Bill Hughett fondly recalls his first interaction with Dan Gartner in June 2015.

On the night when Hughett was approved by the school board to be Whitehall-Yearling High School athletics director, he remembers Gartner putting a hand on his shoulder, welcoming him and telling him he had a new friend.

Hughett and the Whitehall community are mourning the loss of Gartner, a longtime Rams supporter and former teacher and coach who died Nov. 26 after a long illness. He was 75.

“The night that I got hired, I felt this little pat on my shoulder and I turned around and I saw his face and he said we’re going to be best buddies,” Hughett said. “At that time, it just gave me a little bit of comfort knowing that someone was going to be in my corner. And he was right, we were best buddies from that night on. He was my first true friend in Columbus.”

Gartner, a 1961 Whitehall graduate, contributed to the school district for more than 50 years.

“This is a big loss,” Superintendent Brian Hamler said. “Every community has a guy like Danny who devotes their life’s work to the student-athlete. Nobody loved the Whitehall Rams more than Danny did.”

Gartner began his coaching career in 1964 as an assistant wrestling coach at Ashland High School. He graduated from Ashland College in 1965 and began his career at Whitehall that year as a physical education teacher.

Gartner also began coaching football, wrestling and track and field at Whitehall in 1965.

He retired from teaching in 1994, but remained in the district as a classroom aide, assistant track coach and football equipment manager. He was inducted into Whitehall’s hall of fame in 2010.

“It’s a tremendous loss for us,” football coach Rod Lightfoot said. “Dan fought it to the end. He was around as much as he possibly could and he was able to touch base with most of the seniors.”

The wrestling team’s annual tournament was renamed the Dan Gartner Duals in 2007. Those duals will be held Saturday, Dec. 8, and wrestling coach Steve Pennington said his athletes will wear a sticker honoring Gartner on their headgear all season.

“This will be the first year that we’ve had this tournament that he won’t be here to pass out the awards,” Pennington said. “The tournament and the season is dedicated to coach Gartner. We’re going to try to win it for him. It’s definitely going to be an emotional day to go through.”

A public memorial was held in the high school auditorium Dec. 2.