Legendary Illinois College Coach, Professor Bill Merris Passes Away

By Benjamin Cox on June 19, 2023 at 12:01pm

Long time Illinois College coach, professor, and athletic director Bill Merris passed away on Tuesday, June 13th, just a week shy of his 93rd birthday.

Merris kept a life long connection to his alma mater. Merris had a career as a coach and associate professor of physical education for more than 40 years at IC. He became athletic director in 1998. Merris is best known for his 38-year tenure as the head coach of men’s basketball. At the time of his retirement, his wins accounted for half of those in the College’s history since basketball came to the Hilltop in 1904.

He was one of the college’s most distinguished employees by the time of his retirement in 2001. Through 2015, he continued to serve the IC education department by mentoring and supporting future physical education teachers.

Even in retirement, Merris was a regular almost daily visitor to campus. Executive Director of the Office of Advancement and Alumni Engagement, Katie Carls says she struck a unique bond with Bill in their almost decade of knowing one another when she joined the campus staff in 2014: “Anyone that knew Bill, knew how much he loved Illinois College and was the biggest supporter, loved attending events, and loved just being around people. I just always enjoyed being around him being at events. He came to everything, loved Illinois College Athletics. I just loved to sit on the balcony by him and just watch him cheer on the teams.”

Carls says she often used Merris’ encyclopedic knowledge of the college’s history in the alumni office to help capture the school’s history. She says there isn’t a place you can go in Jacksonville without someone knowing about or was acquainted with Bill Merris: “We’d go to lunch, dinner, to events – he just knew everybody and everyone was just always so happy to see him out and about just to have a conversation. The great thing about Bill is that he remembered everybody. He knew all of his former players. He remembered students. He could tell the best stories. There were times we would bring him in to the Alumni Office and we would point out pictures or just ask him information about different people because we may not have remembered the name. He always knew right off the bat. So, you just talk about a valuable historian and the knowledge he had about Illinois College, the people that he met, and the lives that he touched. I think that’s what he’s going to be remembered for and the number of people’s lives he changed and the way he impacted people’s lives in so many ways.”

The family is hosting a visitation from 3-7PM today at Williamson Funeral Home in Jacksonville. Private graveside services will be held in Merris’ hometown of Bluffs tomorrow. In lieu of flowers, memorials are suggested to Illinois College Athletics.