George Michael (Mike) Farley
George Michael (Mike) Farley
Respected teacher, acclaimed football coach, and dedicated public citizen, Mike Farley died August 28, 2018, at age 84 in a care facility in Mesa, AZ. As she was for 60 years, wife Rae was at his side at the time of his passing.
Born George Michael Farley on January 14, 1934, in St. Louis, MO, he grew up in the Mississippi River town of Alton, IL, where he graduated from high school in 1951. At the end of his senior year, he was named to the Illinois All State baseball team as a right-handed pitcher. He enrolled at the University of Illinois and pitched for the Fighting Illini before signing a baseball contract with the now Baltimore Orioles organization. Mike Farley won 12 and lost 13 in the summer of 1954, while pitching minor league baseball in Marion, NC (Class D) and Pine Bluff, AR (Class C).
He continued his education in 1954, returning to the University of Illinois, where helped coach baseball and where he completed both Bachelor and Master's degrees in 1958.
Mike and Rae's marriage produced three sons, Steven (Indianapolis, IN), David ( Rochester, MN), and Michael (Cedarburg, WI), who, along with their wives and nine grandchildren, survive him.
The thought of being able to ski in Wisconsin lured him northward to the small south central Wisconsin town of Pardeeville (1958 - 61), where his football coaching career began. From there he went to Portage High School ('61 - '63) as an assistant football coach. Farley returned to the head coaching ranks at Sparta ('63 - '67) and Racine Park ('67 - '70) high schools. After 13 years of coaching at the high school level, Farley accepted the head job at the University of Wisconsin - River Falls in April, 1970.
As a head coach, he produced championship teams at every stop along the way. Racine Park High School was the only exception. Despite a fine 16 - 7-4 won-loss football record, it was his golf team at Park that won a state championship. Mike Farley never found time to test the ski slopes of Wisconsin.
At River Falls, Mike Farley needed four seasons to produce a winning record that put the Falcons on the small college football map, where he kept them until his retirement in 1988. His teams earned eight conference championships, placed four teams on national end-of-the-year "top 10" lists, and won 75% of its games during the 1980's. The 1979 team finished the regular season ranked #4 in the nation and made a first-ever appearance by a Falcon team in the national playoffs.
Coach Farley's resume contains National Coach of the Year awards, membership in three Halls of Fame, and a long list of personal service awards. Chief among these was "Teacher of the Year (1986) Award" presented by the UWRF College of Education
Farley remained active in the community following his retirement from the University in 1989. As a leading member of the River Falls Library Foundation Board, Farley agreed to chair the library's fundraising committee in an attempt to replace an antiquated, cramped facility with a new state of the art building. Fund-raising experts advised the committee that raising $800,000 of donated money was a reasonable goal for a city the size of River Falls to pursue. The goal was achieved and surpassed by the end of 1997; $1.7 million of the $4.5 million facility came from individuals, families, and corporate donors, an amount more than double the original projection.
After 14 years of commuting between River Falls and Mesa, AZ, the Farley's sold their home River Falls in 2010 and made Arizona their permanent residence. It was there in 2014 that Mike was diagnosed with hydrocephalus, which caused a slow but unrelenting decline in Mike's health and overall well-being.
Long-time associate Harold Tiffany still remembers phone calls he received from Coach Farley in Arizona. The general gist of the conversation was nearly always the same: "Harold, I have a nice letter here from a young man who played for me several years ago. I'd like to reply to him in kind, but I'm having trouble remembering him very clearly. Could you do some research on him and get back to me? The letter says, 'Dear Coach Farley, You probably don't remember me, but I will never forget you, and I wanted to say 'thanks' for ..........."
Plans for an October Celebration of Mike Farley's Life here in River Falls are in the planning stage. A formal announcement regarding time and place should be forthcoming in the near future.