Words like “legend” and “icon” were among those used to describe what Ed Rarey meant to two central Ohio communities.

Rarey, who died April 19 at age 89, is part of a centuries-old legacy in Groveport and one that is several decades old in Gahanna.

He was employed by the Gahanna school district for 62 years, including from 1953-2013 as coach of the high school boys track and field team.

The Rarey family was among the original settlers in Groveport in the early 1800s, and Ed served as a city councilman for 24 years before resigning in 2017.

“Not only for the city of Groveport but for the city of Gahanna, he’s an icon,” Groveport Mayor Lance Westcamp said. “You can’t drive through Groveport without thinking of the accomplishments of his time on the council. If it was anything for kids, Mr. Rarey was behind it.”

Groveport’s school nickname, the Cruisers, has its roots in the Rarey family.

One of his relatives, John S. Rarey, was a well-known horse whisperer who, after being summoned to England by Queen Victoria in 1858, calmed a horse named Cruiser. He was given the horse as a gift.

Rarey competed in football and track at Groveport before graduating in 1948 and went on to compete in both sports at Otterbein before graduating in 1952.

He got his coaching start as a football assistant in fall 1952 at Gahanna and spent eight seasons in that role in addition to being the boys track coach. Rarey also was Gahanna’s boys cross country coach from 1957-87.

After college, he taught math and science for five years before becoming principal at Gahanna Lincoln Elementary School, a job he held until 1990.

During his time as boys track coach, Gahanna won 31 league, 26 district and 14 regional titles and also captured Division I state championships in 1979 and 2009.

“When I started my career back in the early (1980s), he gave me a shot at coaching and assigned me the huge responsibility of leading his boys sprint team even though I had zero experience,” said Roger Whittaker, who is in his 31st season as Gahanna’s girls track coach. “I asked one question: ‘How do you know I’m going to do a good job?’ He simply said, ‘I’m a good judge of character and there is something about you that I feel is unique and will help this program,’ not that they needed help because he was already a legend.

“He mentored me along the way and eventually recommended that I head the girls program, that I was ‘destined’ to be an effective leader because I had too many progressive ideas in my head to be an assistant, that I needed a chance to grow on my own. His only advice was, ‘Do it the right way. Create a strong foundation and make your team a reflection of your beliefs.’”

Rarey is survived by his wife of 68 years, Anne. A private service will be held by the family.

Donations in his memory may be made to the Groveport Madison Scholarship Foundation, Education is the Way.

Rarey came across, at times, as a “rough-edged guy” but “inside he had a heart of gold,” said Shawn Cleary, a member of Groveport City Council.

“There were a couple quotes of his that I liked,” Westcamp said. “One was that he wanted things done immediately and that he wouldn’t even buy green bananas. He was so influential in everything I did. I’ve known him for most of my life.”

During his time as Gahanna’s boys track coach, Rarey guided thousands of athletes, including 2010 graduate Blake Heriot, 2012 graduate Jake Blankenship and 2013 graduate Riak Reese, all of whom won individual state titles.

“He knew things about you that you didn’t even know yourself,” Whittaker said. “He really taught me the value of building relationships with your athletes and had many great quotes, (such as): ‘Never pin your hopes and dreams on the back of a 16-year-old;’ ‘Never make so many rules you can’t possibly follow through on them’ and ‘Your team will only be as good as your supporting cast. Don’t ignore them just because you have a few superstars.’

“We had many verbal battles throughout his career, some pretty intense, but after each one he always smiled and told me how much he appreciated how my personality was and that I was meant for the job I had. Ed Rarey is always going to hold a special part in my heart.”