John Elmer Erickson, Age :92

Jun 19,1927---Mar 18,2020

John E. Erickson went to be with our Lord and Savior on March 18, 2020 at the age of 92.

John was born June 19, 1927 in Rockford, Illinois to Elmer and Laura (Kelley) Erickson.  He was preceded in death by his wife of 61 years, Polly Erickson.  

From an early age Johnny loved sports.  After graduating from Rockford East High School, Erickson attended Beloit College, where he became the first basketball player to score more than 1,000 points in a career and competed in three NCAA tennis tournaments.  While at Beloit he served as President of the Beta Theta Pi fraternity and earned a BA degree.  

Erickson began coaching high school basketball in Wisconsin, at Beloit High School and Stevens Point High School, and then was drafted in 1952 and served two years in the United States Army. From 1955 to 1958, he was the head basketball coach at Lake Forest College where he met his future wife, Polly Martin, who was the Women’s Physical Education Director and a championship golfer.  Their first date was a challenge on the golf course.  They married on August 31, 1956.

John and Polly moved to Madison, Wisconsin where John was an assistant basketball coach at the University of Wisconsin during the 1958-59 season before taking over for Bud Foster as head coach. In 1962, he coached the Wisconsin Badgers to an 86-67 upset victory over number one ranked Ohio State breaking the Buckeyes’ historic regular season winning streak.  Erickson’s team finished second in the Big Ten Conference and he was named Midwest College Coach of the Year.

It was while in Madison that John and Polly’s faith became the center of their lives.  John heard All American and St. Louis Hawks NBA player, Bob Pettit speak at a Fellowship of Christian Athletes (FCA) Conference at Lake Geneva.  The Gospel presentation that week changed his life. From that point on John began sharing his faith and became active in the ministry of FCA.

In 1968, he became the first general manager of the NBA expansion Milwaukee Bucks.  With the flip of a coin, the Bucks won the right to select UCLA’s Lew Alcindor (later Kareem Abdul-Jabbar) the first player taken in the 1969 player draft. Successfully building a team which included the signing of Oscar Robertson, the Bucks won the NBA championship in 1971.

After John resigned as the Buck’s GM, he ran for the United States Senate seat in Wisconsin as a Republican, but lost to incumbent Senator William Proxmire in the general election.

In 1972, coach of the Dallas Cowboys and friend, Tom Landry, reached out to John to join the Fellowship of Christian Athletes as its National President. Noted for his leadership, Erickson restructured the Board of Trustees, established FCA’s first golf camps, women’s ministry and junior high and inner-city programs and spearheaded the construction of the national headquarters in Kansas City, which was dedicated in 1979.

Following his 16 years at FCA, Erickson became the Director of Basketball Operations and later the Assistant Commissioner for the Big Eight Conference.   

John was a gifted speaker and storyteller. He was able to uniquely pour into people’s lives by sharing his faith while speaking about sports. One of these occasions was when at 86 years of age, he received the NABC Guardian of the Game Award for Leadership at the NCAA Final Four, and accepting the award in front of his fellow coaches he shared how basketball changed his life, but Jesus gave him life. (Romans 12: 1-2).  John has been honored for his achievements by many organizations, including Beloit College, the NAIA, Lake Forest College and the Fellowship of Christian Athletes.

In Kansas City, John and Polly were active members of Hillcrest Covenant Church for 40 years.  He and Polly were involved in countless ministries, including House of Hope and Salvation Army, but John especially enjoyed his involvement with Team Focus – a ministry founded by Coach Mike and Mickey Gottfried in 2000.

Wednesday mornings were particularly important. John was one of hand full of men that have taught a weekly men’s Bible study for nearly 50 years which meets at Village Presbyterian Church.  The men in the group were one of the greatest blessings in his life.  

Besides faith and basketball, the Erickson family loves golf.  Beginning in 2001, John and Polly spent time at the Erickson Golf House on Pine Needles Golf Course in Southern Pines, NC.  John loved sharing time with family and friends here, talking to every player that came down the fairway.

In April 2016, John and Polly moved to Tulsa, Oklahoma to be closer to their three daughters. A special thank you to the congregation of Redeemer Covenant Church in Tulsa for faithfully visiting John and listening to his life stories.  He looked forward to weekly visits from Terry, Glenn and Jim. You truly showed Christ’s love. We are grateful to the staff at Legend at Tulsa Hills and caregiver Kelli.

No matter how you knew John, whether through Bible study, sports or business, the one thing that you knew was he was devoted to his family. He was the best provider, protector and encourager that any daughter could have. Until the day he died he was always caring for them.  He prayed daily for each of them, loved holding their hand, hearing their voice or seeing their face. 

He is survived by his three daughters Lew Ellen Erickson of Tulsa, OK, Kelly (Joe) Armes of Dallas, TX, Kim (David) Abbott of Columbia, SC; grandchildren Bryan and Morgan Abbott of Lexington, SC, Scotty and Mary Ellen Abbott Grigsby of Columbia, SC, Zach and Annie Armes Wood of Dallas, TX, and John Erickson Armes (fiancé Mary Bryton Slover) of Dallas, TX; Sister Carolyn Erickson Plummer of Rockford, IL; nieces and nephews Joseph and Nancy Plummer Drago of Naperville, IL, Jeff Plummer of Rockford, IL, Bill and Maggie Martin Giesenhagen of Denver, CO.

In light of these unusual times, a family burial was held at Johnson County Memorial Gardens Cemetery in Overland Park, Kansas.

In lieu of flowers, contributions may be made to The John and Polly Erickson scholarship fund at The Fellowship of Christian Athletes, 8701 Leeds Road KC MO 64129.





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