Virginia Wesley Rentz, a teaching legend at Henry Clay High School whose career in education spanned 60 years, died Monday in Lexington.
She was 88.
Mrs. Rentz — known as "Wes" or "Weeso" among friends and co-workers — began teaching health and physical education at Transylvania University in 1944.
She moved to Henry Clay in 1959, when it was on East Main Street, and taught health and physical education at the school for the next 40 years. She also coached the school's tennis and swimming teams, helped out with the other athletic teams, and was a cheerleading sponsor. After retiring, Mrs. Rentz worked as a substitute teacher until 2004.
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Over her years at Henry Clay, Mrs. Rentz took many University of Kentucky basketball players under her wing, including Pat Riley, Larry Conley and Tommy Kron, members of the famous Rupp's Runts team of the mid-1960s.
"She was one of the most remarkable, unusual people I've known in my entire life," Conley said Tuesday. "I spent a lot of time at her house; Riley did, too, and so did Tommy Kron. If there was something negative, she wouldn't let you dwell on it. She always wanted to talk about the positives."
"She was a legend," said Donna Robinson Wilson, a phys ed teacher at Henry Clay. "Weeso taught me lessons that will stay with me for a lifetime."
Wilson said she broke in as a teacher at Henry Clay while Mrs. Rentz was there. Wilson recalled that when she had surgery one year, Mrs. Rentz visited her in the hospital every day. She also said that for many years, Henry Clay reserved a seat for Mrs. Rentz at all its ball games.
Former Henry Clay principal William Hurt said Mrs. Rentz was not officially part of the basketball coaching staff, but she attended all the games, kept team statistics and encouraged the players.
"When we would go to the state tournament she would always go along, chaperone the players and be part of it," he said.
Hurt described her as "an outstanding teacher," who demanded the best from students — and got it.
"Students didn't talk back to her," he said. "What she said was the way it was, and there was no discussion. But at end of the year, I would get calls from people saying what a wonderful teacher she was."
"She did things her way, and it was a good way," said Herb Hammond, a former Henry Clay baseball coach who teaches at the school. "Counting everything, her career was something like 60 years. That's incredible. She touched so many people's lives ... she was a very special lady."
Mrs. Rentz's grandson, the Rev. Tommy Green of Lexington, said Mrs. Rentz practically raised him and his brother, professional baseball player Andy Green. Another grandson, Chris Wade, also plays baseball professionally. "She was the most unselfish, dedicated, generous person I've ever known," Tommy Green said.
Mrs. Rentz's granddaughters Kelley Wade Owens and Kacey Wade Shetler both played college sports.
Mrs. Rentz was born in Sand Springs, Okla., the daughter of the late Edmund and Ellen Plog Wesley. After the family moved to Lexington, she enrolled at UK. She completed a master's degree in education in 1944, the same year she married Thomas "Tommy" Rentz of Lexington, whom she had met while working as a lifeguard at Woodland Park. Mrs. Rentz joined Transy later that year.
Family members said that in 1945 Mrs. Rentz coached or helped to coach the Transylvania basketball team, one of whose members was her husband.
Graveside services will be at 11:30 a.m. Thursday at Lexington Cemetery. A memorial service is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Thursday at the Henry Clay High School Auditorium. Kerr Brothers Funeral Home-Main Street is in charge of arrangements.
Contributions may be made to Spirit and Life Children's Home, 2045 Huckleberry Circle, Lexington, Ky., 40514.