By KIRK HARDCASTLE
NIACC sports information director
MASON CITY – Mr. NIACC.
That's what current NIACC baseball coach Travis Hergert called Jerry Dunbar, who started out at the college as an athlete and also served as a coach and athletic director.
Mr. NIACC passed away on Tuesday at the age of 79 after a three-year battle with esophageal cancer.
"Jerry always took the time to say hello to my wife and chase around our sons at the ballpark," Hergert said in a Facebook post. "He always had a story or two. He always took interest to what was going on in the program. He was Mr. NIACC.
"My heart hurts knowing I'll never get to see him again at a Trojan lunch bunch or a NIACC golf outing. But I know you are no longer hurting. May you rest in peace, coach. And thank you for always being in our corner. Love you coach!"
Visitation with public viewing will be held Friday at Holy Family Catholic Church from 4-7 p.m. with a Scriptural Wake service starting begin at 7 p.m.
A Mass of Christian Burial for Dunbar will be held at 10:30 am on Saturday at Epiphany Parish – Holy Family Catholic Church in Mason City.
"What's there to say about Jerry Dunbar?," former Globe Gazette sports editor and NIACC hall of famer Tom Thoma said in a Facebook post. "He was a great guy who loved NIACC and the students he taught and coached. Most of all he loved Maggie and his family. He was fiercely loyal and competitive. And he enjoyed the good times with equal passion. Thanks, Jerry, for all the great things you did for so many people."
Dunbar was an honorable mention all-American running back for Mason City Junior College in 1962. Dunbar helped lead the Trojans to a 5-2 record under coach Art Lunblad.
Dunbar would later become the school's head football coach from 1977-85. He was also the school's head baseball coach from 1982-2001 and athletic director from 1983-2001.
He was inducted into the school's athletic hall of fame in 2006 and recently was a member of the NIACC 100, which included 100 athletes dating back to 1919 that made a significant impact on the athletic history at MCJC and NIACC.
Karl Spencer, who was a member of the NIACC baseball team in 1988, said he reconnected with Dunbar last year.
Spencer said the two immediately began talking about old times.
"The first thing he said was 'Is this Karl Spencer who hit all of those home runs with the spiked bat?' We started laughing and talked about old times at NIACC," Spencer recalled in a Facebook post.
"We kept in touch over the past year and I had the pleasure of meeting his daughter's family at a Texas/Iowa State football game. To know our paths crossed again prior to his passing lets me know how important it is to love one another and cherish each day we're on this earth."
Dunbar definitely had an impact on thousands of student-athletes while at NIACC.
Former men's basketball player Bo Bair, who played at NIACC from 1985-87, called Dunbar a "wonderful person."
"Coach Dunbar was such a positive influence to me," Bair said. "His dedication to NIACC and the athletic program was unmatched.
"I'm so glad he was a part of my development. He will be missed."
Gavin Sandvig, who was a member of the NIACC men's basketball team that won the national title in 1995, agreed.
"Man, this is a blow," Sandvig said. "He was a great ambassador to NIACC and the Mason City community. He was an awesome AD and a great mentor."
Andie Olson, who played basketball and softball at NIACC in the 1990s, said Dunbar is still coaching and teaching – just with a different audience.
"Heaven gained another great coach today," Olson said. "RIP coach Jerry Dunbar.
"He always had a smile, hug and kind word."
And current NIACC coaches and others are still learning from Dunbar.
"People think we are in this for the glory of wins," Hergert said. "That's so far from the truth.
"It's just a number and it doesn't define you. What does is how you make a positive impact on the lives of young people. That's what Jerry did. He was the kindest, caring person.
"He supported our program and it is still one of the highest honors I've ever had in coaching his grandson Drew Verstegen."