Anyone compiling a list of North High School’s most influential people would put Jordan “Turk” Eliades in the top spot.
Eliades, days short of his 94th birthday, died Thursday night surrounded by family at his home in north Bakersfield.
Eliades joined the North faculty as a math teacher and varsity football head coach when the school opened in 1953. He was there 32 years before retiring in 1985.
“He’s one of the greatest men I’ve ever known. I’m really sad he’s gone,” said Greg Williamson, who retired as Bakersfield’s chief of police this week and graduated from North in 1982.
Williamson played two seasons for Eliades and was an All-City lineman his senior year.
“When you were on the football field, things equated back to life,” Williamson said. “If you went on to play football somewhere, that’s good. But for his players and students: After being with him, they would be better prepared to go out into life and succeed.”
North High’s football stadium was renamed Eliades Field in his honor. Eliades was inducted into the Bob Elias Kern County Sports Hall of Fame in 1991, was part of the 2013 inaugural class of the North High Hall of Fame and also is in the White Pine High School (Nev.) Hall of Fame.
Karen Langston, a 1984 North graduate, took two math classes from Eliades. She’s now an associate athletics director at Cal State Bakersfield and was the first chairperson for North’s Hall of Fame.
“Most people who had him in class loved him as a teacher,” Langston said. “Most people talk about him as a legendary coach. But they don’t realize his impact in the classroom. He had such a memorable style as a teacher. He taught like he coached. He was so animated and enthusiastic in the classroom. I could tell you 100 classroom experiences.”
Eliades grew up in McGill, Nev. He enlisted in the Air Force shortly after the Pearl Harbor attack and had two stints in Bakersfield during the war before he volunteered to go overseas and was sent to Europe.
A fighter pilot, Eliades shot down one German plane and was later shot down in the final year of the war. He spent six months in a German POW camp before it was liberated.
He returned to Kern County in 1950, when he was hired as a teacher and coach at Shafter High School. When North opened in 1953, Eliades joined the faculty as a math teacher and the Stars’ first varsity football head coach.
Eliades compiled a 175-117-8 record with the Stars from 1953 to 1984 and was equally passionate as a math teacher.
“What a great life he had,” said Jack O’Brien, who was an assistant coach on Eliades’ staff for 15 seasons and was North’s varsity football coach in the 1990s. “I can’t know the number of lives he touched.
“The whole school’s history is wrapped around Turk Eliades. Everyone around Turk benefited and came out a better person. ...
“He took a bunch of Oildale kids and made them believers, not only on the football field but in the classroom. He was a tremendous math teacher. This community will really miss him.”
Tony Silver, a coach and teacher at North for 37 years, said he coached with Eliades for six or seven years.
“The end of his career was the start of mine,” Silver said. “He was really great to my kids and a mentor to me. He was quite a leader.”
Don Ward coached at South High for 26 years, including 16 as varsity football head coach, and then was Stockdale’s first athletic director. First, he was North’s quarterback in the 1954 and 1955 seasons.
“I’m not the only one he was a second father to,” Ward said. “He was a second father to thousands, especially the boys who played for him.
“I know the influence he had on me. I’m probably the only one who played for him who ended up a football coach and math teacher like him.”
“When we’re born, if we could sign on to have the life he had, we’d sign the paper immediately,” Ward said. “He influenced a lot of people.”
Ned Permenter, Foothill’s varsity football head coach for 37 years before he retired in 2001, faced Eliades-coached teams numerous times. Eliades was part of a special group of coaches who were already established by the time Permenter began coaching, he said.
“Turk, Paul Briggs (at Bakersfield High), Larry Lafond at South, Bob Carroll at Garces, Migs Apsit at East — all World War II guys who were around when I got started,” Permenter said. “None of them are around anymore.
“The way they coached, there was never any problem with film exchange. Their handshake was their word, their bond. That was such a special period. They didn’t go for three or four years and look for another job. They gave those schools their life. ...
“Those North of the River people are their own nation and pride,” Permenter said. “He was a good fit for those people out there. He was a heck of a trailblazer in this community.
“I’m the last of the Mohicans. I’m glad I got a chance to go up against guys like Turk and Paul Briggs.”
Eliades and his wife, Cookie, were married for 63 years before her death in 2010.
He is survived by sons Tim, Daniel and Jay; daughter Jane Eliades Davidsaver; and grandchildren Jill Davidsaver, Jason Davidsaver and Jordan Eliades.
A celebration of life is scheduled for 11:30 a.m. Jan. 5 at North High’s Eliades Field. In lieu of flowers, the family has set up a Jordan and Frances Eliades Memorial Scholarship Fund at North High. Contributions can be sent to North High, attention finance office.