Some know him as an athlete, some as a teacher, others as a coach, and still others - a local football legend. Greg Fruth has accomplished more in his life thus far than most and hasn’t taken a minute of it for granted. Already a part of the Slicer Football Association Hall of Fame for his athletic achievements, Fruth can now add inductee to The Norman J. Hubner Athletic Hall of Fame to his list of accomplishments and couldn’t be humbler about the topic at hand.
“I’m overwhelmed. I never would have expected something like this. I tell people I’m the fattest sprinter to be inducted into The Hubner Hall of Fame, so it’s really a tremendous honor,” Fruth said. “I’m not sure I’m worthy of it, but boy is it an honor because there’s just some really amazing people in that group.”
Fruth is a lifetime La Porte resident and couldn’t imagine living his life anywhere else. Now retired, he taught and coached football at La Porte High School for 37 and 25 years respectively. He has and continues to influence the lives of countless athletes and students all because of the coaches and teachers who influenced and supported him.
“Until I was in 5th grade, I was at the bottom of my reading group. If I got a C that felt like a victory because I felt so dumb and I didn’t know why. It was incredibly frustrating,” Fruth said.
As a student with a learning disability, Fruth took a long time to learn why he wasn’t comprehending much. But because of the work that he and his teachers put in, things finally began to click.
“My 5th grade year I would come back early from lunch and they had a special teacher who would sit down with me and go through letter and number sequencing,” Fruth said. “I’ve often thought that all of my grade school teachers were just so supportive, my parents were supportive, and my coaches were supportive, and I was very fortunate to have a great army that helped me along.”
Fruth originally went to college at Upper Iowa University thinking he would major in pre-law. But one professor, Dr. Skank, with his signature handlebar mustache, changed something in Fruth’s mind.
“He would get so excited talking about literature that he would start twirling his mustache. It rubbed off on me and I found myself researching literature and realizing that’s what I wanted to do,” Fruth said. “To me, you have to want to make a difference and I couldn’t think of anything that I could make a difference in more, than being a football coach and being a teacher.”
After graduating from Upper Iowa University with a degree in English and Psychology (Later, he would obtain a master’s in Elementary Education and Teaching from Indiana University South Bend), he began teaching in Lacrosse, Indiana. It was there that he met his future wife, Maria. It was the US bicentennial – 1976 - so the State Department in Washington DC invited 2 educators from various countries to come to the US and observe our education system. Maria was one of the educators selected from Brazil and managed to be placed at Greg Fruth’s school in Lacrosse.
“I don’t understand how this happened, it makes no sense to me,” Fruth said. “Who in the world in Washington DC was sitting there and going, ‘Ya know, Lacrosse, Indiana would be a great place to place somebody.” One thing led to another and I started to tutor her and before long it was, ‘Well, how about let’s go see a movie’.”
And the rest is history. The two have 3 grown children, Alex, Eric, and Kevin, and four grandchildren. But if it wasn’t for football, Fruth would not be the man he is today.
“I was proudly in 2nd or 3rd grade on my way home from school and the St. Peters football players were coming to practice, and I remember the sound of the cleats on the cement and it was mesmerizing for me,” Fruth said. “I didn’t know what it was, but I would hang around for a while and see the practices and it was love at first sight.”
But it was in 1953 when Fruth noticed both the importance and awesomeness of the offensive line.
“My dad took me to a Slicer football game and all I can remember is that I watched the guys up front because from what I could tell that’s where all the hitting was and there was something about it I found attractive,” Fruth said.
That’s what lead him to becoming one of La Porte’s best offensive linemen, which is what gave him his humble and hardworking attitude.
“[The offensive linemen] philosophy is that we’re the quiet people. We do the job and we’re not looking for accolades,” Fruth said. “Have you ever seen a player standing on the field alone? There’s always 10 other guys with him. Have you ever seen a coach standing alone on the sidelines? There’s always a team behind him, so I figure when someone is saying nice things about me or honoring me, they’re not just honoring me, because no man is an island.”
La Porte is Fruth’s home, forever and always. And for him, there’s nothing he wants more than to give back. Upon retirement, Fruth has been part of the Tree Commission, served as president of the literacy program READ La Porte County, tutors a number of people in the English language, is heavily involved with Friends of Library, has been involved with the Police Commission, the Educational Foundation, and even more that he can’t recall.
“I’ve always felt that La Porte was so good to me and I have a strong sense that I need to pay that back,” Fruth said. “I wish we could get more people to get out and volunteer. There’s so many opportunities.”
Finally, a few words of advice.
“If you have the passion and the patience, you can do anything,” he said.