Southwestern Michigan College’s Gunn retiring after 39 years

Published 12:21 am Friday, March 10, 2006

By By SCOTT NOVAK / Vigilant/Argus
Mention running in southwestern Michigan, one name comes to mind - Ron Gunn.
Gunn, who put Southwestern Michigan College on the map athletically through nearly four decades of service, has announced that he will retire at the end of the academic year.
He will remain at the college with its Extreme Sports Program, which has proven very popular. The accredited physical education classes include whitewater rafting, rock climbing, repelling, backpacking, sea kayaking, snowboarding and mountain biking.
Gunn, who won five national cross country championships, three national marathon championships, 23 Michigan Community College Athletic Association cross country and 18 National Junior College Athletic Association NJCAA Region XII track championships in 30 years, can walk away from SMC knowing that he was the face of junior college cross country and track in Michigan and throughout much of the Midwest.
Gunn coached 25 national champions and 142 of his runners earned All-American honors. He was voted national coach of the year five times and was continuously named region, state and conference coach of the year.
By the conclusion of his career in 1996, Gunn was the all-time winningest coach in junior college cross country.
He is also the founder of one of the Midwest's premier road races - Steve's Run.
The “Original and Genuine Road and Trail Race” is 32 years old.
Now known as Steve's Run, in memory of the late Steven Briegel, the son of former SMC president David Briegel and his wife Camille, it is an event that draws back runners year-after-year.
Generations of runners have been involved in the annual summer event. The race has turned into more than just a test of one's endurance against a clock, but a celebration of life.
It has even been the back drop to a marriage ceremony.
Steve's Run has been voted the best road race by Michigan Runner Magazine and continues to draw record crowds each year.
Gunn also founded the Monday Night Running Club in 1979. Through the club's efforts, countless numbers of runners and sports walkers have been taught how to enjoy the sport.
Bill Livingston, an original member of the Monday Night Running Club and also an early member of the Roadrunner Track Club, said that Gunn was an inspiration because of all the ideas that he had.
Livingston went to on say that with Gunn staying on locally is a good thing.
Livingston recalled that he and Gunn have done a lot of things together over time, including running the Boston Marathon in 1978 and 1979.
When SMC dropped intercollegiate athletics nine years ago, Gunn moved into a new role at the college - director of the new fitness and wellness programs.
His retirement will be felt in the community as was well as at the college.
Dr. Fred Mathews, chairman of the board of trustees at SMC, echoed those sentiments.
He began his athletic career at Moline High School in Illinois where he was the school record holder in the one-mile and a member of the 1960 state championship track team. Gunn was the captain of the team as well as captain of the football team.
Gunn played collegiately at Augustana College in Rock Island, Ill., where he played quarterback on the football team and co-captained the track team, which won its first conference championship in many years.
He graduated from Augustana in 1964 with an undergraduate degree in physical education. He earned a master's degree in physical education from Bowling Green University in 1966.
Gunn came to Southwestern Michigan College in 1967 and established its athletic programs.
He has been inducted into both the NJCAA Cross Country Coaches Hall of Fame and the National Track Hall of Fame.
He was named a Paul Harris Fellow in 1999 by the Dowagiac Rotary Club.
Gunn lives in Niles and has four children - Jeff, Jacob, Sarah and Emily.