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Published: Thursday, 2/17/2005

Ex-Bluffton coach was sports pioneer

BLUFFTON, Ohio - Kathryn E. Little, 91, thought to be the first female coach at the former Bluffton College and who helped form a local collegiate women's league, died Monday in a Columbus-area assisted-living center.

Her health had declined over the last 18 months, her son, David, said. He did not know the exact cause of death.

Mrs. Little lived at Maple Crest of Mennonite Memorial Home near Bluffton for several years after leaving her longtime home on West Kibler Street in Bluffton.

Mrs. Little received an education degree from what is now Bluffton University in the late 1950s after taking years off from college to marry and rear a family. Soon after she graduated, she was offered a teaching and coaching position in the college's physical education department.

"They gave her a couple baseball bats, a couple of raggedy softballs, and partially deflated basketballs," her son said.

But Mrs. Little was able to take the volleyball, basketball, and tennis teams she coached to a competitive level. She helped establish the collegiate women's league, which included Ohio Northern, Defiance, Heidelberg, Findlay, and Bluffton.

She was honored for her work as one of the five charter members selected for the Bluffton College Athletic Hall of Fame. The Kathryn E. Little Award has been given annually since 1979 to the top senior female athlete chosen by university faculty.

Born in Putnam County, most of her growing-up years were spent in Leipsic, where her father was a banker. She was valedictorian of her class at Leipsic High School and went on to attend what is now the University of Findlay, where she played basketball and tennis.

In 1935, she married Woodrow Little. Both were employed at dime stores before he became a rural mail carrier and she became a stay-at-home mother.

During World War II, however, Mrs. Little took over her husband's mail route when he was in the Navy.

In the late 1950s, when her children were growing up and she was at Bluffton College, she was a volunteer instructor at tennis clinics in the village, that were open to anyone who wanted to learn to play. One of her early students was her husband, who went on to win tournaments in area cities.

The Littles played golf regularly, and Mrs. Little had a hole-in-one at age 60.

For decades, she was among about a dozen women in the Kibler Street Bridge Club as well as the larger Alpha Gamma Sorority in Bluffton. She and her husband, who died in 1997, had been elders at Bluffton Presbyterian Church.

Surviving are her sons, David, Richard, and William; sisters, Marvel Hillebrand and Margie Kerins, and five grandsons.

A memorial service will be at 3 p.m. Sunday in Bluffton Presbyterian Church. Chiles & Sons-Laman Funeral Home, Bluffton, is handling arrangements.

The family suggests tributes to the Bluffton University women's athletic department or the church.



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