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.
Athletes in Athletics or Alumni in People