Russell Giesy was a Whitefish coach, teacher, school administrator and decorated war hero who by all accounts gave it his all every day. And those who knew him never forgot him.
Giesy, 90, died Oct. 16, leaving a legacy of respect and accomplishments throughout the Whitefish community.
“He was absolutely awesome,” said Bob Frank, a 1961 Whitefish High School graduate who played football under Giesy’s coaching tutelage. “You couldn’t forgot him. Every time you came back home you wanted to talk to him and see him. He left a good memory in everyone’s mind.”
Giesy spent a total of 31 years with the Whitefish School District, starting in 1951 when he began his teaching and coaching career in Whitefish. In his early years of coaching Whitefish won two divisional football championships and two state championships.
He was appointed principal of Whitefish High School in 1956 and in 1959 once again assumed the head football coach slot, taking the Bulldogs from sixth place to winning the conference championship that year.
Gary Stephens, a former Whitefish mayor, was a quarterback on the winning 1959 team.
“He was a great coach,” Stephens said. “He had the respect of all the kids. He was no nonsense, matter-of-fact; he demanded you behave.”
Stephens recalled the time Giesy was unhappy with the team’s performance during practice and had all the players get down in a three-point stance.
“He wore baseball cleats on the field, and he went down the line and methodically kicked each one of us on the butt,” Stephens recalled. “It got our attention.”
Both Stephens and Frank remembered Giesy’s “single wing” formation — a rarely used offensive strategy at the time — that catapulted the team to greatness.
Ron Kuchenbrod, a longtime Whitefish art teacher, recalled Giesy’s antics when he was a track coach.
“I remember him pole-vaulting in his suit and tie,” he said. “He was a doer; he got involved.”
Kuchenbrod said Giesy also was “one of the fairest individuals” he ever worked with.
“He was a person who backed his teachers,” he added.
Giesy’s tenure as principal ran from 1956 to 1971, when he was promoted to superintendent. A month after he became superintendent, the junior high school gymnasium was destroyed by fire. Six years later the Whitefish High School gym and several classrooms burned down, and he oversaw the rebuilding in both cases. He served as superintendent until 1982.
Giesy had high standards and expectations and there are many Whitefish alumni who remember how he’d twirl around his set of keys and give a misbehaving student a rap with those keys.
“It was nothing abusive, but the kids paid attention,” Stephens said. “He was a great principal. He was so good with the kids.”
The Daily Inter Lake quoted Giesy in 1971 when he was promoted to superintendent, acknowledging the big shoes he had to fill.
“Naturally I am delighted in the trust the school board has extended me,” he told the Inter Lake. “Certainly it will be a more demanding challenge than usual because anybody who follows Lloyd Muldown has a bigger than usual role to fill.”
Muldown was another wildly popular Whitefish school superintendent who left his mark on the resort town.
Giesy was known to share “war stories” about his time as a fighter pilot in the U.S. Air Force during World War II.
While flying a P-47 in support of the infantry in Luzon in the Philippines, his plane was hit by ground fire. He evacuated the aircraft but parachuted into an area behind Japanese lines. It took some evasive maneuvers and hand-to-hand combat to escape.
For his military service he earned the Air Medal, Bronze Star and Purple Heart.
Giesy was a civic leader in Whitefish for many years, earning the Jaycees’ Boss of the Year award in 1969 and the Whitefish Chamber of Commerce’s Citizen of the Year honor in 1978.