By Mike Deak
WARSAW – There was just something special about Roy Blake. Often you hear about soccer players or actors who can pull off a nickname as their sole identity, the alias taking on a bigger persona than their real name itself. Pele, Madonna, The Rock. All larger than life figures.
The Rev was just that to the Warsaw community.
The Rev was a fixture for Warsaw athletics. He was omnipresent on campus, whether it was at Fisher Field or in the Tiger Den, standing in the doorway at swim meets greeting fans or in the pressbox at track meets. Between his hospitality and that of his wife, Kathy, they made you feel like you were personally invited to be a part of the athletic event. And if you had an hour or two, The Rev would tell you a story on command that seemed to branch into a mini-series. And that was OK.
Seemingly born to be a servant leader, The Rev began his adult life as a medic with the United States Navy in 1945, and later found himself in Warsaw teaching and coaching. The Rev, which is the shortened ‘Reverend’, was also a man of the cloth, and seemingly found every opportunity to work in his faith into everyday life.
I interviewed The Rev at his modest home in Warsaw in the late 2000s. I remember Kathy offering me some tea and something to eat, The Rev showing me around his yard at some of the items growing in their garden. I don’t recall what all we looked at, but I remember his passion. He spoke at times in sporting contexts, using competition phrases to make his point, other times intertwining Jesus and faith into his passion for life. It didn’t take long that day to realize The Rev loved people, Kathy loved to serve, and they both were adamant that those in front of them left better for it.
Fast forward a decade or so, and The Rev was approaching 90 years old. He wasn’t nearly as swift afoot, but he relished his role of a de facto football team manager/trainer just the same. Then coach Phil Jensen made sure his kids knew who The Rev was, why he was there, and just how important his presence was to the team. On the hot early season nights, The Rev always had a cold towel in hand and took care of the offensive linemen with a little squeeze of water on their collars. He’d call over the quarterback and tell him to throw it straighter, the linebackers to get better form on their tackles.
The Rev wasn’t just there to be a cheerleader, he wanted Warsaw to win just as bad as anyone in the stands. A coach himself in football and wrestling, he was just as much a fixture on the sidelines as a host, he and his wife often in the hospitality rooms for sectionals and tournament games. The Rev could tell a story to anybody who would listen, and often made the pregame meal last three times longer than normal. And Kathy could cook, too. Ask anyone who covered a football game or swim meet or assorted sectional about some of the desserts she would bring. You almost felt worse not taking one of the brownies than if you ate six of them.
It seems that in every small community, there is one figurehead that embodies the spirit of that community, and The Rev was the late Doc Abel to NorthWood or the late Scott Bibler to Tippecanoe Valley, or Dave Stookey who still is to Wawasee. The Rev was the lifeblood of Warsaw. So much more than just a Warsaw athletic icon, The Rev donated a lot of his time to the Salvation Army, the American Legion, a multi-sport official, and chaplain.
As word got around Sunday and into Monday that The Rev had passed away at 94, the overall response was of how well-liked he was. In the days to come, those echoes will just get louder and prouder for a man who wore many hats for many people in the community he loved.
Hope those in heaven are ready for Roy ‘The Rev’ Blake, because he’s coming with stories to tell. A whole bunch of them.