Growly Bear just has a way with kids

Tom Loewy

Laurie Simkins knows quite a man.

He starred as Growly Bear, served as guest star of every neighborhood pick-up game played with ball, bat or imaginary monster and patiently tried to teach volleyball to a girl with plenty of interest but precious little athletic ability.

Harley Knosher was — and still is — the flame that drew children like moths. Some knew him as a swim coach at Lake Rice, others as a golf coach, basketball coach or Knox College’s athletic director for 32 years.

To Laurie, Knosher is simply Dad.

The 45-year-old recalled growing up with one of Galesburg’s most revered coaches Tuesday afternoon while she hung uniform pants in the new retail storefront at Go Van Gogh’s: The T-shirt Factory.

“When I think of my dad, I think of the neighborhood games he played with us after he got home from work,” Laurie said. “We played a game called Growly Bear Around the House. Of course, he played the Growly Bear. He shuffled around the house in the dark growling and we all ran around screaming.

“He always played the neighborhood games with us. I think a lot of kids might remember him from that.”

Laurie finished hanging a set of black baseball pants and moved on to a pile of softball jerseys.

“Sports have been a huge part of my life. I have four kids — two sons and two stepdaughters — and all of them play sports. I spend a lot of time going to games.

“If we aren’t watching the kids, then we watch games on TV and we still go to games at Knox College.”

Laurie sat in the space vacated by the now-hanging softball jerseys. She put her right arm across her knees and rested her chin in her left hand.

“The funny thing? The dad had two daughters with absolutely no athletic ability. None. I tried to play basketball. I remember Donna Lindsey was my coach. I was the center who just stood there.”

Laurie laughed and clapped her hands once.

“He never made me feel bad about it and he never pushed me to play anything. I never felt like he was disappointed that we didn’t play sports. Never. I remember her trying to teach Kathy, my sister, to play volleyball out in the backyard with an old clothesline strung up.

“There was no talent there. We were really bad.”

Laurie settled back into her arm-across-knees, chin-in-hand Thinker pose.

“So he was Growly Bear. When my sons were growing up, it became Zombie Ball Tag. Dad was out there with the boys while they whaled on each other with balls.

“When I had my sons and they actually had some athletic ability, that was a great day.”

Sun poured through Go Van Gogh’s all-window front. Laurie lowered her lids over her blue eyes.

“When Dad was gone on trips, that was fun, too. My mom, Peg, would take us out for all the food Dad hated — tacos, spaghetti.

“I remember we used to go to a taco place on the corner of Main and Academy. That was fun.”

Laurie sat up and shaded her blue eyes with her right hand.

“Family vacations were fun. That was something.”

She smiled.

“We’d drive to see relatives in places like Florida or Colorado and along the way we’d stop at motels. Of course, we’d go down to play games in the pool with my dad. Pretty soon, every kid near the pool was in playing some game with us.

“I remember feeling like I had to share my dad with all these other kids.

Laurie’s smile did not waver.

“But it struck me even back then — when I was still young — that I was the only kid who had an adult in the pool with them. He would start games and he just drew the kids.

He’s a magnet.

“He’s just a special man.”

Laurie still shaded her eyes with her right hand.

The long shadow cast by Growly Bear is sought and comforting.

Tom Loewy is a reporter for The Register-Mail. Contact him with column ideas at or 343-7181, Ext. 256.