By Christine Bryant
To many, he was simply known as “coach.”
But to others, he was known as much more – a friend, mentor and legend.
Ernest “Ernie” Plank, a former Grove City coach and educator, died March 1 – leaving a void in the community that he loved, said Linda Renico, a Grove City resident and former student of Plank’s. The memories he left behind, however, are far from gone, and those who remember him for his many contributions to the Grove City community will gather at 5 p.m. April 22 at Plank’s On Broadway.
The event is open to the community and will serve as an opportunity for those who knew him to say goodbye and share their memories of him with others.
“When he passed away, there was no memorial or open services,” said Renico, who is helping coordinate the event to honor Plank. “He was a legend here in Grove City. Whichever restaurant he went into, everyone knew Ernie. So on April 22, they’re going to get to say goodbye.”
Plank, who graduated from Bexley High School in 1943, served in the U.S. Navy for two years during World War II before playing football at Miami University in Oxford. Following graduation in 1950, he served five years as head football coach at Grove City High School before returning to his alma mater in 1956. He went on to coach at Yale, Indiana University and Northwestern University before beginning a career in the NFL.
As a coach and scout for the San Francisco 49ers, he earned four Super Bowl rings. He also served as a scout for the Browns and Ravens.
Plank retired to Cincinnati with his wife, but after she died, he contacted some former students to see if they would help him find a new home in Grove City, Renico said. Over the years he had kept in contact with his former students, rarely missing class reunions.
“He always had time to talk to anyone,” she said. “He was always interested not only in sports, but what was going on in their family life. He was a very, very caring person, and he never forgot what Grove City gave to him.”
In 2009, the city honored him for his work to build Little League in Grove City. He was instrumental in the construction of baseball diamonds at Windsor Park in the 1950s – one of which, #6, is named after him today.
Grove City Mayor Richard “Ike” Stage and several council members dedicated the field as the “Ernie Plank Field of Dreams” in 2009, with Plank’s friends collecting $3,200 so the diamond would include a scoreboard featuring his name.
At the dedication ceremony, Plank noted it was a special occasion for him and that there were no better kept diamonds than those at Windsor Park. With thousands of children using the park, it serves today as a go-to for national softball and baseball tournaments, Stage said.
“Ernie Plank was a young energetic man when he came to Grove City,” said Stage . “He wanted to make a difference in his adopted hometown. We are blessed to have had him as a friend, citizen, teacher and mentor. He succeeded in making Grove City better. He will be missed.”
Before dying at the age of 89, Plank chose to be buried in Grove City – the city he called home, Renico said.
“The importance is that he chose Grove City to retire to and make his home for the remainder of his life,” she said.
Plank’s On Broadway is located at 4022 Broadway, Grove City.