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Forest Rittgers

Colonel Forest Rittgers, one of the best known Kohawks of the 20th century, was a central figure in several of the most brilliant eras of Coe sports.  Rittgers participated in sports as a student and later returned as a member of Coe’s coaching staff. 

Forest Rittgers was born in Waldron, Kansas, and moved to Boone, Iowa, where he graduated from Boone High School. While attending Coe, Rittgers was a first-string member of the famous 1922 football championship team.  After graduation, he obtained a degree in physical education from Stanford University and then spent spent four years teaching high school in Centerville, Iowa.  Rittgers returned to Coe in 1929 as Moray Eby's backfield coach and scout and later assumed the position of head coach of the men's varsity track team.  Rittgers' most spectacular success as a coach came between 1929 and 1942 as his teams won 8 conference titles.  Rittgers also taught courses in coaching and physical education, and he was the assistant professor of military science at Coe.  For his achievements as an athlete and a coach, he was inducted into Coe Athletic Hall of Fame. 

Early in World War II, Rittgers was assigned to the Fort McClellan (Alabama) infantry replacement and school command.  He later attended The Army Language School in Monterey, California, where he studied Chinese (Mandarin and Cantonese) and received an honorary doctorate in Sinology.  In 1945, he was sent to Japan as a military government officer at headquarters I Corps in Kyoto, where he served as a liaison in Hong Kong to the British Crown Colony.  He returned to the U.S. in 1949 and was a professor of military science at Syracuse University until 1952.  Rittgers retired in 1957 and was then employed by Melpar Corp. for seven years as an administrative engineer.

Colonel Forest Rittgers died in Walter Reed Hospital March 21, 1980, after a long battle with emphysema.  He was buried in Arlington Cemetery in Washington DC.  Following his death, Rittgers' widow Gail Courtney Rittgers helped to establish and fund an annual track meet in honor of her husband, the Rittgers Track and Field Invitational.

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