Many know him as a coach, an educator, a friend.
Geb Runager is a man with a passion, and throughout his life, he has dedicated his time and efforts to helping young people reach their goals both on and off the court or field, persevering to be the best they can be.
But Runager’s own perseverance in life – not giving up, fighting for what’s right, staying to course – have made him a perfect honoree for the Orangeburg County Community of Character trait for October: perseverance.
“I’ve always been suspicious of that word,” Runager said, laughing, as he pointed out that part of the word is “severance,” or to end. But, when you add the prefix, “It means you’ve set goals for your life that are very difficult. I’m aged enough to prove that I have persevered.
“I’m particularly privileged and honored to be recognized for this particular trait.”
The goal, he said, is to persist throughout life, to reach and teach those who cross your path, never stopping but always setting new goals.
Today, Runager dedicates much of his time to assisting Fellowship of Christian Athletes’ Midlands representative Earl Humes in his work with area young people and serving on the FCA board.
“That’s a very worthwhile thing because I love kids,” he said. “The issues that are confronting children are just growing exponentially.”
He said 75-80 percent of young people stop going to church when they become teenagers, and that, Runager said, is tragic.
Runager also continues to work with special teams in high school and college football, most recently helping Orangeburg-Wilkinson High School with its kicker.
He officially serves as Orangeburg Consolidated School District Five’s coordinator of middle school athletics, working to create a feeder system for young athletes as they work toward becoming high school football and basketball stars, teaching them fundamentals before they reach that level.
Through everything he has done and continues to do, Runager said being a positive role model for his students and players has been at the top of his list.
He tried his best to do so as a football and basketball coach, leading the Orangeburg High School Indians to a 1960 AA Football Championship, beating the Easley Green Wave 18-0.
He tried his best as a history, government and physical education teacher.
He tried his best as a principal at Marshall Elementary School, which he likened to coaching sports.
“If I didn’t get 200 hugs a day, I was a miserable failure,” he said of being an administrator at Marshall. “I still see former students on the street who say, ’I’m still partial to Marshall.’”
Many would say he succeeded.
Mark Brown, one of those who nominated Runager for the honor, said he met the coach through a mutual friend and even had him help his sons with their kicking.
“He’s a tireless worker, always willing to lend a hand,” Brown said.
He said Runager’s love of football and helping wannabee kickers is evident.
“He’s always had the willingness and just a love for it,” Brown said. “Geb is one of those guys in the community that’s just a total asset. He’s just a genuine guy. Any encounter with Geb is a good encounter.”
Touchdown Club President Don Tribble said any job he has given Runager has been completed “to a T.”
“Anything he has ever been involved in … he gets the job done and does a beautiful job of it,” he said.
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Mayor Paul Miller said Runager’s work with young people and everything he does in the community exudes perseverance.
“He’s always been there for the kids,” Miller said. “I think he’s very deserving of this nomination and honor.”
Working with children and teens is all about attitude, Runager said.
“Your attitude toward kids is extremely important because that’s what sells the program of perseverance,” he said.
“They don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care, and I care.
“It’s been a labor of love because there’s nothing I’d rather do than coach. That’s the most honorable and privileged title anyone could have – coach.”
Runager has tried to teach, through his example as a Christian and a sports enthusiast, how to reach for success.
“We’ve had some excellent athletes,” he said. “Coaches have to understand they don’t make the plays. The coach is a spectator of sorts that watches with the same courage and commitment to excellence as the players on the field.”
Discipline, he said, has never been a problem, as he tries to relate to each child.
“Kids respect you because you respect them,” Runager said. “We are on the same page to handle each other.”
Not all of his time was spent directly dealing with children. For a 10-year stint, Runager worked as a salesman with IBM, selling testing, guidance and multilevel instructional materials to schools in North and South Carolina.
But even then, he was using his skills to teach teachers and administrators how to use the materials. He said that experience helped him on his road to becoming a principal.
During desegregation, Runager recalls being a member of every committee and board dedicated to integrating local schools.
“We would share with each other our love for children and education,” he said. “It was just a matter of telling students that you cared, that you were going to persevere and showing kids to view change as a positive, not a negative.”
Runager said he hopes young people learn to evaluate the issues that face them, some of which include dropping out of school, gangs and drugs, and weigh those options against what’s really important in life.
According to Runager, what’s really important can’t be seen but will be there for young people at all times, even when the gangs and drugs leave them friendless and helpless.
“Christ demands excellence and courage,” he said. “He will be there regardless.
“You have to learn how to hang with folks that care.”
A native of Corbin, Ky., Runager has been in Orangeburg since 1958, when he was hired to teach and coach locally. He met his wife, Nancy, at his alma mater, Erskine College, and together they are the parents of one daughter and four sons, one of which is Max Runager, a former National Football League punt kicker who has travelled twice to the Super Bowl, winning Super Bowl XIX with the San Francisco 49ers.
Runager holds a master’s degree in education from the University of South Carolina and a doctorate in education from Nova University.
In addition to working with the local FCA, Runager also serves on the Orangeburg Touchdown Club board and is an active member of First Presbyterian Church and its choir. And he makes it a point to go golfing early every morning with a men’s group from church.
“I never did retire,” Runager said. “I don’t believe in it. That’s why I was nominated for perseverance.”