Bloomington, Ind. – Jane Hoeppner said there was no question about what day was most fitting to celebrate the life of Terry Hoeppner.
For a man who spent 30 years on the sidelines coaching college football, no day is more important than Saturday.
"It's game day!" she proclaimed. "It has to be on Saturday."
There was no game on this Saturday, though. Instead, more than 3,000 friends, family and fans gathered at IU's Assembly Hall to say goodbye and to celebrate the life of Terry Hoeppner, who passed away Tuesday morning after an 18-month battle with brain cancer.
While the event was designed to be a celebration, the sadness in the building was unmistakable. As pastors, athletic directors, coaches, players, and family members spoke, each did their best to fend off the tug of emotions about a man that meant a great deal to each of them for a variety of reasons.
While Hoeppner is best known in the public eye for his successes as a head football coach at Franklin, Miami (Ohio) and Indiana University, many of Saturday's speakers instead focused on the impact he'd had on them thanks to his energy, enthusiasm, leadership and, as IU Athletic Director Rick Greenspan said, charisma.
Greenspan spoke of his first encounter with Hoeppner in December of 2004, when the two met at a remote Franklin, Ind., motel to discuss the IU coaching position. Seated across from each other behind a folding table, Greenspan was wowed by the then-Miami (Ohio) University head coach's vision for the Hoosier program and commitment to seeing it through if given the chance.
"His impact on me was the same as I believe it's been on you – wow, what a person," Greenspan said. "That was the first day with Hep, and I'll cherish that memory forever…He will be missed, but remembered so fondly for making us dream with our eyes wide open."
Current IU co-defensive coordinator Joe Palcic played for Hoeppner at Miami (Ohio) before joining his staff, and reflected on how much he first enjoyed playing under him and then coaching alongside him in both Oxford, Ohio, and then in Bloomington.
"To my coach, my mentor, my role model and my friend - you are loved and you will be missed," Palcic said.
For each of his immediate family members, though, it was a chance to express their gratitude for what he meant to them away from the field as a father, grandfather and as a husband.
To his son, Drew, it was about the man who "could do and fix anything," and how rewarding it was to have the love and admiration of his father. To his daughter Amy (Fox), it was about what he's meant to not only her, but her grandchildren who tagged him as their "Paw."
And to his other daughter, Allison (Balcam), it was about how rewarding it was to see what she referred to as "the greatest love story there ever was" between his mother and father. She spoke of how Jane was with Terry every step of the way after he received his diagnosis in December of 2005.
"My father was a great speaker and wordsmith - God gave him the ability to communicate," she said. "I'm blessed to know that of the thousands of words he could have chosen as his last to her, he settled on three. The final time that beautiful man expressed anything, he said, ‘I love you.'
"It's easy to say he's in a better place now. What's difficult is to accept it and to believe in that and to trust in that. But I know he is in the best place, and the reason I know that is for him to have gone anywhere without her, it must be tremendously awesome."
For Jane, it was an opportunity to speak about the fact that the last 1 ½ years of Terry's life were the closest the two of them had ever been as a couple, and to also thank the fans for the loyalty, faith and love of him as IU's head coach.
"I know this is a sad day, but I just want to thank all of you, because you will never, ever know what a part of our lives you all were," Jane said. "People that we didn't even know who just loved Coach Hep."
But it also gave her the chance to deliver a message to a team that has dedicated the 2007 season to his memory.
"To the team - this is a beginning for you today," she said. "And don't you let it dare become anything except the start of something huge for you. You have put so much into this, and this season is going to be so awesome. I can't wait…you are going to play 13, we are going to do the bowl game. And Coach Hep will be there with us."
Family, Friends Pay Tribute to Hoeppner
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