THE VILLAGES, Fla. — William G. “Bill” Klenk, an Alma College student who went on to become a teacher, athletic director and coach before being inducted to the Alma College Hall of Fame twice, died Aug. 1, 2020.
Klenk, the namesake of the Scots’ baseball field Klenk Park, is remembered as a teacher and mentor for hundreds of students over the course of his 30-plus-year career at Alma, as well as a dedicated alumnus who remained involved in college activities well past his retirement.
“Bill Klenk was Alma College’s biggest supporter throughout his life and a great guide and friend to me personally,” Alma College President Jeff Abernathy said. “We will remember and revere him for his commitment to seeing Alma College grow, assisting in any way possible and whenever called upon to serve.”
Klenk, who graduated from Alma College with the class of 1959, was a member of Tau Kappa Epsilon (TKE) was well as the Scots football, baseball and basketball teams. While at Alma, he earned a total of seven varsity letters in baseball, basketball, and football. He was also named All-MIAA, All-NAIA, Honorable Mention All-American, and Most Valuable Player for football.
On the baseball diamond, it was said that opposing pitchers would “walk Klenk to get to Northrup” — referring to future Detroit Tigers outfielder and fellow Alma player Jim Northrup — a testament to Klenk’s skills as a hitter.
In 1975, Klenk was named to the Alma College Athletic Hall of Fame for his achievements on the field of play. In 2015, he was inducted to the hall of fame as a coach. He is the only person to hold both distinctions at Alma College.
“He was a player’s coach, but he was firm. The line he told me in later years was, ‘Everyone needs a pat on the back — some high and some low,’” said Bruce Gerish ’81, a fellow hall of fame member. “He was just a tremendous person. I think that stood out more than his coaching abilities. We all loved to play for him, and I think that fact led to us exceeding our talents and was a key contribution to our success.”
Following his graduation from Alma, Klenk obtained a master’s degree from Southern Illinois University and taught at Haslett High School. But he didn’t stay away from Alma for long.
Klenk returned to his alma mater and coached in various capacities for 32 years. During his tenure as head of the baseball program, Klenk had an overall record of 283-288-2 and led the Scots to MIAA championships in 1973-74, 1978, 1980-81, 1983 and 1987.
Klenk also led the men’s and women’s basketball programs. He ran the men’s basketball program from 1967-78, ending with a 122-94 overall record and an MIAA championship in 1977 season. He led the women’s basketball program from 1985-87, where he had a record of 44-8 and led the Scots to two MIAA championships.
He also taught physical education and served as athletic director during his time at Alma.
“I have never met someone with so much passion for Alma College,” said Sarah Dehring, athletic director. “I will never forget when I arrived to campus in the summer of 2011, as the volleyball coach, I received an email within my first few weeks from a Bill Klenk, with a list of potential recruits and all of their accolades. Bill always wanted what was best for Alma College and he gave his life to the institution. I cannot think of a truer Scot. He will be missed dearly, but his legacy will live on through all of the individuals that he coached, mentored, and befriended.”
Klenk remained involved with the college long after retirement. He was a charter member of the TKE Chapter Alumni Association and was one of the three founders of the Baseball Endowment Fund program. He hosted the annual Klenk Open golf outing and in 2017, received the Campus Involvement Ambassador of the Year Award for his ongoing support for Alma College athletics and student engagement. In 2018, he was grand marshal in the college’s homecoming parade.
Greg Hatcher ’83, who played under Klenk on the Scots baseball team and later worked alongside him with the TKE group, remembers his former coach for staying involved in his life long after graduation. In recent years, Hatcher said, the two would speak just about every week. In one instance, Klenk drove from his home in Florida to Alabama to watch Hatcher’s son play in a college football game.
“It might seem out of the ordinary, but I know he did that for a number of his former players,” said Hatcher, currently a member of the college board of trustees. “It was like, once he came to Alma, he never left. Almost until the day he died, he was doing work on the part of the college. He was a unique representative of a special place.”
Jason Crain ’95, who also played under Klenk and currently serves as the college’s head baseball coach, recalls being recruited back to Alma while coaching at Plymouth High School. Klenk, he said, would regularly call him to talk — not about baseball or the college, rather, Crain’s family and how they might adjust to moving to a new house, so Crain could take the job.
“It was so much more than Alma College,” Crain said, “he just cared about me and my family — how we would handle that transition. He really cared. Now that I look back on it, I would say the biggest lesson Coach gave to me was to guide your players through their entire lives, not just their playing careers. Their lives will have a much greater impact. If you look at the response from people across Alma right now, you can see that his certainly did.”
Klenk, who lived in The Villages, Florida, at the time of his death, was preceded in death by his wife, Elaine, who died in 2012. He is survived by his three children, Kari ’89, Steve ’91 and Kristi, and current wife Ginny Poe.
Klenk’s full obituary can be viewed online at hiers-baxley.com.