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Longtime NCAA writer dies in Oklahoma

Jack Copeland remembered as someone who wanted a job done well and done right

Jack Copeland

Jack L. Copeland, 58, of Shawnee died Sunday in Corn, Oklahoma, after a sudden illness.

Jack was a friend to countless people who were attracted to his kindness, sincerity, talent, intelligence and common sense. He was a notable writer and editor who earned respect from his coworkers at the NCAA and the University of Oklahoma. However significant his professional accomplishments may have been, Jack was no less committed to building and nurturing the remaining pillars of his life: family, friendships, music and a greater understanding of the world that he left too soon.

Jackie Lee Copeland was born May 26, 1956, in Madera, California, the son of Jackie L. Sr. and Betty Galusha Copeland. His father was a hard-working man whose life was cut short by a heart attack when Jack was only 5 years old. Jack’s maternal grandfather, L.E. “Bud” Galusha, stepped in, and Jack later often recalled traveling each summer from Montana to Texas with granddad’s custom wheat-harvesting crew. In a reminisce earlier this year, Jack wrote, “Anytime you interact with me, you'll observe some part of my grandfather in me. In fact, I once had a relative tell me I was ‘too much’ like him. And I'm really proud of that.”

After the loss of his father, Jack proved to be a devoted son to his mother and a loving brother to Janet, Brenda and Allen. He was, in fact, on one of his many family visits at the time of his death.

The family moved from California to Arkansas and Oklahoma before settling in Leavenworth in 1969. A few years later, a good friend of Jack’s arranged for a meeting with the friend’s sister, and on Nov. 22, 1974, Jack and Nancy Ochs accompanied one another to the Sadie Hawkins dance at Leavenworth High.

Jack and Nancy continued their relationship and education at Pittsburg State University. Jack genuinely loved his school and was unfailingly grateful for the lifelong opportunities it provided for him and his family. He graduated with degrees in journalism and political science in 1979. Later that summer, on Aug. 4, he and Nancy were married in Leavenworth.

His first jobs were at newspapers in Enid, Okla., and north Oklahoma City, but his career veered toward organizational communications when he took a media relations job at the University of Oklahoma. That led to another opportunity at the NCAA, which he joined as a publications editor in 1986. At the beginning, Jack served as a staff liaison to playing rules committees and edited rules and records books. Soon, though, he found a role more suited to his skills and joined the membership newspaper as an assistant editor.

Jack moved up the chain, eventually becoming managing editor of The NCAA News. He produced many excellent stories, but his greater contribution was in providing the unglamorous behind-the-scenes work that goes into newspaper production. Co-workers will always remember Jack bent over page upon page of proofs, determined to seek and destroy every error, no matter how small, before the paper was printed. He was especially interested in NCAA Divisions II and III and admired their efforts to keep college athletics woven in the fabric of higher education.

The NCAA’s decision to relocate from Overland Park, Kansas, to Indianapolis in 1999 was difficult for Jack, and he chose to leave the Association before the move. He was excited about a new job at an Overland Park record store in which he would serve as a sort of music counselor for customers, but it didn’t work out as he hoped, and in 2003 he rejoined the NCAA in Indianapolis. He remained there full-time until 2010 and on a contract basis thereafter.

Although Jack took great satisfaction from his career, he drew more happiness from family, friends and his two great avocations: music and reading.

This past summer, Jack and Nancy traveled by train to Jack’s birthplace in Madera to visit the cemetery where his father’s father, who died 11 years before Jack was born, is buried. Jack loved train travel, and he provided a Facebook chronicle of the trip on the California Zephyr that made readers feel as though they were along for the ride.

They were, as always, back home in time to watch their beloved Pitt State Gorillas play football and to renew their close college friendships. On each football Saturday, Jack and Nancy socialized with their classmates and then enjoyed the band’s pregame show because they were themselves band people. (Jack played trombone.) And. of course, they cheered on the team, usually to a lopsided victory. Jack supported all Gorilla sports, and at least once a year he and Nancy journeyed to the student union bookstore to buy new red and gold attire. Jack served as a member of the Gorilla Club board and newsletter editor for several years.

Some might say Jack devoted his spare time to music and reading, but the time was far from spare. Music and reading were essential parts of his life.

Jack’s musical taste was wonderfully eclectic. He possessed a soft spot for Merle Haggard and traditional country entertainers such as the Louvin Brothers. He could hang with contemporary, too, from Wilco to Cowboy Junkies. His interest ranged from bluegrass to R&B, alternative and country.

His preferred album was Neil Young’s “Harvest.” He especially enjoyed the Spirit Festival in Kansas City because of the different music styles on the same stage in one day. Kansas City jazz artists such as Jay McShann and Claude “Fiddler” Williams were particular favorites. He and Nancy enjoyed three days at a bluegrass festival in Estes Park, Colorado, and Jack once bought and tried to teach himself how to play a mandolin because it was his favorite instrument.

Jack was an avid reader, but technology boosted him to almost superhuman levels. Sometimes he could be found reading a physical book, listening to another, and having one or two going on his Kindle. Jack enjoyed reading non-fiction (usually history), with occasional fiction. Nancy heard him regularly encourage people to read “Dancing at the Rascal Fair” by Ivan Doig, and topics related to the American West fascinated him.

All who knew Jack will remember him as someone who wanted things done well and done right. He was serious when the occasion called for it, but he laughed freely and hard, sometimes having to remove his glasses to wipe away the tears that came with the fun. He wanted to help people however he could, and he invariably made those around him feel better about themselves in meaningful ways.

Jack is survived by his wife, Nancy Copeland of Shawnee; mother, Betty Kinney of Corn, Oklahoma; sisters Janet Sauber (husband Bill) of Williston, North Dakota, Brenda Heinrichs (husband Robert) of Corn; brother Allen Kinney (wife Claudia) of Tulsa, Oklahoma; and numerous nieces, nephews, great-nieces and great-nephews.

Dave Pickle retired in 2013 after 36 years with the NCAA.