Jeran, WVU cager, had great career

MORGANTOWN – Bob Jeran of Buckhannon, who turns 89 on March 25, was a member of West Virginia University’s basketball team during the war-time years of 1943 and 44.

The Thomas native is a graduate of Coalton High School, where he also played basketball. Then, after his sophomore year at WVU, Jeran enlisted in the United States Air Force and served as an aerial engineer in the Pacific combat during World War II.

Upon honorable discharge from military service, Jeran returned to the university and completed his college education. He received his bachelor’s degree in business.

He barely missed by a year of playing on West Virginia’s memorable 1942 National Invitation Tournament team that captured the championship. But Jeran knew R.A. “Dyke” Raese, that team’s coach, and such standouts as Rudy Baric, the tourney’s MVP, and roly-poly play-maker Scotty Hamilton of Grafton.

In fact, Baric, a native of Benwood in the Northern Panhandle, returned to take over as head coach in 1943 when Raese left for military service. What’s more, Hamilton started for his ex-teammate as WVU posted a 14-7 record.

Harry Lothes, another former Mountaineer, was Jeran’s coach in 1944.

“My four years at WVU (counting the two after the war) were absolutely the best of my young life,” said Jeran, who was the oldest returning cager at last weekend’s Varsity Club reunion.

Bob and wife, Ava Lee, were married as college sweethearts. They have been together for 65 years and have two sons. Robert is 62 and Steve is 58.

There are six grandchildren and four great grandchildren.

Jeran, whose younger brother, Joe, was a great pitcher for WVU coach Steve Harrick in the 1960s, got interested in making coal mining a career as an administer shortly after graduation. He spent a few years as an employee of the U.S. Bureau of Mines unit in Morgantown.

Then he became manager of the Bethlehem Steel Corporation’s coal mines in West Virginia and Pennsylvania. He served eagerly in that role for 30 years, retiring in 1982. Then Jeran went into his own consulting business for 26 years.

He finally accepted retirement in 2009.

“When I was with the Bureau of Mines, the late Gail Cunningham and I formed a basketball team with others many years ago,” he recalled. “Joe Pillegge, who owned a dry cleaning business, sponsored our team and we won the Monongalia County intramural basketball championship one year.”

That was in 1948 and games were played and well-attended in the Morgantown Junior High School gymnasium, he explained.

In 2003, Jeran was honored for his outstanding career by being inducted into the West Virginia Coal Hall of Fame. He also received numerous other significant accolades.

“During my lifetime, I’ve served on various boards,” Jeran remembers.

“One was at W.Va. Wesleyan College, another at the State Chamber of Commerce in Charleston.”

“A fellow from down South named Charley Jones and I sort of headed up the coal development authority for the state when Gov. Jay Rockefeller was in office,” he noted.

“We can’t get away from coal. I helped when we were involved in liquidation and the gasification of coal.

“I think that’s the thing of the future.”