Earl Overton faced seemingly overwhelming obstacles in his dream to become a football coach. But a borrowed set of football pads, a tremendous work ethic and an athletic scholarship to Northwestern Oklahoma State University made Overton’s dream come true.
Nearly 60 years later, Earl and his wife, Ilus, want to make the dreams of future Northwestern student-athletes come true by establishing what will become the single largest scholarship endowment in the history of the University.
"There were many people at Northwestern who helped me realize my dream when the odds were against me,” Overton said. “I want to do the same for as many students as possible.”
The Overtons have presented Northwestern with a gift of $1 million to purchase a life insurance policy with the Northwestern Foundation as the beneficiary. The proceeds from the policy will be used to create a $1.7 million endowment.
“This gift is transformational in scope and will have a tremendous impact on the lives of numerous students on an annual basis,” said Dr. Janet Cunningham, university president. “The Overtons have a clear appreciation for the value of education and a love for Northwestern. The heartfelt appreciation of the university community cannot be overstated.”
Earl’s path to Northwestern was filled with roadblocks.
Born and raised on a farm near Nash, Earl suddenly became the man of the house at age 14 when his father died unexpectedly. With his mother, younger brother, Merlin, and sisters, Reta and Lavay, depending on him, he assumed the duties of running the family’s small sharecropping operation. His efforts, plus that of Merlin as he grew older, allowed the family to stay together.
Despite the responsibility of running the family’s farm, he kept his dream of becoming a football coach. But the school at Nash did not have a football team, and much of his time away from school was spent running the farm.
All of Earl’s hard work to succeed was helped through the efforts of two legendary Rangers.
His high school basketball and baseball coach, Northwestern graduate Ray Troutt, contacted the University’s football coach, Dick Highfill, to borrow two sets of football helmets and pads. After school, Troutt and Overton would don the pads with Troutt teaching him the techniques of the game. The work paid off and Overton was offered a football scholarship to Northwestern in the fall of 1952.
Overton would go on to become a four-year letterman in football and baseball, serving as co-captain of the gridiron team in 1955. He graduated in 1956, all the while keeping the family farm going with the help of his brother.
Like Earl, Ilus, who also grew up on a farm near Nash, was no stranger to hard work. Her daily chores included the milking of seven cows before and after school. She would attend Oklahoma A&M College, graduating with a business degree in only three years and earning the highest academic honors.
The two married in 1954 as Earl continued his career at Northwestern and Ilus was a teacher at Capron. Often times on weekends, Earl hitched a ride back to Nash to help on the farm.
Following his graduation from Northwestern, Earl began a successful coaching career in Oklahoma and Texas, leading his team to a state title and numerous playoff appearances. His teammate and partner, Ilus, was by his side teaching business and English to thousands of students during a career that lasted nearly four decades.
“Earl and Ilus are one in a million,” said Skeeter Bird, Northwestern Foundation CEO. “Their account of the challenges, hard work and determination to succeed is the type of chronicle that makes a great book or movie.
“Yet when you sit down and talk to them, they are the most humble and generous people you will ever meet. Their gift and life story will forever add a positive legacy to Northwestern.”
When funded, the endowment will provide scholarships to multiple student-athletes, with preference given to players participating in football and baseball. Applicants will be required to maintain a minimum 3.0 CGPA, should be active in multiple University activities and demonstrate high moral character.
Posted on Wed, July 6, 2011
by Ryan Hintergardt