Coach Jeff McMartin (left) with Danks' daughter Elizabeth, wife Phyllis and son Ryan

PELLA — After more than 60 years of unwavering commitment and service to Central College and its students, Jim Danks passed away late Sunday afternoon at the Hospice Comfort House in Pella.

He was 79.

A 1964 Central graduate and a decorated athlete, Danks served the college as a coach, administrator and supporter. He was honored with the first-ever Spirit of Central Award earlier this year and recognized with his family prior to the school’s football season home opener Sept. 11.

“It’s a huge loss for the Central College family,” athletics director Eric Van Kley said. “He was such a steadfast supporter and reassuring daily presence not only to our athletes but to our coaches as well. But it’s also another opportunity for us to celebrate Jim’s remarkable life and all he did on behalf of Central and our students. He cherished every moment he spent with them and any time there was someone in need, he was the first to raise his hand to help.”

A Runnells, Iowa native, Danks was recruited to Central by long-time Dutch coach Babe Tysseling and in 1961 was a member of the first squad coached by College Football Hall of Fame member Ron Schipper.  He took over as the starting center in the fourth game of his freshman season and was in the lineup for the final 33 games of his career. An all-Iowa Conference honoree in 1962 and 1963, Danks gained NAIA All-District distinction in 1963 as well as NAIA All-American honorable mention and received Central’s Mentink Award for leadership by performance and example.

The last Central football coach that Danks did not work with left in 1937.

“We really liked having him hanging around practice,” said offensive guard Joshua Mayhew (5th-year, Aurora, Ill., West Aurora HS), a team co-captain. “He was one of those legacy guys who had been through everything from (former coaches) Babe Tysseling to Skip (Ron Schipper) to Kac (Rich Kacmarynski) to Coach Mac (Jeff McMartin).”

During Danks’ illness last summer, Mayhew performed odd jobs at his home.

“He and his wife, Phyllis, were really nice to me and so supportive,” Mayhew said. “He was a guy who really loved to sit down and talk about life. It meant a lot kind of being one of his friends. I’m going to miss Jim and I know a lot of guys in the program will, too.”

McMartin relied heavily on Danks for counsel and support.

“We have been blessed to have Jim be a part of our program for so many years,” he said. “From the time I got here in 2004, he’s been a fixture at practice and games. He really helped connect our players with the past and knew so much about the history of the program, the college and the Pella communicate. He was also the first guy to lend a hand whenever we needed anything. We are left with so many good memories.

“Central football is a better program because of him.”

Following a brief stint as head football coach at Pella High School while earning a master’s degree at Drake University, Danks returned to Central in 1966 as assistant coach, offensive coordinator and offensive line coach under Schipper. He served as associate professor of physical education. He also became Central’s first wrestling coach, serving the program for four seasons and from 1968-74 was the Dutch men’s golf coach. He piloted Central to a share of the 1969 Iowa Conference title, with second-place finishes in 1970 and 1974.

In 1974, Danks left Central for a senior sales management role at Pella Corporation and traveled globally as general manager of international sales. He retired in 2002 but at the request of Central president David Roe returned to the college as interim director of development, serving until 2005.

His first wife, Dr. Maureen Croaks Danks, was a professor of biology at Central before passing away unexpectedly in 1981. He remarried in 1986 and he and his wife, Phyllis, raised children Ryan and Elizabeth. They now have two grandchildren.

Danks helped establish the Dr. Maureen Danks Scholarship for high-achieving upperclass biology students, the Maureen Danks Award and the Jim Danks Endowed Scholarship.

He received Central’s Distinguished Alumni Award in 1993, was named to the Heritage Roll of Honor in 1995, the 1853 Club in 1996 and the Cornerstone Society in 1997. He served as national chair of the Central Fund in 1999 and was a member of the Forever Dutch advisory committee, helping lead the recently completed $18-million initiative to renovate and expand P.H. Kuyper Gymnasium.

Danks participated in more than 100 Central initiatives and alumni activities.

A long-time Pella Historical Society volunteer, Danks served on the Pella Planning and Zoning Commission for 34 years, including 20 years as chair. He also volunteered with Pella Community Schools.

Even during his illness, he remained connected with the team, watching games from beyond the scoreboard through his car window. And in his final hours Saturday, the Danks family played a broadcast in his room of Central’s 65-6 triumph at Buena Vista University, which capped a perfect 10-0 season. His friends insist Danks hung on until the perfect record was secured.

“In our hearts, Jim will always be forever Dutch,” Van Kley said.

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