Local sports enthusiast Helfrich dies

2011-09-28T11:00:00Z Local sports enthusiast Helfrich diesBy John Gunther, The World Coos Bay World
September 28, 2011 11:00 am  • 

One of the most recognizable faces at sporting events on the South Coast died this week.

Mike Helfrich, who helped coach the football team at Marshfield for 15 years and was a fixture at sporting events at several schools in the area, died Saturday. The 68-year-old Coos Bay resident was found dead in his hotel room in Tucson, Ariz., just before the football game between Arizona and Oregon -- his son, Mark, is the offensive coordinator for the Ducks.

A memorial service will be held at 1 p.m. Thursday in the Harding Gymnasium on the Marshfield High School campus.

Helfrich was remembered as a generous man who loved sports and supporting the local athletes.

'He loved people," said Marshfield Principal Greg Mulkey. 'He obviously loved high school athletics. It didn't matter who it was."

While Helfrich had loyalties to Marshfield, he also frequently showed up at events in North Bend, Coquille, Bandon, Myrtle Point or Reedsport, depending on where there was a big game, and also was a regular at basketball games and wrestling meets at Southwestern Oregon Community College and summer softball games at Mingus Park.

'That guy is special," said former Marshfield football coach Kent Wigle. 'I know he touched so many lives in this community."

Helfrich retired from a long career with U.S. Bank in 1992 and joined Marshfield's coaching staff the next fall, Wigle said. He was a volunteer during his entire tenure.

'He never was paid," Mulkey said. 'He wouldn't accept anything."

Helfrich took his coaching role to the ultimate level, Wigle said.

'Mike wasn't just at ballgames," he said. 'He was at every Tuesday-Thursday weight training in the summer time. He came into football class spring term. He was at every coaches meeting and every practice for that many years.

'He was there every second of the time, and you could count on him."

'He just gave and gave and gave," said Bill Lilley, another former coach and Helfrich's closest friend. 'He worked hard and cared about kids. He was a great example."

Helfrich also provided the coaches with pregame meals when they were at home and sandwiches and fresh tuna during their traditional stop at a park south of Cottage Grove when they had games in Eugene, Wigle said.

His generosity continued after he was done coaching.

Current Marshfield head football coach Justin Ainsworth recalled a time, shortly after he took over the job, when Helfrich picked him up one Saturday morning to go visit a player who couldn't afford football cleats.

Helfrich brought the player new cleats and also paid his participation fee for the sport, Ainsworth said.

'That's the kind of person he was," Ainsworth said.

During wrestling season, Helfrich helped out at meets both at Marshfield and Southwestern Oregon Community College.

In the community, he served as chairman for the boards of director at the Coos Bay-North Bend Water Board, was past president of three different chambers of commerce and numerous other community organizations, served on various committees for the Oregon International Port of Coos Bay and was a budget committee member for Southwestern Oregon Community College. He was one of the leaders of the Bay Area Sportsman's Association, an outdoors group that supports many youth activities in the community. He also was a past president of the Marshfield Booster Club.

'There's probably nobody that has touched more lives in our community than Mike, and probably done more things under the table, and not wanting credit for it," Wigle said. 'You talk about the ultimate volunteer for everything."

'It's amazing the loyalty he had, not only to his community, but to his family," Mulkey said.

For the past three years, Helfrich's wife, Linda, has been a resident at a local care facility, where she is being treated for Huntington's Disease, Wigle said.

Every day, Helfrich took his wife out for a ride and lunch.

'Mike did a lot of things with the community," Lilley said. 'No. 1 and most of all, he was a family guy."

In addition to his time with Linda, Helfrich loved spending time with his sons, Mark and John, and their children.

'Anything that the grandkids were doing, he was into it," Lilley said.

He also was widely known for his fishing, frequently spending time on the water with Lilley and other friends.

'If Mike wasn't at a game, or with his wife, he was fishing," Mulkey said.

Lilley and Helfrich went fishing Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday last week. His last day in Coos Bay, Helfrich was on the boat with Lilley, Wigle and another former coach.

That afternoon, Helfrich flew out to Tucson.

'Mike's boat had 19 salmon on it (last week)," Lilley said. 'Mike was in Tucson watching a ballgame, doing exactly what he wanted to do."

At the request of the boys, Thursday's memorial service will be followed by a hamburger barbecue at Buck's Place inside Pete Susick Stadium.

'Mark and John both wanted to have a barbecue," Mulkey said. 'They just want people to come and celebrate his life."

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(2) Comments

  1. Con Queso
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    Con Queso - October 05, 2011 12:24 pm
    I completely agree, Local Jerk. (I love that handle, by the way.) He touched many, many people and was someone to emulate. But the kind of person he was, I don't know he'd appreciate the fuss of building a statue just for him! Just goes to show you, the truly great ones do it for all the right reasons.
  2. Local Jerk
    Report Abuse
    Local Jerk - October 01, 2011 12:03 pm
    This man deserves a statue or something. His history may not be as colorful as Pete Susick's but his contribution to the community is as big as Marshfield's alumni's hearts!
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