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County mourns loss of Wolfe and Vannoy

Mark Martin
Sportswriter

In less than a week’s time, Jackson County lost two youth football coaching icons.

Earl Wolfe of Ravenswood died Dec. 31.

Russ Vannoy, a long-time Ripley resident, passed away Jan. 3.

Wolfe and Vannoy left legacies in many ways while living in these two Jackson County communities.

And among their contributions was helping to mold future Ravenswood Red Devil and Ripley Viking football players.

Wolfe, who had starred in football at Ravenswood High, where he graduated in 1948, coached the Browns of the old Ravenswood Midget Football League.

Before the days of A, B, and C travel teams, the ground base of Ravenswood High football rested solely on players learning the game through weekly practices and then Saturday evening games. Four teams made up the town’s youth league.

Wolfe’s Browns went head-to-head against the Colts, Rams and Cardinals for years at Flinn Field (now Flinn Field at Spano-Taylor Stadium). The teams would play each other twice each year as part of a six-game schedule.

Wolfe, who was 90, loved not only football but all youth athletics. He also coached baseball and basketball.

He enjoyed following the athletic exploits of his owns sons (three) as well as those of others in the community.

He continued being a staunch supporter of sports, both in the youth leagues and at the high school level in Ravenswood, long after he had stopped coaching. Of course, watching his own grandchildren compete in athletics and taking part in other endeavors certainly brought him a lot of joy.

Besides lending his expertise and guidance to young area athletes, Wolfe provided countless hours to his community. Especially when it came to fire and emergency services.

By the time he was 15, Wolfe, who spent a big part of his life as an employee at Kaiser Aluminum, had a job. He closed his wonderful life’s work as Jackson County’s first EMS Director at age 71.

Wolfe’s contributions in emergency services can be dated back to when he joined the Ravenswood Fire Department in 1952.

Vannoy, who had just turned 83 on December 22, was the leader of several Blue Devil football teams in the old Ripley Midget League.

Ripley, too, had a four-team setup for a number of years to help with the development of young men who would one day be Vikings.

Vannoy’s Blue Devil squads would practice several days a week to prepare for meetings with the Red Riders, Falcons and Generals. Just like Ravenswood, the games were played on Saturday evenings at Ripley’s Memorial Stadium. There were two head-to-head meetings with the opposition each year.

After Ripley’s league shifted to the A, B, and C format, Vannoy continued to stay involved.

While his coaching would one day end, Vannoy remained a fixture in several ways with Ripley athletics.

He was an active athletic booster.

And one of his greatest pleasures was being right in the middle of the action on varsity game nights as a member of the chain crew with his long-time coaching mate and friend Claude Ball.

Vannoy was a graduate of Stonewall Jackson High School. He made his way to Jackson County and spent the majority of his work life at Kaiser Aluminum.

He enjoyed getting involved and helping the community he had made his permanent home and thus, chose to run for Ripley City Council.

Vannoy was a member of council from 2003-2011, helping to assist in a vast amount of improvements for the city.

While the two each had their own football teams to coach back in the day, they were willing to take it upon themselves to help a player from another team if needed. It’s the way they were wired.

Earl Wolfe and Russ Vannoy were great men who poured their hearts and souls into providing their time to others and making things better.

And nothing gave them greater pleasure than helping to mold youngsters in Ravenswood and Ripley into men and productive citizens.

There are many who benefitted from having these two in their lives.

Earl Wolfe and Russ Vannoy will be missed.