By CHRIS LARICK
For the Star Beacon
When Tony Chiachierro thinks of Dennis Jepson, he automatically thinks of family.
“We were fortunate at Ashtabula High School to have a number of families that participated in football,” Chiachierro, who was head coach at Ashtabula from 1958 to 1970 said. “The Jepson family was one of them.
“They had five boys in the family and all of them participated in football.”
Dennis, who graduated from high school in 1961, will be inducted into the Ashtabula County Touchdown Club Hall of Fame on Dec. 9 at Mount Carmel. The second-oldest of the five boys, Dennis joins his older brother, Larry, in the Hall of Fame. Larry was inducted in 2007.
“We grew up on the east side of Ashtabula,” Dennis’ younger brother Norm said. “We attended State Road School. Dennis played offensive tackle. Our mother (Janet) passed away at an early age. My dad (Gilbert) did remarry.”
According to Norm Jepson, his father drove a truck for Motor Express and his mother was a housewife.
“They were all outstanding participants,” said Chiachierro of the five boys — Larry, Dennis, Calvin, Gibby and Norm. “Not only were they outstanding players, but all of them were team leaders. Their mother passed away, so the father raised the boys. He did a great job. All of them went to college and all of them got college degrees.”
According to Chiacchiero Dennis, who died in 2011, was one member of an outstanding group of then-sophomores at Ashtabula.
“He spearheaded that group that led to my first championship as a coach,” Chiacchiero said. “We went 7-2-1 in 1960 and shared the NEC title.”
Chiacchiero remembers some of those games from that season. The Panthers traveled to Painesville to play Harvey, coached by Jack Britt (later, the stadium was named after Britt) at that time a perennial power, and beat the Red Raiders for the first time in years, 14-6.
Another big victory came against Wickliffe, coached by Ed Logan.
“Wickliffe was also a perennial power,” Chiacchiero said. “In 1960, they were the leading-scoring team in the state. The week before we played them, they had scored 63 points on Geneva.
“But we had some excellent scouting reports. The kids followed the game plan. We wanted to keep them to 20 points or less. They did score 20 points. Fortunately, we scored 28 and beat them.”
The Panthers also beat Mentor, 28-0.
“I think we are the last Ashtabula County team to beat Mentor,” Chiacchiero said.
Jepson was an outstanding tackle on that team, but the Panthers had plenty of talent, including Vaughn Tittle at quarterback, a 2012 inductee into the TD Club’s Hall of Fame. Terry Weaver and Nick Deligianis, two other Panthers, are also in the Hall of Fame.
Other big contributors were Joe Tracy at center, Richard Hinson at end and Don Bell at halfback.
Pete Brown, according to Chiacchiero “probably the finest quarterback I ever had,” was a sophomore on that team and played sparingly. Brown later graduated from the Air Force Academy and became an attorney.
“By the time he was a senior. he was 6-foot, 160,” Chiachierro said. “He was also an excellent leader, like a coach on the field. He had a 158 IQ.”
Chiacchiero remembers Jepson’s contributions in the win over Mentor.
“He opened some gigantic holes for our fullback, Bruce Harley,” Chiacchiero said. “We were able to keep the ball away from Mentor.”
The work that Panther team did proved to be a building block for the next several years.
“I credit that team for laying the foundation for all the success we had in the 1960s,” Chiachierro said. “We won the NEC seven of eight years, went undefeated twice and had 11 consecutive winning seasons. We sent 15 athletes to Divison I schools on athletic scholarships.”
When Jepson was a senior, Furman University, where Dennis’s brother Larry was playing, sent Chiacchiero an application form for Dennis.
“His name was well-known,” Chiacchiero said. “His brother had an outstanding career at Furman. Larry, whom I didn’t coach. was drafted by the San Francisco 49ers. That was an excellent football family, good students and college graduates.”
Of the other Jepsons, Calvin went to Vanderbilt and Gibby to Ohio University on scholarships. Norm, who had suffered from polio as a kid but played at Ashtabula, wasn’t able to play football in college, but graduated from Kent State.
“Dennis was a three-year letterman, also all-city , all-county and all-NEC. At the end of the season, he was selected by the team as the outstanding defensive lineman,” Chiacchiero said.
Dennis also threw the shot and discus at Ashtabula, according to his brother Norm.
“He held the discus record (at Ashtabula) for years,” Norm said.
Chiacchiero coached the Panthers for 13 years before leaving that job to become an administrator, going 89-33-6 (.730).
“We were very fortunate to have some great kids at the time and a great coaching staff,” he said.
On to college
At that time, Furman, a college in Greenville, S.C., had a much better team than it does now.
“When I was in college, we were a Division IA school and played the likes of Ohio State,” Larry Jepson said. “When Dennis was a sophomore, that ended and we went 1-AA. Then they didn’t have as many scholarships to give.
“When I played, we played Clemson, South Carolina, Penn State and Alabama. We beat Florida State. When Dennis was there, we played Clemson. We played them every year. “
After graduating from Furman, Dennis returned to Ashtabula and worked for the Social Security Administration, then a production supervisor at Rockwell, before transferring to Chattanooga with the same job. He went to OCS school and became a lieutenant in the National Guard.
Dennis’s first marriage didn’t take. But he remarried (his widow, Shirley) and the couple lived a happy life together for 44 years until his death. They raised six children together (Shirley’s children from an earlier marriage).
“He was a lovable man and was fun to be with and liked to tease and joke and had a wonderful sense of humor,” Shirley said. “He was very successful in his career and achieved top level management positions but was very humble and not the least political but continually rose in position because of a dedicated work ethic and attitude of respect for all of the people he worked with.
“He was very successful in his career, considering the fact that he didn’t have aspirations for titles or positions and would not play politics, even when situations might dictate it, and he wasn’t always ‘politically correct.’ His goal was doing the job well and on time and he was always fully vested in the well-being of everyone he worked with, whether a subordinate, a peer or the ones in superior positions. For that, he continually rose to higher positions and received accolades and compensation but, most of all, respect and admiration. Over the years he mentored several young men and women who went on to achieve successful corporate-level positions of their own and who, years later, still contact him and called him ‘boss man.’
“He was an officer in the Ohio National Guard and a long standing member of APICS (American Production and Inventory Control Society). He worked as materials manager for Rockwell International, both in Ashtabula and Chattanooga, Tennessee and for AVCO Aerostructures in Nashville, Tennessee. From there he worked as Plant Manager for ITT Thompson in Valdosta, Georgia and materials manager for Textron/Davidson in Americus, Georgia. He moved to Lebanon, Missouri in 1997 where he worked and retired from a materials director position with Emerson Climate Technologies.
“He was born Jan. 22, 1943 and passed away on Dec. 6, 2011. He was a loving, caring husband, father, son, brother and friend who lived by a strong moral code with an abiding faith in God and always stood firmly by what he felt was right. He was many things in many ways to many people who loved him dearly.”
For years, Dennis and Shirley biked and played tennis together. They both enjoyed bowling together and Dennis got quite proficient at it, averaging more than 200.
“He was a big man,” Shirley said. “He put a lot of body into (bowling). He had trouble controlling the ball; he had too much speed.”
Larick is a freelance writer from Geneva.