THE LIONBACKER: Granddaughter, MSSU coaches remember 'servant leader' Harry Greninger

Mar. 22—Say the name Harry in Joplin and a lot of folks would know who you were talking about without any additional context.

March 22 would have marked 90 years of life for Harry Greninger.

He died one month ago, on Feb. 22. He will be remembered for his time serving others and loving those around him. And for his support of Missouri Southern State University.

"I think Layne Skiles said it best: servant leader. That was Harry. He was a servant leader," Ronnie Ressel said. "For the 20-plus years that I've known him since I got back (to Joplin) in 2002, there's no doubt he was a servant leader. He led by example."

Greninger's granddaughter, Jessica, agreed, saying "absolutely." Jessica was one of five grandchildren, and Greninger had five more great-grandchildren.

What Jessica took most from her "papa" and his near 90 years of life was his ability to love everyone.

"He was friendly with everybody," she said. "He had so many friends. He was kind-hearted."

Greninger spent the last 55-plus years of his life as a Lionbacker at Missouri Southern State University and is thought to have been a part of the first booster club for MSSU athletics.

And there was no one better fit to carry the moniker of Lionbacker than Greninger.

MSSU women's basketball coach Ressel: "He epitomized it. He supported all sports. The Monday before he passed, we were over at his daughter's house for dinner. He epitomizes what it means to be a supporter of Lion athletics."

MSSU baseball coach Bryce Darnell: "One thing that separated him a little bit is he knew the players. He knew their names. He knew their numbers. He knew their position. He would take time to get to know their parents."

MSSU men's basketball coach Sam McMahon: "He's the definition of a Lionbacker. He's the definition of a proud supporter. Losing him is a huge loss for us."

MSSU softball coach Hallie Blackney: "Harry had the ultimate Lion pride. ... He definitely left this place better than he found it. ... He was a true Lionbacker. ... He donated his time, his money and his love. And that (love) is hopefully what we reciprocated back to him."

He didn't miss many home sporting events for MSSU. That was for almost any sport. He made sure he was at every basketball game inside the Leggett & Platt Athletic Center.

Family vacations and other gatherings were scheduled around the Lions.

"Whenever we planned family functions, it all had to revolve around Southern's schedule," Jessica said. "It's always been that way."

Ressel purchased the superfan a championship ring from the team's MIAA conference tournament championship last year.

Jessica shared a story of going over to Greninger's house and him being in his pajamas in his chair with that ring on his finger.

But he wasn't just around for the wins.

"He wasn't a fair-weather fan. He was at everything whether you were good or bad," Ressel said.

"It was just his consistency. Whether you lost or you won, he was there," McMahon said.

"He wasn't a bandwagon fan. He wasn't only going to have your back if you were winning," Blackney said. "He was always in it with you."

The first weekend of the softball season occurred the first weekend of February and Harry was in Bentonville, Arkansas, to watch MSSU.

He was at the Southern baseball game Feb. 20, just two days before he died.

Up until his final days, Greninger was able to do exactly what he loved.

Harry the recruiter

McMahon had a recruit on campus Wednesday. He and Ressel both said Greninger would have been around that day to meet with the athlete.

"Oh, yeah. Absolutely. He would have been here today," McMahon said. "He met all the recruits."

"Harry would've been here to meet them, visit with them, talk with the parents a little bit. He was great about that," Ressel said. "He wanted to give his stamp of approval on that."

He was photographed this year with Grace Frazier of Diamond High School when she officially signed to further her basketball career with MSSU.

Family man

Greninger also put his heart and soul into his family. But he always had time for other families as well.

McMahon and Darnell said Greninger's connection with them expanded beyond their job as coaches of the teams he loved. The elderly man had shared that love to the children of the coaches as well.

"He invested in my kids growing up. He knew my son and daughter since birth basically," Darnell said. "My daughter works at the bank. He would stop in and see her to this day."

"He was part of our family. He was always around my kids. He was always around my wife," McMahon said. "You could feel that genuine need to be a part of it and I think everyone felt that."

Harry the coach

Greninger wasn't shy about letting the coaches know what he thought they should be doing either. Darnell, McMahon and Ressel said he would nudge them about certain things at times but that they always knew it was in good fun.

"He would make those suggestions about different kids playing together or doing something a little different offensively or defensively," Ressel said. "But the guy's been around the game a long time. It was all in fun."

"Of course. Yeah, of course," Darnell said. "He would do it in his own way. Like, 'Hey, have you ever thought about this?' Kind of a harmless way with a smile on his face. Maybe in a way where he could get away with it but you would take it another way if someone else did it."

"Oh, yeah. Absolutely. Whether it was free throw shooting or we weren't playing good enough defense," McMahon said. "He meant well. He just wanted what was best for the university. He would tell you the truth. I didn't mind that one bit."

Beyond MSSU

It wasn't just Lion athletics that Harry followed. Jessica said he didn't miss her home softball games at Joplin High School and came to some of the away games. He coached her in T-ball as well. He came to her softball games when she was attending Labette Community College in Parsons, Kansas.

That actually was a first for him when Jessica went to LCC. It was his first time willingly wearing the color red, since he was such a big green and gold fan and the Lions' biggest rival wore red.

Jessica noted that both of her seasons of junior college, Labette reached the JUCO national tournament that was played in Mississippi and Greninger made the drive by himself both years. After Labette, she attended MSSU.

"He was very happy about that decision," Jessica said. "When I got there, I befriended a lot of people on the athletic teams, and everybody would be like 'Harry is your grandpa? No way. Harry is like the best.' Honestly, he had more friends at MoSo than I ever did."

Jessica was his only grandchild to don the green and gold. But then she later went to rival Pittsburg State and became the only grandchild in the red and yellow. She said, "He wasn't happy about it."

Greninger was known for his hard work and dedication. He worked his way up to vice president of a bank.

Many of the people close to him say he was driving cars from a local dealership to places across the Arkansas border into his mid-to-late 80s.

"I don't know many people that would be able to do that at the age of 87," Ressel said.

But he was one who enjoyed driving. Jessica recalled memories of long road trips with papa and all the places he drove to watch sporting events.

There was one trip to see some of his family in Pennsylvania that she'll never forget. The quality time spent in the rural area was something that stuck with her. She also recalled another trip that was just her and papa to go watch the St. Louis Cardinals in a World Series game.

A consistent trip she recalls is going to Kansas City for the MIAA conference basketball tournament every season.

He was also active in his church, which was most recently First Baptist Church in Webb City. His faith was apparent to everyone who crossed paths with him.

"Faith was very important to Harry, and he didn't hide that," Darnell said. "That was first and foremost with Harry, and I think everyone knew that."

The way Greninger lived his life is memorable for Jessica. She tries to model the way he lived.

"I think we all should. I think he set a great example on how to live life," she said. "How to love God. How to serve."