Jack Davis

The Norway high school baseball program changed from ‘competitive’ to ‘successful’ to ‘legendary’ between the years 1965 and 1991.  The Tigers’ instant success was, as are most such phenomena, actually built on generations of teams, and seasons played out on Iowa ball fields since the late 1800s.  Before Bernie Hutchison took the high school to their first championships, and Jim Van Scoyoc led Norway to domination in the 1980s, Pinky Primrose laid a foundation of players who developed their skills through diligence and discipline.  But who influenced coach Primrose, himself a son of Norway, and shaped the player, coach, and educator into which he evolved?

Jack Davis was born on November 26, 1922, in Eddyville, Iowa.  Growing up in the small town, he played baseball and basketball in high school before entering college in the early 1940s.  After the outbreak of World War II, Davis enlisted in the Navy as a dental technician and was assigned to a field hospital in the Philippines.  He served there from 1944 through 1946, remaining in-country to help close the unit after the end of the war.

Upon his discharge, Davis returned to Iowa and completed his undergraduate coursework at Simpson College in Indianola.  An educator in training, he finished his student teaching in Fremont, Iowa in 1947, and married fiancée Esther as well.

Davis took his first job in teaching, from 1949 until 1952, as the Industrial Arts teacher at Norway High School, and as baseball and basketball coach.  It was during this time, along with assistant coach Bill Schweikert , that he mentored – among others - a promising third baseman, the aforementioned Harold Primrose, himself later inducted into several coaching Halls of Fame and who has received countless awards throughout his four decades of coaching.  Pinky remembers Coach Davis as “…a good coach…didn't screw around with him…enjoyed playing for him.  He loved the game and loved coaching.” 

Much as Norway coach Floyd Nelson had influenced Robert Primrose and so many others a decade earlier, Davis’ protégés carried his legacy forward.   In addition to Primrose, Bill ‘Double Duty’ Frese passed the coaching gene to his daughter, Brenda, as of 2011 the very successful head women’s basketball coach at the University of Maryland.

Back in 1952, the Davis’ lived in town for almost three years, then moved southeast of Norway into a farmhouse owned by Merle Merritt.  Davis handed over the baseball coaching reins to W.M Hokanson after the 1952 season, but remained at the school as Principal until 1955.  During his final three years at Norway, the Davis family and Woody Larson shared a garden on some ground between their homes, as well as a few hogs and a milk cow; Davis would milk the cow in the morning, before school, and Larson would take care of the chore in the evening.

As a coach and a teacher, Davis helped some students weather difficult times in Norway.  In one particularly acute example, Davis was coaching the girls’ basketball team in a game at Garrison, when the father of two of his players passed out in the stands.  Henry Uthoff was taken to a locker room where he died before medical help could arrive.  There are few jobs that demand the range of emotional skills required of teachers.

In 1955 the Davis family moved to the Davenport, Iowa area when Jack took a position with the Scott County Farm Bureau.  After five years in that job, he earned his insurance license, and later took a job as a rural route mail carrier.  In 1989, at age 63, Davis retired from the post office.  In 2011, Jack and Esther still live in the house they built after leaving Norway, and will celebrate their 64th wedding anniversary surrounded by their four children, ten grandchildren, and three great-grandchildren.