Chuck Woodling, longtime sports editor, beloved husband, father and grandfather, esteemed mentor, and semi-feared slow-pitch softball pitcher, died Nov. 1, 2017, after a nearly four-year battle with acute myeloid leukemia and its complications. He was 76.
Born on October 9, 1941 in Kansas City, Mo., Chuck was the son of Charles Franklin Woodling II and Dorothy Putman Woodling. Chuck graduated from Southwest High School, where he was the editor of the school paper as a senior; from Kansas City, Mo., Junior College; and from the University of Missouri with a Bachelors of journalism.
It was at KCJC that he met Carolyn McCandless. Both were on the stage for a pre-Christmas program sponsored by the school’s language departments. “I was in the German sing-a-ding and Carolyn McCandless warbled French,” Chuck recalled in a reminiscence for his family. “Afterward, she couldn’t find her winter coat. With good reason. I had hidden it.”
In the months after his MU graduation, Chuck joined the Army Reserves and went to work as a general assignment reporter at the Hutchinson (Kan.) News. In December 1964, he made the career-altering move to the News sports staff. He joined the Lincoln (Neb.) Journal-Star in 1966 and, in fall 1968, accepted Dolph Simons’ offer to become sports editor of the Lawrence Journal-World.
“How could I say no?” he wrote. “After all, I would cover major college sports and we would be nearer KC.”
Chuck and Carolyn celebrated their 53rd anniversary in June. She survives, as do daughters Carrie Dixon (Gerry) of Franklin Lakes, N.J., and Gena Woodling (Jonathan De La Concepción) of Lawrence – which is only right, since they already had survived his … um … aggressive annual vacation planning.
“I don’t know if I can even put into words how awesome he was,” Gena said. “He was the absolute best dad, in spite of – and because of – the things that bugged us so much. Like on vacation, we rarely did anything touristy like other people. He’d just say, “You don’t want to go there.”
At home, same deal, same fabled guy.
“Kids from the neighborhood came to our door to ask him to come out to play instead of Carrie or me,” Gena said. “He was phenomenal with young people. So fun to be around.
Also surviving are his brothers, Bob Woodling of Redmond, Wash., and Dennis Woodling, of Marietta, Ga.; and his grandchildren, Katie and Blake Dixon.
“He adored his grandchildren, traveling frequently to visit them in New York and New Jersey,” Carrie said. “From quad rides to boat rides, to his one and only trip down a water slide, he loved spending time with them. He introduced them to minor league baseball when they were toddlers, took them on picnics and to “interesting” historical sites. He loved to tease Katie as he always did with his daughters, and he bonded with Blake over fantasy league strategies, player analysis and statistics.”
Since his death, Facebook and Twitter have shuddered under the weight of tributes to Chuck, who touched the lives of athletes, readers, colleagues and protégés in 37 years as J-W sports editor.
Peers recalled his professionalism and hailed him as a pillar of a golden age of regional sports journalism. Friends recounted his quick and wry wit. Fans remembered his columns as must-read newspapering.
He was named Kansas Sports Writer of the Year in 1988 and again in 2003 in voting of his peers. Unofficially, he was a Big Eight Skywriters first-ballot Hall of Famer.
He authored “Against All Odds,” a book recounting Kansas’ improbable journey to the 1988 NCAA championship, although he once stridently declared to the J-W newsroom that “’Lonesome Dove’ is the greatest book ever written.”
He was a devastating Trivial Pursuit opponent (who else comes up with “Zasu Pitts”?), an enthusiastic traveler (he visited all 50 state capitals and scores of national parks, forts, obscure national monuments and minor-league parks), and, of course, a sports fan (especially of baseball).
He played on the Journal-World slow-pitch team from 1969 until he retired after the summer of 2001, spending most of his years at pitcher. “I couldn’t run and couldn’t hit, but I could get the ball over the plate and back up third base.”
Afterward in the parking lot, he was the patriarch of a tight-knit work family, always enjoying one, and only one, Bud Light.
He retired as sports editor in 2005 but continued as a part-time sports writer until 2010. Having already spent more than 30 years serving on the Junior Achievement board of directors and teaching countless JA classes, he took advantage of retirement to volunteer with United Way, the Lawrence Visitor Center and Just Food. He also taught youth Sunday School classes at First Presbyterian Church as well as serving on the FPC finance and stewardship committee.
Memorial services will be held at 11:00 a.m. Saturday, November 18, 2017 at First Presbyterian Church in Lawrence.
The family suggests memorial donations to the First Presbyterian Church Youth Program, 2415 Clinton Pkwy., Lawrence, Kan. 66047, or Junior Achievement of Kansas (https://www.juniorachievement.org/web/ja-kansas/donate-now) and may be sent in care of Warren-McElwain Mortuary, 120 W. 13th Street, Lawrence, Kansas 66044.