A 1935 portrait of Churm by painter Mathias Alten.

"Pop" Churm


The story is told that when he was principal of Alpena High School, students played a joke on him by placing a baby in his lap and calling him “Pop.” He liked the sound of it and played along. Afterward, he was seldom called anything else.


Churm learned from another teacher that Grand Rapids soon would be opening a new high school on the corner of Hall and Jefferson. He applied to become its athletic director and was hired. When South High opened in 1915, Pop Churm was its football, basketball, track, and cross country coach. Eventually, he would hire others to coach football and basketball, but Churm would continue to coach track, the sport he loved best.


Along the way, Churm also taught American history and government, and served as senior class advisor. In 1928, Churm added a new member to his track team, Junior Ford. The team would win city championships each of Ford’s four years. And Churm would be coach, teacher, and advisor to Junior through his high school years.


“Jerry was always honest and dependable,” Pop Churm recounted. “He was quiet and everybody always liked him. He wasn’t ever selfish, and he isn’t vain at all.”  Reflecting on Ford’s success, Churm said, “It just goes to show that if you have character and decency and honesty, you’ll get ahead.”


Pop Churm served at South High until 1953, when he retired. He died in 1978, aged 91.  President Ford remembered him as “…the very best. Pop was loved, respected, and followed because he always stood tall and strong for what was right. He epitomized character, compassion, leadership and patriotism.”


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