Hall of Famer Jack Mele '43 passes away at 95

Hall of Famer Jack Mele '43 passes away at 95

Article by: Mike Sprague, Whittier Daily News

WHITTIER, Calif. - Jack Mele '43, a Whittier councilman who taught, coached and later served as principal at Whittier High School for 30 years, has died. He was 95.

Mele, who died on March 29 in his sleep, was a member of both the Whittier High and Whittier College Hall of Fames.

 "I'm really sorry to see him go," said Councilman Bob Henderson who served with Mele.

"He's the last of the council people I worked with in my first two years," Henderson said. "Jack was always just a really good guy. He was very friendly and we had a great relationship. He was a real asset to the city."

Born in Wilmington, Mele first came to Whittier in 1939 as a student at Whittier College. After graduating, he played a year in the Brooklyn Dodgers' minor league system and then entered the U.S. Army Air Force as a bombardier and radar navigator and held a final rank of second lieutenant before being discharged.

Mele went back to the Dodgers but never made it to the Majors.

In 1945, he married his college sweetheart, Erlene Woodward.  She died on Dec. 18, 2011.

They came back to Whittier in 1950 where he was hired to teach and coach baseball and football at Whittier High School.

Mele became the head football coach in 1953 and took the team that year to the championship game where they lost to Santa Monica High School, 34-19.

Jack Taylor, a tailback on the team, kept in touch with Mele and still remembers the year.

"He put in a brand new formation that I believe only one school was using at the time," he said. "It was called the TCU spread."

Taylor said Mele was a great coach.

"Not only did he coach the players but also followed them into the classroom," he said. "He would counsel each player and direct the player to the college or university he was best suited." Taylor also described Mele as a humble man who had a sense of humor.

He also coached Whittier High's baseball team to the CIF 4-1 baseball championship in 1960, when they defeated San Diego High School, 11-1.

Mele was athletic director and coached baseball and football through 1963 when he was promoted to assistant principal at Whittier High. Mele became principal in 1969 and retired in 1980.

He was elected to the City Council in 1974 and was mayor for two years.

"He was very congenial but took his responsibilities with the school and the city very seriously," said Keith Abbott, who was city manager at the time.

One of the issues during that time was whether to allow development of the Whittier hills. Mele supported preservation, Abbott said.

He retired in 1980 and purchased a travel agency before fully retiring.

His son, John Mele, who coached at La Mirada High from 1988 to 2005 said his father always supported him.

"He taught me everything I learned," John Mele said. "He was my idol. I became a coach just like my dad and my dad was my mentor. After every game I would talk to him."

Mele is survived by his two sons, John and Vince; seven grandchildren; and three great-grandchildren.

Jack and his son John Mele are the only father and son who have been elected into the Whittier College Hall of Fame, both playing football and baseball for the Poets.