WHARTON — It is doubtful anyone will eclipse Gene Bahnsen’s 60 years as a coach or athletics director from the Wharton County Junior College record books. If someone does, though, his name will still be etched into the college history — on the side of its gym.
More than 250 family members, co-workers and former players were on hand for the April 17 dedication of the Gene Bahnsen Gymnasium.
“To recognize Gene for his six decades of service to the college, including far-reaching publicity that he garnered for the institution with award-winning athletic programs, and for having a positive influence on the lives of thousands of students, it is the pleasure of the college’s administration and board of trustees to name the Wharton campus gymnasium in his honor as a token of our appreciation for his devotion to the college,” Wharton Junior College President Betty McCrohan said.
Now 85, the Vinton, Louisiana, native graduated from North Texas State University, where he lettered in football all four years. After serving three years in the U.S. Air Force, including three years as a lieutenant in Germany, Bahnsen married Jan Vacek of El Campo, which brought him to the area.
“It’s been a good run,” he said. “I had lots of other offers over the years but always felt I needed to stay here. I don’t regret that one bit.”
Hired July 1, 1959, as a college basketball coach, assistant football coach and physical education instructor, Bahnsen added head football coach and athletics director responsibilities to his basketball duties in 1965. After five years guiding the football team, he surrendered that job to focus on coaching basketball and directing the college’s overall sports program.
Inducted into the National Junior College Athletic Association’s Men’s Basketball Coaches Association Hall of Fame in 2012, having the gym named for him was humbling.
“I cannot express the feelings I have,” Bahnsen said. “We’ve had tremendous athletes and tremendous students and tremendous ex-students and I’m so happy to see them coming back. I appreciate all of this.”
A plaque and photograph of Bahnsen will be displayed permanently in the gym.
The school also is creating the Gene Bahnsen Endowed Scholarship, a means of providing financial assistance to future Wharton County Junior College students. Anyone interested in contributing can donate to the WCJC/Gene Bahnsen Endowed Scholarship, c/o WCJC Office of Marketing and Communications, 911 Boling Highway, Wharton, TX 77488.