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Leading by Example: James S. Lentz (1927-2009)

Jim, fishing in the fog.

Story posted May 11, 2010

Jim Lentz, who died on July 22, 2009, at age 82, was an integral member of the Bowdoin community for 41 years—half his life—as Head Football Coach, then Coordinator of Physical Education and Director of the Outing Club, and Outing Club Director Emeritus. Jim was an old-school man of few words, not a man of formal titles, and he exemplified the qualities that he valued: thoughtfulness, hard work. The October 22, 1966, Harvard football program contained an article titled, “The Word for Lentz: Intense.” Jim brought intensity to every aspect of his life and pursued each portion with an intellectual tenacity that inherently brought out the best in himself and those around him. He was much more than a coach, he was always a teacher, and he was a natural, gifted leader, epitomizing the maxim “leading by example.”

After a stint in the Army Special Service, then graduate school at Columbia, Jim started coaching and teaching at his alma mater, Gettysburg College, and went on to great success coaching football at Harvard before taking over at Bowdoin. Jim won a lot of football games here—more than he lost—but he lost, too. Jim hated to lose, of course, at anything, though it was always the act of competing, of giving it his all—and getting the best from those around him—that was essential to Jim. He brought that philosophy with him to the Outing Club, where he arguably made his most lasting impact at Bowdoin as the BOC’s first director. As Dean Tim Foster wrote to the campus, Jim’s “love of the outdoors was obvious and contagious, and his skills were every bit as impressive. Jim taught whitewater canoeing, cross-country skiing, fly tying and fly-fishing, but he mostly taught Bowdoin students how to enjoy the outdoors, how to deal effectively with adversity, and how to translate experience and skill into leadership. During Jim’s tenure, the Outing Club became the largest and most popular student organization on campus, and his legacy will forever be a part of this signature program.”

Each year, the College recognizes Jim’s great leadership influence with the presentation of the James S. Lentz Leadership Award to Outing Club student leaders who “have exhibited the leadership qualities of sound judgment, dedication, concern for others, and composure in the face of adversity, which James Lentz worked to instill in the leadership of the BOC.” Jim continued to teach the outdoor activities that he loved to BOC students after his retirement, and he was on campus nearly every day (when he wasn’t on the river fishing), visiting friends and working out in the gym. It was during his regular noontime workout in Watson Fitness Center that Jim suffered the cardiac arrest that took his life. Right to the end, he was working to “get a little bit better.” Everyone who was privileged to know Jim Lentz is a lot better for it.

For a gallery of photos of Jim, and to read and comment on the memories delivered at his campus memorial service, click here.

Pictured above:
Jim, fishing in the fog.