The father of Union soccer

Publication Date

A gentleman named Franz Gleich coached Dutchmen soccer between 1948 and 1957. The German immigrant made a lasting, positive impact on many of his players. So much so that Dr. Howard Rosenkrantz ’57 led a recent effort to make sure his old coach’s contributions to the sport aren’t forgotten.

“Franz Gleich endowed the soccer programs at Union College,” said Rosenkrantz, a retired dentist in Marblehead, Mass., who received the Alumni Gold Medal in 1978. “I celebrated my 80th birthday back in December and I felt that if anything was ever going to be done to recognize Franz, it would have to be done by me.”

So he created a plaque in memory of Gleich, which was installed beside the soccer trophy case in Alumni Gym during Homecoming Weekend in October 2015.

Gleich and his wife, Elsie, immigrated to the United States after World War I, settling in Schenectady, where Gleich worked as a tool and die maker at GE. Having played on military all-star soccer teams in his homeland, Gleich was a player, then coach of the Schenectady Football Club. He remained a full-time GE employee while coaching at Union part-time.

“I think about Franz often. He and his wife did not have any children,” Rosenkrantz said. “He really saw his players, quite frankly, as his sons – and he treated us that way. They frequently invited us to their home for dinner, and we had many fulfilling visits enjoying their hospitality.”

“He stressed the meaning of fair play and he made sure his players were doing well in their academics; that was very important to him,” Rosenkrantz added. “He was also very concerned with our futures, what directions we were going from Union.”

Gleich, who initiated the soccer program at Union, brought his teams against the likes of Syracuse, Hamilton, Middlebury, the University of Rochester, Colgate and RPI.

“We played a fairly challenging schedule as a Division III team,” Rosenkrantz recalled. “We played a lot of the more competitive colleges.”

After Gleich left Union in 1957, the year Rosenkrantz graduated, the two stayed in touch. They became such good friends that Rosenkrantz organized a bon voyage party when Gleich and Elsie returned to Germany in 1963.

Howard Rosenkrantz ’57 (second row, second from right, beside Coach Franz Gleich) sits with the 1957 soccer team.
Howard Rosenkrantz ’57 (second row, second from right, beside Coach Franz Gleich)

“They sailed from New York, where many of his former players attended an emotional send-off,” Rosenkrantz said. “I was able to contact the College to present Elsie and Franz with a set of dishes, beautifully decorated with various Union scenes.”

The Atlantic Ocean presented no obstacle, however, and Rosenkrantz and Gleich remained close.

Starting in 1966, Gleich and Elsie would winter in Miami, where Rosenkrantz’s parents also lived.

“For 23 years, we all got together in Miami. With my wife and my children, we would go down to spend the day with them,” said Rosenkrantz, whose daughter, Amy, is a member of the Class of 1986. “I have many pictures of us all together.”

In 1988, in honor of what he considered the high point of his life – coaching at Union – Gleich began exploring the option of funding scholarships for soccer players.

“Unfortunately, Division III rules would not allow that and it was decided that instead he would endow the sport,” said Rosenkrantz, who helped Gleich set up the Franz Gleich Endowed Fund for Soccer. Officially established in 1990, it supports both men’s and women’s programs.

That same year, Bob Magee, then coach of the men’s team, took his squad to Germany for the pre-season. Rosenkrantz arranged games near Gleich’s home outside Stuttgart. During the visit, Magee and Gleich talked about the early years of soccer at Union. The players had the opportunity to get to know Gleich, and loved him.

Gleich died in 1991.

“Franz, he would always say to me, ‘We are us,’” said Rosenkrantz, whose grandson, Joshua Price, is a member of the Class of 2018. “I never fully understood what that meant, but we just had this close relationship. Sometimes I thought of him as a second father.”

“With this plaque, I just hope that soccer players might venture up and look into that case and know that this humble man, Franz Gleich, endowed their sport at Union in perpetuity.”


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