‘Always positive’ Maurice ‘Red’ Elder dies at age 95

A file photo of Red Elder playing football.

When Maurice

Red

Elder walloped his enormous palm on an unsuspecting wooden desk,
his students perked up and listened. When his closest companions
and adoring family needed him the most, Elder was all ears.
Elder, a former Gilroy High School football coach and
teacher
– and grandfather to Gilroy’s own Jeff Garcia *– died Sunday
from cardiac arrest in the company of his family. He was 95. Full
story and more photos
When Maurice “Red” Elder walloped his enormous palm on an unsuspecting wooden desk, his students perked up and listened. When his closest companions and adoring family needed him the most, Elder was all ears.

A principled, “straight-and-narrow” man with an easily softened heart, Elder was a hero and mentor to many during 50-plus years he lived in Gilroy and nearly a century leaving footprints around the globe.

“He was my rock,” daughter Linda Garcia said Tuesday. “He knew how much we loved him.”

Elder, a former Gilroy High School football coach and teacher – and grandfather to Gilroy’s own Jeff Garcia *– died Sunday from cardiac arrest in the company of his family. He was 95.

During his life, Elder married twice and was a father to five children. He was a grandfather of 16, great-grandfather of 16 and great-great grandfather of one.

“He lived his life as a truly generous, honest man right down to the last breath,” Jeff Garcia said. “He exemplified really everything you would want to be as a person.”

He added, “And he’s who I got my red hair from.”

Though a wheelchair-bound Elder spent nearly his last year in assisted living and hospice care, he showed a spark and trademark “twinkle in his eye” as best he could into his final days, Linda Garcia, 66, said.

“It didn’t make any difference what the situation was,” she said. “He was always positive. He had so much dignity and respect. We took a picture with him 12 hours before he passed, and you wouldn’t have known (that he was ill).”

Elder also appeared at peace when he apparently sensed his time was approaching, son-in-law Bob Garcia said.

“He talked about wanting to go to ‘the house on the hill.’ He wanted to see his mom and dad,” he said. “Maybe he meant ‘the house in the sky.'”

Described as a champion of good health – he walked the Uvas Creek Levee until he was 90 – being cared for was something new for Elder, who lovingly looked after two wives over 67 combined years of marriage. His first wife, Rosalie, whom he married in 1933, died eight years after suffering a massive stroke. Elder later visited his second wife, Dickie whom he married in 1971, every day for several years to share lunch as she fell victim to Alzheimer’s.

“He never once said, ‘Woe is me,'” said daughter Donna Beckenhauer, 65.

His second son, Michael Elder, died six years ago of pancreatic cancer at the age of 63.

“Through all the pain that we’ve faced as a family, he was the strong presence that I could always go to,” Linda Garcia said of her father. “He just talked to me and get me clear and kind of ease the pain.”

Born in 1916 in Wellington, Kan., Elder seemed the definition of a simple, small-town, pale-skinned young man before he moved away – all 163 miles – to Manhattan, Kan. to enroll at Kansas State University.

Elder played fullback there in the mid-1930s, and was the last living player from the 1934 Wildcat squad, which finished with a 7-2-1 record and was crowned Big Six Conference champions, now known as the Big 12, for the first time.

Elder and Jeff Garcia are also the only grandfather-grandson tandem to have played in the East-West Shrine Game, an annual post-season college football all-star game. The GHS stadium is named after the Garcia and Elder families.

Elder’s oldest son, Charles Elder, would follow in his father’s footsteps, coaching at DeAnza College for 40 years.

“Red” Elder impressed the Washington Redskins enough to draft the powerful runner in the third round of the 1936 NFL Draft, in the same class as college football legend quarterback Sammy Baugh.

Though Elder wasn’t a Redskin for long – the heat and humidity drove him out of training camp – he soon suited up for newly formed Los Angeles Bulldogs.

“We still have his old helmet, the leather one,” Bob Garcia said. “No facemask. He said, ‘We just used to play that way.'”

Elder, described by Jeff Garcia as “a bull,” maintained his playing weight – about 215 pounds to go with his 6-foot-1 frame – into his 90s. He even died at a sturdy 202 pounds, Beckenhauer said, leaving assisted living facility Village Green unable to donate his clothes to other residents because no one came close to Elder’s size.

Elder sought a more secure career path, later leaving professional football to coach junior college and high school football.

He made a name for himself in Colorado and Nevada before friend and GHS coach Art Baxter coaxed him to the Garlic Capital in 1957, when Elder took over a then-struggling Mustang football squad.

Bob Garcia played his junior and senior seasons under his eventual father-in-law, remembering Elder as a coach who balanced a stern, disciplined style with a knack for trickery.

In one game against King City, the Mustangs hauled in a kickoff then immediately huddled up, hiding the pigskin in the safety of Bob Garcia’s arms as he raced down the sideline.

Bob Garcia later pulled his own surprise, asking his old coach if he could marry his daughter.

“I remember I told him I wanted to ask him something, and he goes, ‘Yeah? What about, Bob?’ Now I’m kind of just struck with fear,” Bob Garcia said. “I said, ‘Well I want to ask permission to marry your daughter.’ He said, ‘You think you can handle it?'”

Elder soon gave permission.

After six seasons steering the Mustangs, Elder became the school’s drivers education teacher, where he reeled in as much respect in the classroom as he did on the field.

“He was well-liked by his students. They all talk about what a great guy he was,” Bob Garcia said. “He was a mentor. His influence on you stayed with you for the rest of your life.” Elder retired after 30 years of teaching at GHS.

In retirement, Elder spent much of his time traveling around North America – mostly by car – to watch his grandson Jeff Garcia suit up for San Jose State and several National Football League and Canadian Football League franchises.

During a stint with the Calgary Stampeders of the CFL, the stadium’s public address announcer bellowed that the grandparents of Jeff Garcia were in attendance, prompting a standing ovation from tens of thousands in attendance.

“It was great for him to really be active and travel to watch me play. He didn’t let anything slow him down,” Jeff Garcia said. “Gosh, he had so many great experiences.”

Elder traveled the world, but never found a place better than home, family members said.

“He’d always come back and the first thing out of his mouth would be, ‘It’s nice in Canada, it’s nice in Vermont, but there’s no place like Gilroy,'” Bob Garcia* said. “He used to say, ‘We’ve got it all right here.'”

A memorial service will be held at 10 a.m. Sunday at The Garcia Residence, 100 Cohansey Avenue in Gilroy. Inurnment will be private at Gavilan Hills Memorial Park.

Donations to favorite charities would be preferred. Condolences can be made at HabingFamilyFuneralHome.com.

Read a past story on Elder from 2007: here.

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