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Nellie and John Wooden Marriage Profile

A Long Lasting Love Story

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John Wooden described Nellie as the only girl he ever kissed and said his last love was his first love. Others described John and Nellie Wooden as inseparable and truly truly in love.

His book, They Call Me Coach, is dedicated in memory of Nellie, his bride of nearly 53 years. John wrote, "Her love, faith, and loyalty through all our years together are primarily responsible for what I am."
Source: John Wooden. They Call Me Coach. 2003. pg. 3.

Born:

John Robert Wooden: October 14, 1910 in Hall, Indiana.

Nellie C. Riley: June 21, 1911 in Indiana. (Official records list June 26th as Nellie's date of birth, but John wrote that her birthday was on the 21st.)

Died:

John Wooden: John died at the age of 99 on June 4, 2010 at Ronald Reagan U.C.L.A. Medical Center. Wooden had been in the hospital since May 26, 2010.

Nellie: Nellie passed away at St. Vincents Medical Center at the age of 73 on March 21, 1985 after a long illness. John was at her side when she died.

John: "For me it was the ultimate tragedy. The girl I had known for most of my life was no longer beside me. We would have celebrated our fifty-third anniversary on August 8, 1985. Now I live with fond memories and do my best to carry on in life as she would want me to."
Source: John Wooden, Jack Tobin. They Call Me Coach. 2003. pg. 201.
John: "There was a time when I didn't think I could go on without Nellie. I was afraid to live without her and afraid to die. But finally, after about a year and a half, I found I no longer feared death. Because I knew that when my time came I would be with her once again, forever. When I stopped fearing dying, I found the strength to keep living."
Source: Brian D. Biro, John Wooden. Beyond Success -- the 15 Secrets to Effective Leadership and Life Based on Legendary Coach John Wooden's Pyramid of Success. 2001. pg. 182.

How John and Nellie Met

John met Nellie when he was fourteen years old. They were classmates at Martinsville [Indiana] High School. John played basketball and Nellie played the cornet in the school band.
Frank Litsky, John Branch: "They were inseparable from then on; their marriage lasted 53 years, until her death in 1985."
Source: Frank Litsky, John Branch. "John Wooden, Who Built Incomparable Dynasty at U.C.L.A., Dies at 99." NYTimes.com. 6/4/2010.
John: "Martinsville has a very special place for another very important reason ... It was there at a carnival the summer of my freshman year in high school that I met the girl I was to marry. Nellie Riley was a pert, vivacious, captivating girl with a very vibrant personality."
Source: John Wooden, Jack Tobin. They Call Me Coach. 2003. pg. 32.
John: "Nellie and I had seemed destined for each other from our first meeting. Even in high school we were sure that we would one day marry, but Nellie insisted that I go to Purdue and that she would wait those long years."
Source: John Wooden, Jack Tobin. They Call Me Coach. 2003. pg. 46.

Wedding Date and Info

John never actually proposed marriage. They agreed during his senior year that when he finished college they would get married.

Nellie and John's plans for getting married on August 8, 1932 in Indianapolis in a little church were severely challenged when two days before their wedding, the bank where they had their savings ($909.05) went broke and closed.

John: "Immediately, we cancelled the order for the Plymouth and the wedding ... To say we were despondent that Saturday hardly expresses our feelings -- we were totally depressed ... the father of Nellie's best friend, Mary Schnaiter ... offered to lend me two hundred dollars to be paid back when I could so Nellie and I could be married ... we did accept the loan. My brother Cat and his wife-to-be drove us to Indianapolis and stood up for us."
Source: John Wooden, Jack Tobin. They Call Me Coach. 2003. pg. 48.

John and Nellie had dinner after their wedding ceremony at the Bamboo Inn and went to the Circle theater to hear the Mills Brothers. The next morning they left by bus for Martinsville where they separated so John could participate in a week-long basketball clinic ninety-two miles away.

John: "We were probably one of the very few couples to have spent their first week of marriage apart."
Source: John Wooden, Jack Tobin. They Call Me Coach. 2003. pg. 49.

Children:

Nell and John had 2 children, 7 grandchildren, and 13 great-grandchildren. John mentioned in an interview with Sports Illustrated, "Nellie wanted three, which was fine with me," Wooden said. "The third one miscarried."
  • Nancy Ann Wooden: Born abt. 1933.
  • James Hugh Wooden:

Occupations:

John: Basketball coach, author, public speaker, english teacher.
List of John Wooden's Books (Compare Prices)
John: "... at the end of the workday, I went home and left basketball on the basketball court. My dear wife, Nellie, said she couldn't tell if I'd had a good day or a bad day at practice. I left it behind at the office."
Source: John Wooden, Steve Jamison. The Essential Wooden: A Lifetime of Lessons on Leaders and Leadership. 2006. pg. 151.

Residence:

In their later years, John and Nellie lived in Encino, California.

Quotes About the Marriage of Nellie and John Wooden:

John: "Another old-school quality that I have chosen to maintain is the fact that I am a one-woman man. Nellie and I were married for 53 years. I've never been with another woman. When she died two decades ago, I decided to remain loyal. To honor her, on the twenty-first day of each month I wrote her a letter. I still write on special occasions. I put the letter on her pillow for a night and then put it away with the other letters I've written. I was loyal to her in life, and I will remain loyal to her memory until we are forever together again."
Source: John Wooden, Jay Carty. Coach Wooden's Pyramid of Success: Building Blocks for a Better Life. 2009. pg. 51.

John: "Nellie Riley was my high school sweetheart and the only girl I ever loved or wanted to love. Some kind of strong spark happened the first time we met. That spark never left -- it's still in me."
Source: John wooden, Steve Jamison. My Personal Best: Life Lessons from an All-American Journey. 2004. p. 31.

John: "Just before each game [in high school]... When we made eye contact sh'd give me a little thumbs-up, and I'd wink or nod back at her. That carried right through to the last game I ever coached ... She is the greatest thing that ever happened to me."
Source: John wooden, Steve Jamison. My Personal Best: Life Lessons from an All-American Journey. 2004. pg. 35.

John: "So retirement was just fine for both of us ... Nell and I traveled and enjoyed life together. We were a couple of lucky people who loved being with each other more than anything. I recognized it the day I felt that spark back in high school, and I have told friends my greatest personal accomplishment was the day Nell Riley said, "I do."
Source: John wooden, Steve Jamison. My Personal Best: Life Lessons from an All-American Journey. 2004. pgs. 197-198.

John: "Nellie and I agreed to be agreeable ... Folks think Nellis and I had a perfect marriage, but it was because we worked at it. There are rough patches in any marriage. Very early we understood that there would be times when we disagreed but there would never be times when we had to be disagreeable. We kept to that rule for over half a century."
Source: John Wooden, Steve Jamison. Wooden: A Lifetime of Observations and Reflections On and Off the Court. 1997. pg. 17.

John: "Love means many things. It means giving. It means sharing. It means forgiving. It means understanding. It means being patient. It means learning. And you must always consider the other side, the other person. You can give without loving, but you cannot love without giving ... I agree with Abraham Lincoln. He once said that the best thing a man can do for his children is to love their mother."
Source: John Wooden, Steve Jamison. Wooden: A Lifetime of Observations and Reflections On and Off the Court. 1997. pg. 18.

Andy Hill about precise practice times: "Why? He wanted to go home and be with his family. I don’t think it was because Coach was lazy; he just had the perspective of what was really important, and he always reinforced what he said with what he did.”
Source: Billy Witz. "Wooden's Legacy Extends Beyond Titles." NYTimes.com. 6/06/2010.

John: "Marriage requires that each partner listen to the other side. It's like what I say about leadership: 'You must be interested in finding the best way, not in having your own way.' The same is true in marriage. Don't be stubborn and insist on having your own way. Look to find a way that works for both of you."
Source: John Wooden, Steve Jamison. Wooden: A Lifetime of Observations and Reflections On and Off the Court. 1997. pg. 19.

John: "Life is a united effort of many. My life has been inspired from my youthful days in high school, through university, and into my coaching career by one person -- my late wife, Nellie. Together we survived many trials, many misunderstandings, many separations; together for over 52 years, we weathered the Great Depression of the '30s with few material possessions and shared in the innumerable joys, fears, such as World War II, and disappointments that cross every life. Whatever problems arose -- and there were many in the life of a teacher/coach -- Nellie was always beside me ..."
Source: John Wooden, Jack Tobin. They Call Me Coach. 2003. pg. 9.

Andy Hill: "His love for his wife and family were evident to everyone in the program. It was clear to us that there actually were things in his life more important than the score of a basketball game, and that keeping perspective was crucial to maintaining consistency."
Source: Andrew Hill, John Wooden. Be Quick -- But Don't Hurry! 2001. pg. 92.

Andy Hill: "Like John Wooden, Courtney had met his sweetheart in high school and had the type of marriage that results from two people who know they are with the only person they will ever want to love for the whole of their lives. Coach Wooden speaks often of his enduring love for his departed wife, Nellie; he still writes her a love letter on the twenty-first of every month to honor her birthday."
Source: Andrew Hill, John Wooden. Be Quick -- But Don't Hurry! 2001. pg. 180.

John: "Since I firmly believe that the youth of today need role models more than critics, I like to feel that the devotion I have had to my wife and family had some influence on the fact that so many of those under my supervision have goone on to create wonderful marriages and families of their own. Family, faith, and friends are the cornerstones of a happy and fulfilling life."
Source: Andrew Hill, John Wooden. Be Quick -- But Don't Hurry! 2001. pg. 188.

Frank Litsky, John Branch: "He [John] always carried a piece of paper with a message from his father that read: “Be true to yourself. Make each day a masterpiece. Help others. Drink deeply from good books. Make friendship a fine art. Build a shelter against a rainy day.”
Source: Frank Litsky, John Branch. "John Wooden, Who Built Incomparable Dynasty at U.C.L.A., Dies at 99." NYTimes.com. 6/4/2010.

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