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(Special Collections Center, Bradley University Library)
Most grandparents enjoy regaling their grandchildren with stories about their lives. Lynn Gibbs had to draw quite an audience with some of his tales.
Gibbs, a member of Bradley University’s Class of 1933 and a longtime central Illinois educator, passed away on Jan. 26 at the age of 99, but not before collecting enough interesting stories to fill a lengthy book.
After reading Gibbs’ obituary, it’s hard not to think of the questions he could have asked his four grandchildren.
“Did I ever tell you about the time I played football against Ronald Reagan?”
“Did you know I broke the Bradley pole-vault record with a bamboo pole?”
“Who do you think was the first Bradley basketball player to shoot a jump shot?”
The answers to questions about Lynn Gibbs’ time at Bradley show a student-athlete who made history on the Hilltop, a record that lives on after this death.
On the football field, Gibbs took on the former president, who played for Eureka College, in an Illinois Intercollegiate Athletic Conference game in 1930. Reagan played guard and Gibbs was an outside receiver in that game. Bradley defeated Eureka, and the future president, 27-26.
On the track, Gibbs’ 1933 pole vault record of nearly 11 feet stood for decades after he graduated and long after bamboo poles went out of use. He was the captain of the Bradley track team. Another member of that team was 1932 Olympian Lambert Redd, who specialized in the broad jump.
Jumping must have been a tough habit to break for Gibbs, the track team’s leading high jumper and pole vaulter. He incorporated a jump into his basketball shot and it is believed that he is the first person at Bradley to shoot a jump shot. Despite claims from Gibbs’ coach that leaving the ground was unfair, the jump shot has had no trouble catching on.
Gibbs led the Bradley basketball team in scoring his senior year, averaging just over 10 points per game. “Scores were low in those days,” he said in a 2005 Bradley reunion article.
He had plenty to talk about, but judging by the remarks of his friends, he rarely liked to do so. “He never liked to dwell on himself,” one of Gibbs’ former students told the Champaign News-Gazette. “He was a modest man but had every reason (to brag) if he were inclined to that.”
After graduating from Bradley, Gibbs moved on to graduate school at the University of Iowa and then began teaching and coaching at El Paso, 32 miles east of Peoria. In 1937, he moved to Rantoul, where he taught and coached three sports, eventually being named principal and then superintendent in 1941. Gibbs held that position until retiring in 1970.
Apart from his professional career, Gibbs was actively involved in the Rantoul Rotary Club. He was widely believed to be the oldest living Rotarian in Illinois and was recognized for his more than 60 years of service in 2008. Those years of service included a 50-year stretch of perfect attendance at the Rantoul Rotary Club meetings.
“They gave him a certificate,” said Fred Randall, president of the Rantoul Rotary Club. “They had to have one made special because they didn't have one for that many years.”