Plain Talk, Vermillion mourns passing of Jim ‘Pross’ Prosser

Plain Talk, Vermillion mourns passing of Jim 'Pross' Prosser
Jim Prosser, long-time sports writer for the Vermillion Plain Talk, passed away Thursday morning, April 24, 2008 in Vermillion.

A service of remembrance will be held 11 a.m. Saturday, April 26 at the First United Methodist Church, 16 N. Dakota St., Vermillion.

A meal will follow at the church.

In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to the Vermillion Food Pantry or Vermillion Hospice.

See next week's Plain Talk for a full obituary.

The Plain Talk chronicled Jim's career as an educator and sports aficiando in this feature story, which was published last December:

He holds no records for yards rushing on a football gridiron.

He's never played competitive basketball; never participated in wrestling.

But in Vermillion, Jim 'Pross' Prosser is the stuff of which sports legends are made.

He has spent more than half a century recording the performances of Vermillion Tanager athletes.

"I've been keeping statistics since 1956. That's the year I started teaching at Vermillion High School," he said from the den in his Vermillion home that features two televisions so he can keep an eye on more than one televised sporting event when he's in the mood.

"I actually taught at Centerville for three years before coming to Vermillion," he added, "and I did the stats for their football team during that time, too."

Jim has watched as playing facilities have improved for young athletes in the community over the years.

"The home field was Prentis Park for some of the football games," he said. "And then the high school used Emmetts Field at USD before the DakotaDome was built."

Jim continued keeping the football stats during his entire teaching career at VHS. And he just kept right on going after he retired 22 years ago.

"I did the stats at both home and away games, and I only missed four away games – three due to illness and one because the team was playing across the state in the Black Hills," he said, "and I couldn't travel with them."

Before he retired from teaching, Jim typically was in charge of recording the accomplishments of Tanager football athletes.

"At home games, I was in charge of both offensive stats and I was also the P.A. (public address) announcer," he said. "I had an assistant who would keep the defensive stats and would help as a spotter for me.

"I was bookkeeper and announcer for Vermillion for at least 40 years before I started doing just the scorebook after I retired in 1969," Jim said.

When Jim's son Gary, who today is a local dentist, was a college student, he helped his dad keep football stats. "He took over the stats for defense and I did the stats for offense," Jim said.

In 1970, when Gary wasn't available, Jim Merrigan assisted with the statistics.

Gary and other sports lovers are currently helping to keep the records for the Tanager football team.

That doesn't mean Jim has been satisfied to simply watch from the sidelines.

It may be safe to say, in fact, that today he becomes busier than ever when a new school year begins.

Since 1999, he has served as a roving sports reporter for the Plain Talk, providing stories and statistics on all girls' and boys' sports.

At a time when Jim could fully be expected to quietly enjoy his retirement, he can be found on the sidelines of a football game, or sitting near the hoops at a home basketball contest, jotting down notes.

He also relentlessly seeks out information from local coaches following each contest, and transforms the statistical information they give him into a permanent record – a keepsake – of young people's athletic accomplishments.

Why does he do it? He has a simple explanation.

"I'm a sports enthusiast," he said.

For years, he sat at the scoring table at wrestling meets, announcing the matches, or running the clock while keeping the scorebook.

Over the years, he's assisted with the intramural basketball program at Vermillion High School, and after he retired from teaching, he worked at the pro shop at the Vermillion Golf Course for approximately 10 years.

Today, at The Bluffs, he compiles the scores for the various golf teams in the men's league.

While growing up, he watched more than participated in athletics.

"I had an undetected thyroid deficiency, and that made me overweight," he said.

The health problem wasn't discovered until he was a sophomore in high school.

"I got treatment for it, and I didn't lose weight, but I grew from 5-feet 8-inches to 6-feet 2-inches in one year."

Before graduating from high school, Jim joined the U.S. Army, and was stationed at Fort Knox, KY. There is one sport in particular that the Army favors over all others – running – and Jim discovered, over time, that he excelled in this activity.

5in my legs, and my breathing improved greatly," Jim said. "There was a sergeant at the medical center who must have seen me, because whenever we were ready to start on a run, he'd look at me and say, 'All right Prosser, lead the pack.' When it came to distance running, I was the leader."

While at the medical center, Jim also discovered he could excel academically.

"There were 96 students in my class," he said. "I was second in my class when it came to grades."

He scored highest in anatomy and mathematics. His mastery of those subjects lead to his decision to become a surgical technician.

He was assigned to a dispensary in Frankfort, Germany.

"There were about 50 of us and we were housed in a separate apartment," Jim said. "When we weren't working, we could become involved in different activities, including a softball team.

"I didn't play, but I participated," he said. "I was the equipment manager, and the third base coach."

After a two year stint in Germany, Jim was sent back to the states. "I was only 20 years old, and I got started in college at Augustana (in Sioux Falls)," he said.

Jim also was married shortly after returning to South Dakota. But he had to leave his wife, Jean Ann, and interrupt his college studies when the United States became involved in the Korean Conflict.

"They needed people in the Korean war zone, and that's where we thought we were headed," Jim said. "But by the time we got to Japan, we were assigned to a hospital that was built for the Army there. We never actually went to Korea."

Had the original plans for Jim's unit not been changed, he likely would have worked at a MASH unit in Korea.

"Instead, at the hospital, the people that a MASH unit couldn't handle," he said, "were sent to us."

At Japan, a pattern familiar throughout all of Jim's life was apparent. The man just couldn't stay idle.

When he wasn't working at the hospital, he'd tend bar at the NCO club.

"After supper, I'd usually run the movie projector for the theatre," he said. "I was there for a year, going back and forth from working in the operating room, to working in the bar … I had only one three-day pass to give me a break away from the hospital during that time."

While he was in Japan, Jean Ann found work in Tyndall. When Jim's second stint with the Army ended, that's where they made their home.

He considered continuing his education at Yankton College, but opted instead to enroll at Southern State Teachers College in Springfield because of its close proximity to Tyndall.

"I entered college at Southern as a sophomore after not taking any classes in college," he said. "I guess I discovered when I came in second at that medical training center that I was smart enough to do that. I didn't know that before."

He enrolled at Southern in 1951, and took classes during the summer. Three years later, he had a teaching degree, and was hired by the Centerville School District.

During his three years in Centerville, and his longer teaching career in Vermillion, Jim's love of sports has been obvious.

His students, and other people in Centerville, Vermillion and nearby communities, soon learned of his other passion – music.

"I love all music, especially classical music," he said.

While at Centerville, besides teaching mathematics, chemistry and physics, he also directed the boys' glee club.

While growing up, he sang in the chorus at Washington High School in Sioux Falls. For over 30 years, he was a member of the local Masonic music organization in Yankton.

"I remember my first public appearance was the Sioux Falls Penitentiary," Jim said. "I sang at their church services. I was in the seventh grade. Can you imagine me remembering that?"

He added that he always loved to watch musicals being performed. Retirement gave him an opportunity to become involved with the cast or with the production of musicals presented by the USD Theatre.

"I was in Oklahoma!, Guys and Dolls, Brigadoon, The Sound of Music and Anything Goes," Jim said. "I also learned how to make costumes for most of those shows. And I helped make several of the costumes for The King and I.

"I also learned how to do stagework and set scenery for many of those musicals," he said. "I continued my interest in music. It never left me. Those were happy times for me."

When Jim came to Vermillion in 1956, he was assigned to teach mathematics only, particularly college prep courses.

"But I was also the first high school teacher in South Dakota to teach computer programming," he said. Jim taught those classes on Saturdays at USD.

"I took a course on computers at Augustana at a workshop," he said. "I developed some of the first computer people in the state of South Dakota – and they were very smart people."

Eventually, he began teaching computer classes at Vermillion High School thanks to a Science Foundation grant.

"And I went to summer school at USD, and got my master's degree in education with a minor in mathematics and physics," he said.

Jim has also filled the roles of driver's ed teacher and, for a decade, adviser to Vermillion's cheerleaders.

"They asked if I'd be their adviser," he said. "They always enjoyed our road trips, because I'd sing to them.

"I've always been busy," Jim said. "I've always been doing a lot of stuff."

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