MARENGO – Marengo athletic director Chad Olson gazed at the newly painted face on the gym wall with a smile of satisfaction.
Olson recalled the night of Jan. 19, 2008, when the gym was named in honor of legendary former coach Homer “Bill” Barry. Olson’s eyes welled up as he spoke about his high school coach, the man who meant everything to Marengo basketball for 29 years.
“You get nervous knowing you’re going to put something on the wall like that for everybody to see,” Olson said. “It came out great. It looks just like him.”
Olson and Marengo administrators hatched the plan this year to put Barry’s face on the wall of Homer “Bill” Barry Gymnasium. Rob Kruse, a retired coach and teacher from Dundee-Crown who just joined Marengo’s football staff, finished the mural last week.
The painting has Barry’s smiling face along with his name and career record – 718-345 overall in 38 years, 573-211 in 29 seasons at Marengo. Kruse also painted an Indian head above the other door and a huge ‘M” with “Home of the Indians” under the east basket.
Barry died in March 2008, about six weeks after the ceremony to name the gym. The Illinois Basketball Coaches Association Hall of Famer was 74 and had suffered from Parkinson’s disease for his last few years.
Barry’s son Bill was the first family member to see the mural when he visited the gym June 24.
“Homer would be pleased,” Bill said. “He would be a little overwhelmed by all of it.
“I’m really touched and humbled, and I know my family will feel the same way when they see it. It’s appreciated. It’s a legacy, and now that I have a 5-year-old granddaughter [Mikayla] who will eventually graduate here, it will be nice for her to walk into this gymnasium some day, hopefully with a basketball in her hands, and say, ‘That’s my great grandpa.’ ”
Coach Barry’s widow, Dorcas, still lives in Marengo. She has four sons – Bill, Mike, Joe and Pat.
Bill said his father actually considered getting out of coaching when he was at Huntley in 1968 because he was tired of losing. Barry took the Marengo job and was 8-15 in his first year; the Indians had only one other losing season in their next 28.
During one stretch, Marengo won Class A regional titles in 13 of 15 years.
“I remember asking him one time, ‘Did you ever go into a game thinking you’d be beat?’ ” Bill said. “He said, ‘I don’t remember going in thinking we would lose. We went into a lot of games where I knew we were outmanned, but I never went into a game thinking we’d get beat. Ever.’ ”
Olson, who played on the 1990 Class A Elite Eight team, said the players felt the same way.
“You could put anybody on our schedule, and I thought, ‘We’ll beat them,’ ” Olson said. “This is what you do. We never thought of it any other way.”
Marengo opened its new high school nine years ago, and Olson, who formerly was boys basketball coach, took over as AD this year.
“I never knew I’d be in a position at my school to do this,” Olson said.
Olson talked with football coach Matt Lynch, who knew of Kruse’s artistic talents. Kruse coached at D-C when Lynch played there in the early 1990s. Kruse showed Olson some of his work and Marengo decided he would be the man for the job.
“I really never knew Marengo had such a tradition,” Kruse said. “I’ve been doing portraits for a long time and thought it was a pretty big honor to do that. I was hoping it would be good enough.”
Kruse, a former physical education and driver education teacher, started a business, Sportraits, to paint pictures of people and has a website at sportraits.weebly.com.
“The reason I like doing things like that is it makes people happy,” said Kruse, who also is doing work on Marengo’s weight room walls. “If I can capture their personality in the artwork, then I feel good.”
The early reviews on Kruse’s work indicate he succeeded.
“It’s adding some character and life to the school that we need,” Olson said.