Life of late Wittenberg coach celebrated by friends and family in Springfield

Defensive coordinator Sean Ross watches the defense as Wittenberg holds its first football practice of the 2013 season on Thursday, Aug. 15, 2013, in Springfield.
Defensive coordinator Sean Ross watches the defense as Wittenberg holds its first football practice of the 2013 season on Thursday, Aug. 15, 2013, in Springfield.

Credit: David Jablonski

Credit: David Jablonski

Friends and family of Sean Ross gathered Saturday in Springfield to celebrate the life of the former Wittenberg University assistant football coach 10 weeks after his death.

A large poster featured the image of Ross outside the home of Rob and Claire Linkhart. A Pittsburgh Steelers Terrible Towel completed the display. Some of the people from Wittenberg closest to Ross stood next to that photo and towel and told stories about Ross, providing comfort to his family, who held a private memorial service in Pennsylvania in August, and to other friends who watched the speeches on Facebook Live.

“With the COVID-19 thing back in Pennsylvania, none of us could go,” Rob Linkhart said. “We felt it was important to get everyone together to let his family know what he meant to the people here. He’s obviously special to Claire and I for a lot of reasons. We decided to host it.”

Ross died in his sleep Aug. 6 at his home in Lexington, Ky. The cause of death was later revealed to be an enlarged heart. He was 38.

Sean was healthy, his older brother Scott said, and his death shocked everyone. Scott attended the memorial service Saturday along with his wife Melissa and their sons, Roman, 4, and Rocco, 2. Scott and Sean’s mom, Barbara Ross, attended as did her sister, their aunt Terry Waltl. Sean’s girlfriend, Heidi Pendegrist, was there, and among the other friends who traveled from Washington, Pa., were Scott Mulshen and Ed and Kelly Sekeres.

The family members heard speeches from Wittenberg head coach Joe Fincham, his longtime assistant coach Tom Mescher and Linkhart, an assistant principal at Kenton Ridge who was on Fincham’s staff when Sean was there.

ExplorePHOTOS: Sean Ross through the years

Wendy Kobler, who’s now vice president of philanthropy and engagement at Ithaca College (N.Y), also spoke about Sean. She worked with Ross in the advancement department when he left the football program to become the associate director of giving at Wittenberg. Then they both worked together at Kentucky State University. Ross worked there until getting a job as vice president of resource development at United Way of the Bluegrass in Lexington.

All the speeches touched Scott and his family.

“It felt like one big, giant family,” Scott said. “From when I got out of the car with my wife and two boys, it was just amazing. You felt like you had known these people as long as Sean did. It did take a load off my mind knowing he was in such good hands during his years at Wittenberg.”

Ross coached nine seasons at Wittenberg from 2007-15 and was one of the longest-tenured full-time assistant coaches Fincham has had in 25 years as the head coach.

“He loved that school,” Scott said. “Every time he would come home, it was Wittenberg from head to toe. Everything was red and white.”

That was one of theme of the speeches Saturday. Here are a few highlights from what people said about a beloved man who died too soon:

Linkhart: “Sean lived with me for it seemed like forever. The best part was two months before our daughter was was born, I came to his room and was like, ‘Hey, I’m gonna need this room here.’ For Claire and I, he was family. We had Sunday meals together. We talked often. ... I’m going to miss my friend.”

Mescher: Sean was an uncle to my kids. They all called him Uncle Sauce, Uncle Ross, applesauce. My son didn’t know what to call him. He was a brother to my wife because my wife was an only child. She really loved him to death. All my kids did. ... It’s been hard, but I know we all loved Sean and all appreciate what he did for Wittenberg. He was my roommate on the road all the time. There’s a lot of stories I could tell.

Fincham: "I caught Sean at a really cool time. Sean was two years out of college. He spent a couple years at Westminster and came to our place, and like a lot of our guys when they first start off, they’re still trying to get themselves into a professional position. The thing Sean brought to the table really quick was the fact that he was a hard worker. He was tremendously loyal. He had the ability to work hard and push his players, but at the same time, too, he was fun to be around. Watching him grow professionally was really a lot of fun.

“I don’t really consider guys are working for me. We’re all kind of working together. I’m a glorified assistant coach. I remember Sean coming into the office after being there a couple years and just being really excited. He said, ‘I finally got it. I get it.’ He was talking about how things work on defense, and thank goodness he got it because it wasn’t long before I had to walk down the hall and hire him to be the defensive coordinator.”

Kobler: “Sean could be the guy in the room that made other guys feel like they were the king of the hill. Sean really had the ability to lift other people up. He made other people feel good about themselves. He made people feel like they could give and they could do so much more. ... I’ve been in this business for a long time. Sean is probably the best fundraiser that I have ever worked with because he got people. He understood who they were. He enjoyed connecting with people and helping them give back to their alma mater.”

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