If there was one thing Arno Zoske understood, it was facing adversity.
Born in 1939 in Pomerania, between Poland and what would become East Germany, Zoske, the former soccer coach at The Evergreen State College lived through World War II and the Soviet occupation when Germany was split in two.
He lived through kidney cancer, which nearly took his life 14 years ago.
“He was very much about discipline and organization,” said John Purtteman, who played soccer for Zoske in the 1980s at Evergreen. “He understood all the qualities that lead to success in life.”
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Zoske’s players remembered him as being tough but fair. Last week, Zoske, who turned a losing program into a winner at Evergreen, died at his home. He was 71.
“He was so dedicated,” said Tom Boatright, who played for Zoske at Evergreen and now coaches boys soccer at Capital High School. “He was a quiet, dedicated teacher. But he was very John Wooden-like.”
In 1983, Zoske took over an Evergreen program that had posted back-to-back 2-12 records in its first two years. Evergreen had a 6-5-3 record in Zoske’s first season.
“It seemed like an odd fit,” said Purtteman, who was a junior when Zoske arrived. “He was an authoritarian personality who came in here to Evergreen. But he cared so much about his teams, about doing things right. He overwhelmed us that way.”
Last spring, Boatright often spotted Zoske in the crowd during a Capital soccer match. After one game, Zoske shared some insights about the match with his former player. He was always the coach and teacher.
“It was always more than a sport for him,” Boatright said. “It was helping young men. We were all Arno students.”
Boatright remembers Zoske having trouble pronouncing some words during practice because of his German accent.
“We’d kid him,” Boatright said, laughing at the memory. “And he’d laugh with us.”
Zoske, an avid outdoorsman and hiker, took his teams on camping trips and hikes. Purtteman remembers a hike to Camp Muir on Mount Rainier and hikes in British Columbia.
“It was a way of bringing his team together,” Purtteman said. “Things didn’t always go right on those trips. Some people got sick. But it was so much fun. Those are the things you remember for the rest of your life.”
Before coming to Evergreen, Zoske was a trainer at Notre Dame, working with basketball players who went on to play in the NBA. Cancer forced him out of coaching at Evergreen in 1994.
“He was entirely responsible for turning that program around,” Purtteman said.
Paula Towne, Zoske’s companion, said he complained of stomach pains on Aug. 19 after going out for dinner. She insisted he see a doctor, but he refused. Three days later, Zoske still wasn’t feeling well.
“He said he just wanted to lay down and rest for a while,” Towne said.
Towne checked on him after an hour later and found him dead.
“It was totally unexpected,” Towne said. “I’ll miss him so. He wasn’t the marrying type. But after a while I said ‘OK, I’ll deal with it’ because he was worth it.”
Services for Zoske will be at 10 a.m. Friday at the Lutheran Church of the Good Shepherd in Olympia.
Gail Wood: 360-754-5443 firstname.lastname@example.org