Gone but not forgotten

The cards arrived every November.

Former St. Joseph-Ogden football head coach Dick Duval came to expect them.

They thanked him for his dedication during the season and congratulated him on his hard work.

They were always from the same person.

Nita Brooks. 

“She never had anyone on the team,” Duval said, “but she loved SJO.”

It wasn’t just the cards. Duval said he will always remember Brooks being the first person to introduce themselves to his wife, Lynda, after he took the head coaching job. 

“I can remember Nita Brooks seeing my wife with our daughter Toni, who was two weeks old,” he said. 

Duval said Brooks introduced herself to Lynda and then offered to help with Toni at the first game of the season.

That’s just who she was.

Brooks, a passionate supporter of SJO athletics who many dubbed the Spartans’ ultimate super fan, passed away at 4:20 p.m. on July 21. She was 79 years old.

 

‘Nita was proud of you’

Former SJO softball player Katelyn Burch said Brooks was not only quick to let the SJO coaches know she was proud of them, but also the players.

“If someone were to get a good hit or make a good play she’d honk her car horn from the outfield,” Burch said. “It just made everyone feel good knowing Nita was proud of you.”  

Burch said she was glad Brooks was in attendance during the Class 2A state title game that SJO placed second in last month.

“Nita was close to the fence and yelled ‘Go Spartans’ and it just made me so happy to know she was going to be there for my last high school game,” Burch said. 

Brooks’ support of high school athletes was nothing new. 

When SJO football coach Shawn Skinner played football at MacMurray College, he would receive laminated clips of News-Gazette articles that included his name along with a note. 

“I actually got one laminated article and note from her every year I played in college,” Skinner said. 

Skinner said Brooks even sent him laminated articles when he was the head girls basketball and softball coach at Westville. 

“She would remind me that at my core I was an SJO alum doing big things,” Skinner said. “When I was named the next football head coach, she sent a note. It was one of many, but her words and wishes were so genuine and true. She was like proud mother.” 

 

‘She will truly be missed’

Lana Wolken, wife of SJO softball coach Randy Wolken, said Brooks was a mainstay at the softball field that bears her husband’s name.

“Very few games did she miss,” Wolken said. “We have cards and every newspaper article from her as she was one that loved sending a card when one excelled.”

Brooks wasn’t only a fan of athletics. She also coached and played softball. 

Wolken said she played on a slow-pitch softball team with Brooks in the 70s. 

“She was the pitcher and a heavy hitter,” Wolken said. “She informed us that no matter how far she hit the ball she was stopping at second base and never, ever was she going to slide.”

In addition to athletics, Brooks also loved to visit with people at the St. Joseph IGA, where she started working in 2004 after retiring from Solo Cup in Urbana. 

Drew Holcomb Shreeves said he would miss seeing her at the IGA.

“Never since I moved to St. Joseph 30 years ago did I meet someone as amazing, loving or special as her,” he said. “She will truly be missed. Sometimes, when I didn’t need anything at all for lunch, I went to the IGA just to see her. She was one special human being.”

 

‘Her SJO spirit will live on’

Brooks was born on Sept. 12, 1937 in Hoopeston, the daughter of Ola Manford and Esther (Davis) Bell.

Brooks graduated from John Greer High School in Hoopeston and married George A. Brooks on June 6, 1959, in Hoopeston. He preceded her in death on Aug. 22, 2003.

She is survived by her children, Tonia Farnum of Muncie, Timothy Brooks of Bondville, Kim (Aaron) Allen of St. Joseph and grandson Corey Brooks of St. Joseph, whom George and Nita raised; four grandchildren, Kevin (Rachel) Farnum, Kelly Farnum, Kyle Farnum and Morgan Brown; four great-grandchildren, Hunter Brooks, Madelyn Farnum, Elliott Farnum and Keith Farnum; sister, Phyllis Martin of Carbondale; and sister-in-law, Sue Bell of Watseka.

She was preceded in death by her parents, one sister and two brothers.

“Nita was one of a kind, and the sweetest lady you’d ever meet,” said Amy Blue-Short, whose daughter, Maureen, played softball for the Spartans, “She will be dearly missed by our community. There will certainly be a void in the stands, at the softball field and the IGA, but her SJO spirit will live on.”

In addition to her status as SJO’s super fan, Brooks was an avid bowler who was inducted into the Champaign County Bowling Hall of Fame.

Wolken said she and three of her friends were on a team with her in a bowling league at the St. Joseph bowling alley. 

“She had a very high average and the rest of us weren't that great so I always felt bad she got stuck with us,” Wolken said. 

Brooks was also inducted into the SJO Sports Hall of Fame in 2014. During her induction Brooks was described as SJO’s No. 1 fan and a mainstay at almost every SJO sporting event. 

Jennifer Brooks, the wife of SJO boys’ basketball coach Brian Brooks, said she and her family will miss Nita very much.

“She was one of the nicest ladies I know and had become a dear friend.” Jennifer said. “Since day one that our family relocated to St. Joseph, she was always so supportive.”

Jennifer said she will miss seeing Nita at the IGA and in the stands with her.

“What I’ll miss the most is chatting with her at IGA and not having her next to me in the bleachers during Spartan basketball,” Jennifer said.

Funeral services took place at 10 a.m. Tuesday,  July 25, at Freese Funeral Home, 302 E. Grand Ave., St. Joseph, with Kerry Bell facilitating the service. Burial was in Mount Olive Cemetery, Mayview. Visitation was from 4 to 7 p.m. Monday at the St. Joseph Middle School.

Memorials can be made to the SJO Spartans Fan Club, c/o St. Joseph-Ogden High School, 301 N. Main St., St. Joseph, IL 61873.

 

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