Remembering Jerry Alex

By Steve Sell
June 06, 2014

I thank God every day for directing me to McPherson 35 years ago.

I had never heard of the town, except for the fact I went to Independence Junior College with former McPherson High basketball stars Jeff Kline and Rick Stout, as they were vital cogs in the Pirates’ amazing success during their careers.

Not only have I been blessed to call McPherson home since August of 1979, I’ve been afforded the opportunity to make friends that will last a lifetime.

I’ve also been saddened by losing some of these friends. I terribly miss people like Johnny Sunshine Watkins, Jay Frazier, W.D. Underwood, Doc Aplin and Bob Williams, as well as Jonell Mitchell and Judy Godwin, all of whom were very instrumental in my life.

This week, another dear friend was called home. Jerry Alexander lost his long-and-courageous battle with cancer on Monday at the too-young age of 71.

“Jerry Alex,” as I called him as did many others, was always one of my biggest supporters, both during my 33 years at The Sentinel and now the last couple at Never did he not see me and not compliment me on something I wrote.

Jerry Alex was the patriarch of the wildly successful “Alexander triumvirate,” which consisted of brothers Todd, Chad and Josh, and which kept me busy writing about their exploits. Jerry Alex took a picture of the triumvirate with me right after Josh won his state basketball championship in 1996 and that photo is still on my desk.

Todd was the first to come along and had a tremendous Bullpup career. He went on to finish as one of the all-time greats at Washburn University.

Chad was the middle lad. Like Todd, he was a prolific Bullpup scorer and parlayed his talents into a nice career at Oklahoma State, where he played on an NCAA Final Four team.

Finally there was Josh, who at one time was the all-time leading scorer in McPherson High history and wound up earning All-American status for Roger Trimmell’s McPherson College Bulldogs.

When I would publish an Alexander story in The Sentinel that included a picture, my first phone call the next morning was like clockwork.

“Jerry Alex here,” he would say in that deep baritone voice that would have been a natural for radio. “Great story. Save me the picture.”

Back in those days, we didn’t have digital photography and all the photos were black-and-white on glossy paper. I always liked having a little grain in my photos, it just gave it that something special.

Anyway, it got to the point where Jerry Alex didn’t have to call. I had “Jerry’s Corner” on my desk that was reserved for him. He would stop in on his way to Central Christian College, pick up his photo and tell me what a wonderful job I had done of writing about his sons and urged me never to leave McPherson. He said he wanted me to write about all his kids for as long as I could and later on, he said he wanted me to stick around long enough to write about his grandchildren.

I also played one year of Over-30 basketball with Jerry Alex. He probably would have been about 41 or 42, but it was easy to see where the Alexander triumvirate’s talent came from. Jerry Alex had some serious game and a shooting touch that was pure butter. I always knew when we would play that my assist totals would inflate when Jerry Alex got on one of his patented rolls.

That Jerry took ill a couple of years ago was a surprise since he had always been in such wonderful shape. He was a regular at the YMCA’s infamous “Noon Ball,” and I know he probably had some great battles with his sons as Ol’ Dad surely showed the boys a trick or two he had learned from his playing days in South Dakota. Jerry Alex was one of those guys who never seemed to age as even when he was 65, he looked like a man of 50. He really got hooked on golf when Turkey Creek opened and also was an avid skier. He loved sports and promoting sports in McPherson, having served numerous years on the YMCA board.

Jerry Alex’s pride and joy, however, was his children and now their sons and daughters who are in the McPherson school system. I only wish he could have seen all 10 of them graduate from MHS and watch their athletic careers flourish. There’s no doubt the Alexander name will be prominent in McPherson sports for many years to come.

Also when I think of Jerry Alex, I think of Central Christian College. He WAS Central Christian College. He served the school in about every possible capacity for 47 years and while he probably had numerous chances to take employment at bigger schools given his sterling academic credentials (he earned his doctorate from the University of Northern Colorado at Greeley), he chose to stay in McPherson where he could raise his family, which in turn is raising its families here — together, which I'm told was his favorite word. Appropriately, Central named its basketball arena in his honor this past season.

My final memory of Jerry Alex is a good one. During the weekend of the NCAA Final Four this past April, he was on hand for the reunion of some of the greats of McPherson High basketball, hosted by son Todd. About 20 MHS greats, and coaches Mike Henson and Kurt Kinnamon, were on hand and Jonathan Coachman was even here from Bristol, Conn. 

We took a picture of the gathering and nobody looked prouder than Jerry Alex, who of course had to be in the picture. He had a big role in the success of Bullpup basketball and he took a moment that day to say to me, “I always tell you this, but I always appreciated the way you used to write about the Alexander triumvirate.”

As a tribute to Jerry Alex, I’ll continue to write to the best of my ability about all the Alexanders. I’m sure it will all be good.