He was a husband who always made time to slow dance with his wife in the kitchen. He was a father who hosted his own game shows in the living room and joyfully rode waves no matter how frigid the ocean. He was a Papaw who built massive Lego castles, tossed his grandkids in the pool for hours, and turned Easter egg hunts into Olympic-caliber events. He was a middle school physical education and health teacher who showed up before the sun (often with donuts, because, you know, balance), relished Sports Day, and quietly assured that students with struggling families were spoiled at Christmas. And he was a Manchester High basketball state champion turned coach who taught us that leaders uplift, that there are no excuses, and that it’s all so much bigger than a game.
Bobby Eckert, 64, recorded his final victory on April 23 when he won the game of life and, surrounded by family, went to be with Jesus.
He was honored with many awards, including Manchester Alumni Outstanding Faculty, Manchester High Athletic Hall of Fame, and PAC-7 Coach of the Year.
Bobby was a proud Manchester boy who fell in love with the friendly new girl who moved to town in junior high. Before shooting a free throw during the 1974 state championship game, he curled his hand into a fist and flashed a 1, 4, 3, his lifelong “I love you” to her. Soon, he asked Kim Ellis to marry him. She did. Forty-two years later, they never stopped dating.
The son of Joanne and Walter Eckert, Bobby earned his teaching degree after high school. But instead of taking the teaching position he wanted, he insisted on working the midnight shift at the Acme warehouse. That way, Kim could pursue her career and they could still raise the girls themselves -- her at night, and him during the day. He was the only dad the girls knew who could make a straight part for pigtails. And they enjoyed being ever-present on the sidelines of Dad’s basketball practices. He didn’t start teaching at Manchester Middle School until his oldest left for college. For the next 22 years, he called teaching the greatest job in the world.
When his daughters were old enough to play softball, Bobby didn’t just coach them: He started Manchester’s first girls travel team and took them around the country to compete. Work and heart, he knew, could beat fancy uniforms and matching bat bags eight days a week. And when his daughters entered high school, Bobby left the boys basketball program to take over the struggling girls program, and he turned them into a perennial powerhouse.
Bobby savored a good round of golf. Swensons burgers. ESPN. Chocolate milkshakes. Being early. The Beatles. Fried chicken after church on Sundays. A Cleveland Browns win. Playing cards. An immaculately clean car. A meticulously kept lawn. Movie nights with Kim. Rating everything from 1 to 10. Betting a buck. Outback steak. Laughing. Hosting neighborhood parties. The Tribe. Treating dinner. Tipping generously. Crisp track suits (with matching sneakers). Christmas (which was also his birthday, the genesis of his middle name Noel and undoubtedly the best day of the year). Rewarding his grandkids with $1 bills for anything he deemed an achievement (soccer goal, basketball assist, sharing with a sibling, helping Mimi cook, existing). Singing “Hit the Road, Jack,” upon getting into the car to go almost anywhere. Skee-ball on the boardwalk at Rehoboth Beach (three times a day, every day, all week, non-negotiable). Exploring the world with his family (who definitely never told his brain tumor doctor about tubing in Aruba last summer). Trips to Vegas with his sons-in-law (where teacher friends who handed him $20 to gamble on their behalf always miraculously won big). And Space Mountain and Fantasmic at Disney World (where his grandkids were treated to all plastic things that emit light and/or bubbles BECAUSE THIS IS LIVING, PEOPLE!).
He fought cancer for three years with tenacity and an unwavering faith in God’s plan, far outliving his prognosis and showing yet another lesson in grit and grace. He taught us so much. To be big. To compete fiercely but to always help your opponent up. To hustle harder and smarter and until the very last second runs off the clock. That if you’re ever stuck, don’t panic. That you don’t tell people what they can’t do, you tell them what they can. And that if God blesses you with anything, it’s because he trusts you to pay it forward.
Bobby Eckert paid all of it forward. He never meant to change the world. He was far too practical for that. But he did. One Manchester kid at a time.
We are so grateful to have called him ours: Wife/Soulmate/Milkshake Maker/Best Friend Kim. Daughters Kristy and Erika. Sons-in-law Mike Wagner and Brian Ruch. Siblings Anne Cole, Don and Diane Eckert, Connie Eckert, Mike and Karla Arnold, and late brother Skip Eckert. And eight beloved grandchildren.
A celebration of life will be held at a later date. In lieu of flowers, we invite you to make a donation to Manchester Basketball (subject line: The Bobby Eckert Fund), 6075 Manchester Rd., New Franklin, Ohio, 44319.
Respects may be paid at his final Earthly resting place: Manchester Cemetery, last driveway, 3/4 way down on the left.
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