of Fame in 1987 and was inducted into the NIU Athletics Hall of Fame in 1989. In 1991, Brigham received the F. R. "Bud" Geigle Outstanding Service Award from the NIU Foundation.
In addition to his lifelong devotion to NIU and the Huskies, Brigham followed the Chicago Cubs and Chicago Bears and enjoyed visiting with his family and friends in DeKalb. He also loved to play golf.
He is survived by his wife of 64 years, the former Gertrude Fish, a 1949 NIU graduate from Western Springs; and the couple's two grown sons, Robert Jr. (Alina) and David; four grandchildren, Samantha Homes, Vera, Ben and Alex Brigham; a great-grandchild, Mason Minnegan; and a sister, Georgia Colwell from Huntsville, Alabama.
Members of the community are invited to attend the funeral service for Dr. Brigham at 10:30 a.m. Wednesday, June 4, at Westminster Presbyterian Church, 830 N. Annie Glidden Road, DeKalb, with the Rev. Dr. Blake Richter officiating. Burial will follow at Fairview Park Cemetery, DeKalb, with full military honors by American Legion, AmVets and VFW. The visitation will be from 3 to 8 p.m. Tuesday, June 3, at Anderson Funeral Home, DeKalb.
In lieu of flowers, memorials may be made to the Dr. Robert J. Brigham Memorial Fund, sent in care of Anderson Funeral Home, P.O. Box 605, 2011 S. Fourth St., DeKalb, IL 60115.
For information, visit www.AndersonFuneralHomeLtd.com
or call 815-756-1022.
Published by Daily Chronicle from May 27 to Jun. 5, 2014.