May 22, 1995
The death of John Divine Sunday morning truly marks the close of an era. Trite as that may sound, I cannot think of a more apt way of putting it. He created a legend by developing young men of this community into superb athletes and equipping them in a unique way for life's pain and suffering. We are not likely to see his equal again.
Largely because of him, Perry's fame has been spread worldwide and we call this "the wrestling capital." John never sought acclaim for himself but his skill as a wrestling coach enabled a very large number of Perry youths to earn titles, trophies and awards. Those things are transitory at best, but John also imparted some rules for living that gave those same young men a pattern for achieving success in whatever career fields they entered. The scholarships they earned assured a college degree for many of them.
John loved this town and we loved him back. He grew up in this area but received his high school diploma from the Oklahoma A.&M. Prep School in Stillwater, which he attended on an academic scholarship. He wrestled at Oklahoma A.&M. College for four years at 135 pounds under Coach Ed Gallagher. He earned All-American honors and placed second in his weight at the 1931 NCAA tournament. That same year, he was hired to take over the wrestling program at PHS.
The rest of the story, as they say, is history. Coach Divine's teams had a peerless dual match record of 241-87-5. Maroons won the state wrestling championship in 1951, 1953, and 1961. John coached 26 individual state champions and three national champions. Thirty-five of his wrestlers went on to become coaches, and four of them succeeded him at Perry high school.
John taught chemistry in addition to coaching wrestling, and in later years he was the athletic director, high school principal and a sort of unofficial assistant superintendent of schools. He retired in 1964 after 33 years with the school system and took a position as manager of the local Chamber of Commerce. His outgoing personality and administrative know-how made him an ideal choice for the job. He left the Chamber in 1980 and began a quiet life of retirement with his wife, Myrtle, at their home on Elm street.
The Perry high school fieldhouse was named Divine Hall in his honor when it was built in 1958, just a block north of his home. He was honored by his peers as the first high school wrestling coach inducted into the Oklahoma High School Coaches Hall of Fame, and in 1991 he received the Edward Clark Gallagher Award at Oklahoma State University. He was chosen for that honor by the OSU Former Wrestlers Club. He called it his most cherished award.
Over a period of time, other types of honors came along, including some outstanding grandchildren provided by John and Myrtle's son, Jack, and his wife. Those were special joys to brighten his later years, even after Myrtle's death.
The Perry school system has had some truly legendary figures through the years. Prof. Leopold Radgowsky gave us our first PHS band program. Harold (Hump) Daniels coached some of the greatest Maroon football teams of all time. Rowena Corr and Ruth Taber taught our young people a love of English literature and drama. Others come to mind, but they are too numerous to mention one by one. Somehow I can picture all of them in a heavenly classroom setting, welcoming John W. Divine into their presence, and offering him a ringside seat where he can continue to observe the young people of this community and to cheer them on as they progress through this life.
John will be missed, but he will be remembered by this community for many years to come. He gave all of us some serious lessons to ponder.