Jim Waugh was finishing an interview for a story about him when his wife Lila walked into the kitchen. She was correct when she said to the interviewer, “I want to tell you something that Jim probably didn’t tell you. He is too shy to brag about himself.”
He neglected to mention the important fact that he has a building named after him — the Waugh Gymnasium at Rend Lake College in Illinois. He also is a member of the Illinois Basketball Coaches Hall of Fame and the Rend Lake College Athletic Hall of fame.
But that’s the kind of man Jim Waugh is. He would rather talk about others and the positive influences they have had on his life than talk about himself.
Take Willard Kehrt, for example. “When I was maybe 11 years old, I figured out that Mr. Kehrt was who I wanted to be like,” Waugh said. “He was a coach and ran the Spencer Ballpark summer program. He made kids feel special. He made them feel like they could set goals and achieve them.”
That was back when Waugh was growing up in Terre Haute, and there was never any doubt where the young man wanted to go to college. “I’m a homebody. I wanted to stick around my family. I had chances to go to other universities to play football, but I wanted to go to Indiana State University. I lived at home until my senior year, and I have never for one day regretted it.”
Waugh enrolled at State in 1955 on a football scholarship. “Where I grew up and the time in which I grew up, you played sports,” he said. “Whatever sport was in season, that’s what you played. Basketball, baseball, football. I played them all.”
At State, Waugh played football all four years and even played all three sports one year. “Athletics weren’t as time consuming then as now, but still I was smart enough to figure out that playing football, basketball and baseball in one year as a student just wasn’t going to work.”
Waugh graduated with a bachelor’s degree in physical education and biological science in 1959. He obtained a master’s degree in physical education in 1964. His years at State were happy memorable ones, Waugh said.
“Back in 1955, ISU was a small campus. It was perfect. You could walk across campus and, although we might not know everybody’s name, we did recognize everybody on campus,” he said.
At the time, Waugh said, veterans of the Korean War were returning and attending college on the G.I. Bill. “There were a lot of those guys on the campus at the time and they were very very serious about academics. I was an 18-year-old freshman, just flipping around trying to figure out what was going on and those veterans were a good influence on the rest of us. We could see how hard they were working and how much they appreciated the chance to go to college.”
Not only did Waugh gain a quality education that started him off on his chosen career path, but also he also met the woman who would become his wife at Indiana State. “We met through a mutual friend and became a couple the summer of my sophomore year in college,” he said. “We got married in my senior year. If I hadn’t gone to ISU, I probably wouldn’t have met and married Lila. It was the right time, the right person. We’ve been married now for 58 years.”
After college, the newlyweds began their lifelong careers as educators. “I coached and taught for 36 years, and my wife was a mathematics teacher,” Waugh said, adding that most of that time was at the Rend Lake community near Mount Vernon, Ill. The family grew when daughters Cathy and Jane were born.
After retiring from Rend Lake in 1995, the Waughs moved back to their hometown of Terre Haute. He still teaches. “Actually, I supervise student teachers. I do that part-time for ISU. I’ve been doing that almost ever since I retired and came back to Terre Haute,” he said. “There are some wonderful teachers out there. I don’t say that because I have to. I say that because it is true.”
Teaching is one of the most important professions in the world, Waugh said, and it is getting ever more challenging. “Every day, you have students coming through the doorway that have issues, not necessarily life and death, but they have problems. Teachers are expected to deal with those students and their problems individually and still teach them whatever subject you are teaching. It is extremely difficult and sometimes impossible to do.”
However, Waugh said, he sees many excellent teachers who do the best they can in very tough positions. “I must say teachers are doing a terrific job.”
As for now being a paid professional on the campus where he once was a student, it is a wonderful way to come full circle. “I attend all the alumni activities I can and am a season ticket holder in basketball and football,” the 79-year-old said. “College was a great time for me, and I’m grateful for the positive part that ISU has played in my life.”