Leroy — Former Lawrence High head football coach Bill Freeman was as surprised as anyone last month when he learned he needed quadruple bypass heart surgery.
"A lot of people thought, 'He wasn't a prospect for heart disease,' " the 64-year-old Freeman said last week, reflecting on the surgery at Shawnee Medical Center. "It just happened. I was fortunate I didn't have a heart attack."
Ironically, his 67-year-old sister, Helen, underwent quadruple bypass surgery just five weeks before Freeman.
Freeman, who'll turn 65 in January, decided to check into the hospital after experiencing shortness of breath for two weeks. He had never been admitted to a hospital before then.
Those warning signs, he believes, were a blessing.
"It told me I ought to take care of myself, take time off and travel and see things I haven't seen," Freeman said. "As a matter of fact, I really think I'm feeling better now since I had the operation."
Freeman lost 10 pounds, dipping to 145, while being in the hospital for about a week.
"I've been exercising and walking and trying to get back into condition," said Freeman, who isn't supposed to lift more than five pounds.
Freeman was operated on Friday, Oct. 13, the night the Lions beat Leavenworth, 39-7.
"The first thing I asked my wife the next day was what was the Lawrence score," Freeman said.
Freeman still keeps tabs on the Lions six seasons after winning a state championship in '89, his final year at Lawrence High. He has attended two LHS games this season -- both against Olathe North. He sat in the press box of last Friday night's 32-7 semifinal victory over the Eagles at frigid Haskell Stadium.
He plans to attend the Class 6A state championship between Lawrence and Derby on Saturday afternoon at Memorial Stadium.
"The most fun of coaching, I think, was the playoffs," said Freeman, who compiled a 134-38 record with five state championships in 16 years at LHS.
Freeman finished with a 242-81-3 record in his 36-year coaching career, which also included stints at Osawatomie and LeRoy.
Freeman went 3-6 in '74, his first season at Lawrence. The Lions haven't had a losing season since. He also coached the LHS boys track team his final 14 years at the school. The Lions won the state title in '89 and '90 with the highest point totals ever for a 6A meet.
Freeman received a basket full of get-well cards following his surgery. Several cards came from Lawrence.
"I had lots of letters from people in Lawrence and some I hadn't heard from in a long time," Freeman said.
Mementos -- patches from the state football and track teams in a frame -- placed in one corner of his family room remind Freeman of his days at LHS.
Also, a gift from his teaching companions -- a director's chair with COACH FREEMAN printed on the back -- is in the sun room. The seat of the chair features famous Freeman quips. His wife covers the seat with a pillow to hide the sayings.
Retirement is a misnomer for Freeman. He owns the local bank, farms and is mayor. He is involved in several community endeavors.
In '89, Freeman renovated the bank and remodeled it with artwork from Kansas artists. The walls also feature his arrowhead collections.
Freeman, who lived in LeRoy during the summers while teaching and coaching at LHS, has been mayor of the southeastern Coffey County town, population 570, since April '91. He presides over the town council's monthly meetings.
Since Freeman became mayor, LeRoy has added a new library, new fire station and eight duplexes for senior housing plus improved streets and sidewalks downtown.
"We're very involved in our community," said Joan, his wife of 41 years.
Joan's grandparents started the homestead in 1900.
Wolf Creek nuclear power plant, a few miles from LeRoy has boosted the county's finances. Freeman said the power plant accounts for 94 percent of the county's tax base.
Freeman's contributions transcend LeRoy. He's on the Emporia State alumni board, helping raise funds to build a new track and football field. He's helped raise funds at Allen County Community College. He's president of the Burlington High Alumni Endowment Association.
The Freemans have established scholarships at the four high schools special to them -- Lawrence, LeRoy, Burlington and Osawatomie.
"I didn't quit teaching or coaching because I didn't like it," Freeman said. "I didn't have to teach. I needed to change directions. I taught and coached for 36 years and I wanted to do something else.
"We both would have stayed in Lawrence if it hadn't been for our interests down here."
Bill's father, Harold, lives in nearby Burlington and soon will turn 88. Harold Freeman worked for many years in the composing room of the Journal-World.
"One thing with Bill's job at the bank, we can leave at will," Joan said. "It's not like punching a clock."
Bill is an avid newspaper reader. He spends an hour a day reading at the new library. The Freemans have traveled to the East and West Coasts, Hawaii and Canada.
Bill and Joan have been married for 41 years. Their first and only grandchild, Tyler Lee, was born on June 20, 1995. Tyler is the son of Brian and Jennifer Freeman Meats, who also live in LeRoy.
"We didn't know if we'd ever get a grandchild or not," said Bill, whose middle name is Lee.
The scouting report on Tyler, according to the grandfather, "He's got a good personality and he's a good eater."