Witness Post: Bill Geister

In September, 2015 a longtime coach and teacher, William “Bill” Geister died from lymphoma. Bill’s reputation has been perpetuated by a wrestling tournament that was named in his honor, starting in 2016. Bill shares the tournament name with his wife, Gloria, who died in 2008. They were married for 55 years. The tournament falls in the middle of the season, as the teams gear-up for districts and then Oregon state wrestling championships. Clackamas High School hosts the annual event.

Geister was head wrestling coach at Clackamas from 1961 through 1986 and he taught math there for 33 years. He later coached at Mountain View High School, assisting Les Combs, a former Clackamas star, who became the head coach of that program in Bend, Oregon.

Les Combs said that Geister had a gift: “He could read people. He could see potential in you that you couldn’t. He could get you excited about things you didn’t know were possible.”

Midwestern Roots

Born in Heron, South Dakota, on April 3, 1933, Bill Geister was the second of six children. His parents, Vern and Grace Geister, moved the family quite a few times. They moved from Heron to Sunnyside, Washington, and then to Yakima. In 1942, when Bill was 9 years old, the family moved to Portland, Oregon, where they owned an ambulance business. Bill attended Kennedy School, a public elementary school in NE Portland (now owned by McMenamin properties).

In 1948 the family moved to Albany, Oregon, where they owned a bowling alley. Bill had the grand title of “pin boy,” as he set up the bowling pin devices that needed to be aligned and adjusted. He attended West Albany High School, where he played football and wrestled, placing 4th at State in 1951.

After high school Geister attended Oregon State University, where he majored in education and wrestled for the Beavers. He won the Pacific Coast Wrestling Championship title at 157# in 1956. He met and married Gloria, while they were both undergraduates at OSU.

Geister landed his first job out of college as a teacher of math at Myrtle Point High School, where he started the wrestling program. He also coached football and track. In his fifth year at Myrtle Point, his wrestling team, the Bobcats, placed second at State. The next year the Bobcats were state champions.

In 1961, with five children in the family, the Geisters moved to Happy Valley, a Portland suburb, where Bill was hired as a math teacher and wrestling coach. After building his own home, the family dug in and became vital members of the community.

Clackamas Wrestling

Geister was able to see potential in his wrestling teams and coached his athletes to extraordinary success. His varsity teams at Clackamas High recorded over 300 dual-meet victories. And his teams included 35 Oregon state place-winners and 8 individual state champions: Ron Calhoun (1961), Jerry Jeleniewski (1963), Kent Grote (1964), Bill Breitenstein (1969), Dave Whited (1971), Ron Halberlach (1972), Steve Morris (1975), and Tom Overby (1978).

Geister had a lot of coaching experience outside of his adopted home town. He coached the first Oregon Wrestling Cultural Exchange team, visiting Japan in 1971. He coached the Oregon Junior National tournament and the National Greco-Roman Dual Meet Championships. His wrestler, Dave Drews won a state Greco-Roman title in 1979 and Geister’s grandson, Jayson Wullbrandt, won a Greco-Roman title in 1995.

Coach Bill was honored for his excellence with several awards. In 1978 he was recognized as Oregon’s and the Pacific NW Region’s Coach of the year.

In order to have a good high school wrestling program, Geister knew that there had to be a good youth program. He started the Clackamas Kids Wrestling Club in 1987, and he continued to work with the program until he was first diagnosed with cancer in 2013.

The awards kept coming! In 1995 Geister was recognized for his supporting role as Oregon’s and the Region’s Assistant Coach of the year. Later that year Geister was inducted into the National Wrestling Hall of Fame in Stillwater, OK, becoming the first Oregon coach to be thus honored.

Off the mat Bill Geister was active in his community. His family members were regular attendees at their local church, Milwaukie Presbyterian. He was self-taught in construction and he volunteered for years as the general contractor for the church and for Habitat for Humanity. He was always engaged in painting, roofing and other construction projects on weekends. He also served as a regular Math Tutor for many students who were struggling in the 3R’s.

An avid outdoorsman, Geister owned a canoe and he often took his friends and wrestlers on wild rides on the rivers of Oregon. He climbed Mount Hood, skydived, rode motorcycles and camped. His travels took him and his family to such varied places as Australia, Alaska, Belize, Costa Rica, Morocco, and China. Somehow he made time for the most needy in his community — every Thursday he delivered lunches and dinners for Meals on Wheels to the elderly in Clackamas.

He was survived by three sisters, six children, and 16 grandchildren. Nine of those grandchildren wrestled, including two girls.

Les Combs also commented, “When you are around a great person, you don’t realize you are in the presence of greatness because it is all you know. Coach Geister probably was even more of a great person than he was a great teacher and coach.”

A student/wrestler from the class of 1976, Larry Robertson, wrote to his coach: “I have never known a man with your dedication. Dedication to wrestling and through wrestling, helping so many kids change their lives…You are a person I will always respect and admire. You somehow know when to be stern and when to be nice. I can’t thank you enough for the hours you put in with me…My debt can only be paid back by being a successful person…you are a major part of that success. Thanks.”

Bill and Gloria Geister’s daughter, Kim Adams, said of her father: “Dad would want to be remembered as a man of integrity. After he died, I found a letter he had written to his mother. It told of a time when he was a little boy. His mom discovered he had taken some fruit from a fruit stand, because he was hungry. She made him go to the shop owner and confess what he had done. Through this and other lessons, Dad said he had a strong feeling of what it means to be honest. He always projected that integrity.”

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Bill & Gloria Geister Invitational Wrestling Tournament at Clackamas High School

Coach Geister and Gloria would have loved attending the annual Geister Invitational Wrestling Tournament at Clackamas High. Their spirit is alive and well in Happy Valley.