Longtime JFK athletic director passes

WARREN – John Gillen, the longtime athletic director at John F. Kennedy High School, passed away after a short battle with cancer Wednesday. He was 84.

Gillen, known to be a very spiritual and religious man, was probably the closest thing to a saint for the many who had the pleasure of knowing him.

“Everyday’s a memory (that I had around John),” said former JFK football coach Dave Pappada, who coached at the school for 23 years in various capacities. “When I first heard the news (of John’s death), it was shocking. I have many, many memories of him and he was just a kind-hearted man. My condolences go out to his wife Gloria and the rest of his family.”

Born in Warren on Nov. 5, 1932, Gillen was a 1950 graduate of St. Mary’s High School, which would later be renamed John F. Kennedy High School. After graduating from Youngstown State with a bachelor’s degree in education, Gillen went on to obtain a master’s in education from Westminster College in New Wilmington, Pa.

Soon after, Gillen began a teaching career at his high school alma mater that spanned 57 years, in which he taught sociology, psychology and government. Along the way, Gillen was an assistant basketball and football coach at the school.

But for the past 47 years, Gillen was best known as the John F. Kennedy athletic director, a title he carried proudly. Gillen was inducted into various hall of fames during his career, including the Trumbull County Hall of Fame, Warren Sports Hall of Fame and the John F. Kennedy Hall of Fame.

“He’s the face of the entire athletic program and school,” said Eagles football coach Jeff Bayuk, who has known Gillen for more than 30 years. “There couldn’t be a better representative for a Catholic school than John.”

In fact, Gillen’s presence can be felt every time someone walks into the school’s gym, which is appropriately named Gillen Gymnasium. As Bayuk explained, Gillen was always at the school, always working to do any little thing he could.

For Bayuk and John F. Kennedy President Joe Kenneally, perhaps the greatest memory they share of John is bringing home the school’s most recent state athletic title — the 2016 OHSAA Division VII football crown.

Kenneally, who knew Gillen for 20 years, said that championship back in December was especially meaningful for the former Kennedy Catholic (Sharon, PA.) athletic director, who has been JFK’s president for the last four years.

“John was there in ’91 (for the state title) and he was there in 2016,” Kenneally said. “Coming from a basketball school like Kennedy Catholic, I was really leaning on John. I had no idea how it all worked at a football school, and John was there to guide me through it every step of the way.”

And while Gillen will certainly be remembered for all of the contributions he made to JFK athletics, the lasting memory of Gillen will always be the kind of person he was.

Kenneally said he never viewed Gillen as an employee of his, but rather, a grandfather figure. As for Bayuk, he says Gillen’s guidance in his time as the Eagles’ football coach made it to where him and the Eagles could overcome every obstacle, thanks to Gillen’s reassurance.

“John is the kind of person everyone should aspire to be like,” Bayuk said. “He never said a bad word about anybody. You could come to him with a problem and every problem seemed to be manageable.”

Kenneally added,” He was a very spiritual person and he kept everybody grounded. He’s the lynchpin (of this school). It’s gonna be so strange walking the halls and not seeing John there.”

Funeral arrangements will be announced this weekend.

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