SALEM - Salem's newest citizen, Earle Bruce, said the city has progressed since his days as the head football coach in the late 50s.
"Walk tall - you've done a great job," he told people attending the Salem Community Hospital Founders' Day Breakfast on Friday.
Bruce served as featured speaker for the event celebrating the hospital's 100th anniversary since first opening the doors on Sept. 13, 1913. He said the hospital meant a lot to him when he lived here and it's staffed by good people.
He said he drives through a corridor of towns when he visits from his home in Columbus and those towns are all wiped out.
According to Bruce, that's not the case in Salem. People can walk tall when they live here because people care about the city and support it, he said, pointing to buildings like the Salem Community Center, where the breakfast was held, and Reilly Stadium with its new ticket booth and wall.
Bruce served as head football coach for the Salem Quakers from 1956 through 1959, with his teams compiling a record of 28-9. After coaching high school ball in Ohio for 12 seasons, he returned to his college alma mater, The Ohio State University, where he served as an assistant coach in the football program under the legendary Woody Hayes. He served as the Buckeyes head coach from 1979 to 1987 and was named Big Ten Coach of the Year in 1979. His teams won four Big Ten Championships and played in eight bowl games and one of his players, Kirk Lowdermilk, hailed from Salem.
He also coached college ball at the University of Tampa, Iowa State, Northern Iow and Colorado State. During his college coaching career, he earned a record of 154 wins, 90 losses and two ties. He earned a spot in the hall of fames for Iowa State, Ohio State and the College Football Hall of Fame.
Even with all those experiences, he said his time with the Salem football program "made me a man from a young coach."
He's never forgotten Salem and that's part of the reason Mayor John Berlin proclaimed him an honorary citizen during a ceremony at city hall after the hospital breakfast. In the proclamation, the mayor noted how Bruce has come back to the city many times to help local groups with their fundraising efforts.
"Coach Bruce was a Salem resident for only four years, but he still maintains close ties to many Salem residents, including many of the Salem Quaker football players he coached from 1956-1959. He also participates in the Southwest Florida Salem Day. The legend that is Earle Bruce will continue for many years to come and we are proud to recognize him as an invaluable asset to our community," the proclamation said.
The honor was an unexpected treat for Bruce.
"I really appreciate it. This is a place I really love and respect, for what they've done for me and my family and for the people I've coached," he said.
A couple of his former Quaker football players, Dave Metcalf and Ray Esterly, were among those who came to witness the awarding of the proclamation. The coach also met Salem Athletic Director Todd Huda and several Salem city officials who attended the event, many of whom heard him speak at the breakfast.
To this day, he said the team he coached in 1957 was the only one in Ohio to play three games in eight days and win all three, one against Leetonia, one against an East Palestine team they had lost to the year before and one to a team that had a 28-0 record.
In his talk, he said some of the same things he considers important in football are also important in life, such as toughness, teamwork, leadership and discipline.
By the stories he told, his Quakers had all that and then some.