An Indiana sports icon passed away Monday.
Former Warsaw Community High School Athletic Director Dave Fulkerson, 78, died early yesterday morning.
Fulkerson was WCHS’s athletic director for 26 years, resigning on June 30, 2008. The announcement was made at a special school board meeting Jan. 7, 2008. For the 2008-09 school year, Fulkerson was kept on as associate director of athletics, according to a Jan. 13, 2010, Times-Union article.
Fulkerson was replaced as the athletic director May 31, 2008, by Joe Santa, who served as athletic director for three school years.
Mary Hurley served as an assistant to Fulkerson at Warsaw from 1982 to 1996 before she became Wawasee’s athletic director for 15 years and then retired.
“He was a champion of kids,” Hurley said of Fulkerson. “He was a mentor of mine early in my career. He shared that you looked out for the best interest of kids when you made a decision. Athletics was just his vehicle. He really would give the shirt off his back for kids. That probably came from his own background.”
Warsaw athletics had much success during the time Fulkerson was there due to his direct contributions, Hurley stated.
“Speaking on behalf of his secretary, Ann Gephart, and his coaching staff, Warsaw benefitted from his guidance,” she said.
His generosity was apparent to many.
Hurley recalled, “I can’t tell you how many times walking down the street, like Indianapolis or somewhere, there would be a homeless person on the street – I can’t tell you one time he didn’t stop and give that homeless person a cigarette or money. He truly had a big heart. He did leave a legacy.”
She also mentioned that “He loved his kids.”
Warsaw Community Schools Superintendent Dr. David Hoffert said Fulkerson was someone he considered a great friend. Hoffert was an athlete and later boys track coach when Fulkerson was still the athletic director at Warsaw.
“Dave was 100 percent Warsaw. He had a 100 percent caring spirit toward kids,” Hoffert said.
He recalled that as an athlete, Fulkerson showed up to tournaments and would be one of the first people to congratulate you. As a coach, Hoffert said Fulkerson cared about him and would ask him about his family.
“He cared above and beyond. His actions were often behind the scenes. He would pay for students’ lunches … and a lot of that came from his background. He cared a lot for kids,” Hoffert said. “He was just a special guy. For me personally, he always watched out for me. He knew how to (be supportive).”
In a Feb. 14, 2008, story by Sports Editor Dale Hubler, Fulkerson talked about growing up as a disadvantaged kid himself.
“Growing up, I was so far on the other side of the tracks I couldn’t hear the whistle blow when the train went by,” said the then-69-year-old Fulkerson. “I was the first person in my family to graduate high school and college. The majority of my relatives, including my mother and stepfather, were addicted to drugs.”
Fulkerson and his two biological brothers and sister were removed from a rough home situation and placed in children’s homes as wards of the state. Fulkerson spent the first two years of his high school career at White’s Institute in Wabash.
Before his junior year, Fulkerson was taken in by a foster family, and he became a star basketball player at Noble Township High School, Wabash, which has since closed its doors.
“I really have to thank John and Maxine Peebles,” said Fulkerson in the 2008 story. “When I was a junior in high school, they opened up their arms and let me be a part of their family. John and Maxine Peebles and their sons, Steve and Ronny, they made me a part of their family. I’ll never forget that.”
Playing two years at White’s and two years at Noble Township, Fulkerson became Wabash County’s career scoring leader, and his record stood for 30 years.
After graduating high school, Fulkerson attended the University of Evansville, where he played basketball for two years for the Purple Aces, who were a NCAA Div. II program at the time.
Fulkerson later became an assistant coach and recruited Jerry Sloan to play for the Purple Aces after he left the University of Illinois. Evansville won back-to-back national championships in 1964 and 1965.
Sloan went on to coach the Utah Jazz in the NBA.
Fulkerson’s first job as a coach after he left Evansville was in Windsor, Ill. Fulkerson has also been the athletic director and coach at White’s. He’s worked in the athletic department at what is now the University of St. Francis.
He worked also as the boys basketball coach at Columbia City High School, coaching the Eagles to the sectional championship in 1978.
Tippecanoe Valley boys basketball coach Bill Patrick said he knew Fulkerson since Fulkerson was a coach at Columbia City and Patrick was at Whitko and they coached against each other. That was back in 1966 or 1967, Patrick said.
“He was certainly a good person,” Patrick said. “Dave was a good coach, an outstanding coach. … He spent several years at White’s. He did a good job. He took kids in that got into trouble. He was one of those guys that had a passion, an understanding for kids that needed help. He went out of his way to help them.”
Patrick said Fulkerson did a nice job of supporting all athletic teams, not just basketball. He worked to get money for all sports teams for what they needed, Patrick said.
He called Fulkerson “one of the better athletic directors in Indiana. He was an outstanding basketball coach. He was one of the better basketball coaches in Indiana. There wasn’t a better person. A lot of kids are better off, thanks to Dave Fulkerson.”
Fulkerson came to Warsaw in 1982, and was the athletic director when WCHS won the 1984 state championship in boys basketball, the 1991 state championship in softball and the 2005 state championship in boys golf.
During his tenure at WCHS, Kerry White won two state titles in track, Emily Johnson had two state titles in girls golf, Nate Taylor had a state championship in swimming, among other numerous individual awards Warsaw athletes have garnered over the years. Also, being named Mr. Basketballs were Jeff Grose (1985) and Kevin Ault (1996), and Jaclyn Leininger was named Miss Basketball in 2004.
The 2005 boys golf state championship coach was Ben Barkey, who is now an assistant principal at WCHS.
Via email, Barkey recalled, “There are not too many people you can point to that have impacted your career. For me, Dave Fulkerson, is one such man. Many people do not know how I got started at WCS, but I owe most of that to Dave. I already accepted a position (right out of college) at Goshen High School teaching biology and algebra. That summer Dave called me up at my place of work and told me he wanted me to be the next golf coach. I pointed out to him that I was not employed by WCS. His response was, ‘no problem, call JoElla Smyth at Edgewood where there is a middle school science position open.’ I told Dave that I didn’t have a middle school teaching license. His response was, ‘no problem, we will put you on a temporary license.’”
Barkey continued, “He didn’t have to call. He didn’t have to set up an interview at Edgewood. I am glad he believed that I was the right choice.
“Dave had a way with people. He was very thoughtful and kind. No matter the situation, Dave would be there to help. Like many other people, I owe Dave Fulkerson for the opportunities he afforded me, his leadership, and his faith in me as a coach and educator.”
An Indiana sports icon passed away Monday.