Former Coach Theulen remembered for building Owl athletic and men's basketball programs

Former Coach Theulen remembered for building Owl athletic and men's basketball programs

Glenn Theulen returned to Keene State College in the fall of 1997 to be inducted into the college’s Alumni Athletic Hall of Fame.

A charismatic and colorful coach during his 16 seasons coaching the Owls men’s basketball team, Theulen had the crowd in the palm of his hand as he turned the clock back and reminisced about his days on the sidelines at Spaulding Gym.

“Being inducted into the Hall of Fame brought closure to my career at Keene State,” said Theulen after the ceremony.  “By affording me this honor, which I receive with gratitude and an open heart, I have the opportunity to close my career with a good feeling.”

Theulen, who played a pivotal role in the growth of the Keene State athletic program and basketball team, died last Monday in his hometown of Perry, Iowa. He was 88.

Theulen arrived at Keene State in 1968 along with longtime men’s soccer coach Ron Butcher and Ted Kehr, chairman of the physical education department and athletic director at Keene State from 1970-77. They elevated the Owl athletic program to a major source of pride for the college.

“Glenn really changed the role of athletics at Keene State College,” said Kehr, who attended the memorial service for Theulen in Iowa on Saturday. “He involved the community; he started the first booster club which not only provided support for the basketball team, but for the entire athletic program. He showed that you could integrate successful academic program with a successful athletic program.”

“Glenn Theulen was Keene State College athletics,” Butcher said. “He was brought in to give the college and the students an athletic program that they could rally around and be proud of and he did just that. Even today, the athletes should be indebted to him for building and establishing the program.

“When Theulen came to Keene State, Spaulding Gym had bleachers on just one side. He told the President that you better put seats on the other side. In another year we’re going to have this place jumping with standing-room crowds.”

Sixteen years and 210 victories later he would end his Owl coaching career with three 20-win seasons, four New England State College Athletic Conference (NESCAC) championships, three NAIA Tournament appearances — and as the winningest men’s basketball coach in Keene State history.

Impressive as those numbers are, Theulen was just as proud, if not more so, of his other accomplishment during his tenure. “Sure it was great to win basketball games, but I’m also proud of the fact that just about all my players graduated and went on to be productive members of society,” he said.

One of those players was Dave Terry, who played for Theulen from 1969-71, and came to Keene State from Bloomington, Ind. “When I was a high school player, I used to play basketball with him on the campus of Indiana University. We became great friends and he always said if he ever got a job he’d call me up,” Terry said.

Terry, who still holds Owl game, season and career rebound records, called Theulen a father figure who took his game to another level. “I bought into what he was saying and his theories,” Terry said. “He had great ideas about coaching which came from his days in Indiana.”

“Sports needs a few characters and a little color and he brought that to Keene State,” added Terry, who now lives in Erie, Pa. “But he was also a teacher who had a positive influence on his players.”

Theulen had a presence that drew people to Keene State. “He had this innate ability to walk into a room and no one was a stranger,” Kehr said. “Everyone was a friend and that’s how he approached life. If he met you for the first time it was like you had been his friend for a long time.”

Following his coaching career at Keene State, Theulen returned to Iowa. A prodigal son returning home, Theulen served two terms as the city’s mayor and later served as a substitute teacher at the high school. “He could touch everybody. Even when he was in the nursing home, the pre-school kids would come and sing to him. He was a people person,” said his son Mike Theulen, now serving as the athletic director and men’s basketball coach at Western New England University in Springfield, Mass.

The fact that Theulen preached success off and on the basketball court should come as no surprise to those who knew of his background. An All-State high school basketball and football player at Perry, Iowa, Theulen twice enlisted in the armed services before returning to Buena Vista College, where at the age of 36 he became the oldest player to participate in the NAIA Tournament.

Following the memorial service at the high school that was attended by more than 800 people, a mini roast emceed by Mike Theulen took place at a local hotel. “It not only gave you an insight of Glenn the coach, but as a person growing up in Perry and his love for his hometown,” said Kehr.

“It was a privilege to hear all the far-ranging stories,” said Mike Theulen. “I know he would’ve been pleased. That’s the way he envisioned it. He didn’t want any tears. He wanted people to celebrate his life and have a good time. And I think that was achieved today.”

After a successful high school coaching career in the Midwest, Theulen moved on to work as an assistant at Indiana University before answering the call to revive the basketball program at Keene State.

“Except for a few returning letterman, there wasn’t much to work with when I got there,” Theulen recalled. Not discouraged, Theulen hit the recruiting trail — a trail that would be very productive for Keene State. The list of his recruits reads like a Who’s Who of Owl standouts, “I don’t want to start mentioning names, because I might leave somebody out,” he said.

It didn’t take long for Theulen to work his magic. Three years later his Owls would post a program-best 21-8 record before making their first of three NAIA Tournament appearances in the 1972-73 season. “Chemistry was important,” said Theulen, who at one time also served as athletic director and baseball and golf coach as well as a physical education instructor. “I tried to bring in players who had a winning attitude.”

While Theulen coached his share of great athletes at Keene State, two in particular stand out: his sons, Mike and Matt Theulen. “It was the greatest joy of my career to coach them,” he said.

“Keene State and Keene, N.H., were very special places to not only him, but to our entire family,” said Mike Theulen. “It was an interesting journey and my father relished the challenge and it was a great part of who he was. As much as Keene benefited from him, he benefited from Keene State as well. It was a very strong relationship.”

Not afraid to play any opponent, Theulen took on all comers on the court from the top teams in New England to national NAlA powers, And the fans at Keene State and in the Keene community responded. Theulen’s Owls delighted the sold-out crowds at Spaulding Gym with their athleticism and run-and-gun style of play. “Everyone came out for the games,” said Theulen.

“I didn’t have to do anything at times,” he would say modestly. “They loved playing the game,” But those who were around him during those 16 years knew better. In his own way Theulen helped put Keene State on the basketball map.

Looking forward to his induction into the Keene State Alumni Athletic Hall of Fame, Theulen commented, “I wish I could line up all my players and shake their hands.” When you consider his genuine concern for his players, in and out of the gym, it’s easy to understand why Theulen is a member of the Iowa Hall of Fame as well.

“His players held him in very high esteem,” said Butcher. “To this day, they always refer to him as coach.”