CHAMPAIGN – Coach Gary Hembrough, 73, of Champaign passed away Tuesday (Oct. 9, 2012).
He was born July 29, 1939, in Roodhouse, the son of Kenneth L. and Martha Ann Vinyard Hembrough. Gary married Georgine Ann Tortorella on July 20, 1974, in Lincolnwood.
After graduating from Roodhouse High School, where he lettered all four years in football, basketball and track and earned 12 letters, Gary was offered full scholarships in football and vocal music to the University of Illinois, where he played football 1957-1962, played in the 1962 Rose Bowl and later coached freshmen at the UI. He was the president of Tau Kappa Epsilon (TKE).
Gary took his first teaching and coaching positions at Jefferson Junior High School. He coached football and basketball before moving on to Centennial High School, where he taught physical education and driver's education, and coached basketball, track and weight-lifting and was the head football coach for 11 years. He coached Centennial to its first football playoff berth in 1984.
Gary retired from Unit 4 schools in 1994. He did not sit idle and started G & H Computing Services, focusing on self-taught computer skills he acquired when coaching football and track.
Gary's interest in and his talents for cooking evolved into preparing foods for friends and parties. Coach's Cooking Team evolved, and fans at the UI football games and visitors at the Champaign County Fair found themselves savoring Coach Gary's pork chops on a stick, pulled pork sandwiches, home-made sausage sandwiches topped with onions and red/yellow peppers served on Chicago-style Turano buns, savory baked beans and home-made lemon shake-ups. Fans looked for Coach's Concession Trailer and his navy blue 13' smoker on the west side of the stadium.
Coach's Cooking Team under Gary's direction catered delicious homemade food for weddings, ball games, gatherings, special University events, school functions, businesses and private affairs.
Always a coach, Gary continued to travel with his cooking team to barbeque competitions associated with the Kansas City Barbeque Society. He and his team traveled to Kansas City, where he competed in the Kansas City Royal Competition, the Madison Ribberfest in Madison, Ind., the Field of Dreams Barbeque Competition in Shannon, Ill., and the Central Illinois Braggin' Rights Barbeque State Championship in Arthur, Ill. Coach's Cooking Team was a frequent winner at the contests, often winning 1st, 2nd, 3rd, and state recognition. Categories included chicken, ribs, brisket and pulled pork, his wife's favorite.
Gary was a contemporary Renaissance man. His interests were extensive and he excelled at anything he wanted to learn. His Chevy van conversion was featured in Hot Rod Magazine 1973-1974 for best interior design and exterior paint jobs. Gary was known as the Billy Goat in CB land and as a Ham radio operator. He enjoyed downhill skiing, playing golf, competing in bass tournaments and fishing, taking and developing pictures, playing the 5-string banjo, listening to bluegrass music, and performing magic tricks for children and adults.
As a person, Gary was generous, compassionate and humble. He encouraged his students and others to excel in their passions and to be life-long learners. He was respected as a coach, as a teacher, as a leader, and as a person wherever he went.
Survivors include his loving wife Georgine of 38 years, his sister Janet Long, his niece Missy and her husband Gregg Burrus, and their daughters, Chloe and Claire, whom he adored, as well as several cousins.
He was preceded in death by his father, his mother and an infant brother.
Gary will be sadly missed by countless friends, students, business associates, and those who cherished his zest for life.
The visitation for Mr. Hembrough will be from 3 to 5 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 14, at Morgan Memorial Home, 1304 Regency Drive West, Savoy. A celebration of Gary's life will be at 10:30 a.m. Monday, Oct. 15, at the funeral home.
Gary's express wishes were to establish a scholarship fund for needy young men who aspire to play football at the University of Illinois. Donations may be made to Fighting Illini Scholarship Fund/football, in care of the University of Illinois.