Former OSC Standout Football Player Passes Away

Jan. 5, 2009

Lewiston, Mont. - Courtesy of Great Falls Tribune

LEWISTOWN -- George M. Zellick, 88, a military veteran, educator, coach and Montana activist, died ofpancreatic cancer Dec. 26 at a Lewistown hospital.

His memorial service will be held at a later date. Cremation has taken place under the direction of Creel Funeral Home of Lewistown.

He is survived by his three sons, George David Zellick of Portland, Ore., Daniel Scott (Linda) Zellick of Redding, Calif., and James Samuel (Sue) Zellick of Lewistown; a former daughter-in-law, Melva Zellick of Nampa, Idaho; eight grandchildren and five great-grandchildren.

George was born in Lewistown, Mont., on June 3, 1920. His parents, Sam and Mary (Pipinich) Zellick, each immigrated from southcentral Europe; Sam from Serbia and Mary from Croatia. Sam homesteaded on the Continental Divide, which is 8 miles east of Lewistown, adjacent to the Pipinich homestead. They later met and married.

His parents applied for citizenship and, during the process, George's mother promised the judge that their children, if they had any, would learn the English language and go to school.

George began his education at Skaggs School, a one-room school for eight grades, located about 10 miles east of Lewistown. Due to the distance, terrain and difficulty getting to school, his parents decided to send him to Lewistown. They purchased a very small home, which was located across the street, one-half block from Symmes Park. His grandmother was recruited to be the lady of the house. His second year of school began at Garfield Elementary. He was known as the 'hick from the sticks' but, after several nosebleeds, he was accepted.

Symmes Park was the center of all athletics for the school and summer programs. His new home was the park. He enjoyed going after the foul balls for the Lewistown Ramblers, he also watched the Golden Eagle football team and couldn't wait to wear the blue and gold. He graduated from Fergus High School in 1939. He earned four letters in football, four in basketball and three in track. An injury in his sophomore year kept him from the fourth letter in track. In his senior year, he was president of the student body and was honored by being selected to the highest all-state football team. A number of major colleges were interested in him and, after much thought, he selected Oregon State University.

He was a member of the 1942 Oregon State Rose Bowl championship football team.The game was the only Rose Bowl not played in Pasadena, Calif. Dec. 7, 1941, the Day of Infamy, caused fear of bombing on the West Coast, and postponed the Rose Bowl. The game was reinstated and moved to Durham, N.C. George played both offense and defense, scoring a touchdown, in the 20 - 16 win over Duke University. While attending OSU, George was a member of the Phi Delta Theta fraternity and served as president of the house in his senior year.

Along with thousands of young people, George enlisted in the United States Marine Corps. After basic training, he married Dorothy C. Shaw and, in a few days, was sent to the Pacific, where he spent most of the next 30 months. After the surrender of the Japanese, his unit was sent to China to disarm the Japanese.

Following his discharge from the Marines, he returned to OSU for one term before accepting a teaching and football coaching job in Springfield, Ore. The Korean War had just begun and he was then called back into the Marine Corps. He joined the 1st Marine Division in Seoul, Korea, immediately after the landing on Inchon. The move was on to the Yalu River, and the North Korean Army was defeated. As the Allied units approached the Yalu River, they were confronted by 120,000 Chinese troops. This created a very delicate situation. Fear of starting another war at this time necessitated a decision for a major pullback to the ships at Hamhung. This was done with great effort and much heroism on the part of all Allied participants. Most of this activity took place in November and December of 1950, in North Korea. When the Marines reorganized in South Korea, George was sent back to the states and discharged.

He went back to his job of teaching and coaching, and, on a part-time basis, he enrolled at the University of Oregon and received his master's degree in school administration. In 1956, he was appointed assistant principal at Springfield High.

In 1960, he became the first principal of Thurston Senior High School in Springfield, and, in 1965, he became deputy superintendent of the Springfield School District. During his tenure in Springfield, he was a member of the original group that was essential in raising funds to build McKenzie/Willamette Hospital. He later served the hospital as a board member and chairman; was a board member of the Willamalane Park and Recreation District; and was a board member and served as president of the Springfield Area Chamber of Commerce.

He was the recipient of the Springfield First Citizen of the Year award in 1969, and he also served as president of Rotary International. He took great pride in assisting that club in building a new baseball field for Little League Baseball. He was chosen to pitch the first ball. A little boy hit a pop fly between first and home plate. George decided he would catch the ball -- and did. He reported to work the next day on crutches.

In 1970, George moved to Missoula, Mont., and was superintendent of the Missoula County High School District, remaining in the capacity until his retirement in 1982. At the time, Missoula was beginning to grow. During his tenure, many changes occurred. The Fort Missoula site became most important in helping solve the crowding problems of the district. Vocational agriculture and forestry programs were the first to move to that area. A building was constructed to provide space for the vocational agriculture program and livestock was introduced. A much-needed space also was provided for the Vocational Technical Center. A diesel laboratory was built for the study, repair and operation of the heavy equipment program.

The voters gave approval for a new school and Big Sky High School was constructed. Tax money was used for the buildings, and all outdoor work was to be done in the future. With great pride and efficiency, the vocational technical teachers and students did all the dirt work around the buildings and the future athletic fields. Overnight, a Booster Club was formed and it financed and constructed the Missoula County High School football stadium, one of the best in the Northwest. It was rewarding to know and work with these outstanding boosters.

Early in this period at Sentinel High School, a music addition was constructed. At Seeley Swan High School, a new gym and cafeteria was built. At Hellgate High School, a science wing and gym were added. Land for outdoor activities also was acquired.

Upon retirement, George and Dorothy moved to the family ranch in Lewistown, where his father, Sam, and grandfather, George Pipinich, had homesteaded. Because of his good feelings for the land, it was payback time. He reorganized the ranch and brought it back to a productive situation. Old buildings were destroyed, and new buildings were built. A labor of love was foremost in the total process.On a limited basis, George became involved in the following community projects: assisting the city of Lewistown commissioners in the selection of a new manager and doing the same for the school board in its selection process for a new superintendent; and assisting the hospital administration in developing annual reports and beginning the groundwork for the Central Montana Medical Center Foundation. Change in the name of the hospital had been considered for some time, and, at George's urging, that change was hastened due to concern that some other institution would use the name. He also directed the financial campaign for the library expansion program.

He was a member of the American Legion, The Chosen Few, and the sports halls of fame of Fergus High School, Oregon State University and the State of Oregon.

George's wife of 61 years, Dorothy, an active participant in his many activities and active in her own right, died in July 2005. In 2006, George asked a longtime family friend, Barbara Lu Smith, to share his life. She accepted his request and they have shared their lives together since that time.He also was preceded in death by his parents and his sister, Anna, who died in March 2002. She received her bachelor's and master's degrees from the University of Chicago, and was a noted historian of Central Montana.

George was very grateful to a number of people and to this country for contributing to him in his walk through life. They included his parents, who boarded a boat and sailed to the unknown in a new country; his family; his teachers; his coaches and the many, many friends who gave him strength and courage throughout his life.

He requested that 'God Bless America' be sung at his service. He believed that his way of life could not have occurred without the freedom, the education and the benefits provided in a free nation.At his request, memorials are suggested to the Boys and Girls Club, c/o Central Montana Foundation, P.O. Box 334, Lewistown, MT 59457; or to the Veteran's Memorial Park, c/o Central Montana Foundation, P.O. Box 334, Lewistown, MT 59457; or to a charity of the donor's choice.

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