Updated: Feb 14
Doug and Susie Whitcraft with their granddaughter, Alexa Edwards, at an event in February 2021. (Photos courtesy of Susie Whitcraft)
A coach, a classroom teacher, a musician, a songwriter, an entrepreneur, a family man, a man of deep faith. But above all, Doug Whitcraft believed his purpose in life was to teach.
Whitcraft, 63, a teacher and coach for Prairie View middle and high schools, died on Jan. 16 from a rare form of brain cancer. He worked for the district for three decades before retiring in January 2021.
Susie Whitcraft, Doug’s wife of 44 years, said that her husband always saw teaching as his life’s work, whether it was teaching history in the classroom, how to be strong and avoid injury in the weight room or on the football field, and most of all showing young and old alike the reason for his Christian devotion.
Doug was born in 1958 to a couple that lived near Freeman, Mo., just across the border from Louisburg. Susie’s family moved just down the road from Doug’s family in a rural area when they were both in third grade.
As she describes it, it was an on-again, off-again relationship until the summer before their senior year at Cass-Midway High School when they started going together.
Doug was on the Midway Vikings football team, and in his senior year, the team had a perfect 13-0 record, including winning that Missouri state championship in the 1-A division. He was named the team’s most valuable player for that season.
Susie Woodall was a cheerleader, and after the couple graduated from high school in 1977, they married that July. After attending Central Missouri State College in Warrensburg for a year, the couple moved to Springfield, Mo., to attend Evangel University.
Doug, who had a double major in social sciences and physical education with a concentration in Bible studies, earned a bachelor’s degree with summa cum laude honors and was named the most outstanding physical education graduate.
He would later go on to earn a master’s degree in education administration from Pittsburg State University in Pittsburg, Kan., and only needed to complete a dissertation to earn his doctorate.
He played football as a sophomore at Evangel until the couple’s first child, Krista, was born. Susie said that whenever the team was playing at another college, he would look to find a church where he could minister to the kids.
Landing his first teaching job
After he graduated in 1982, he got a job at Piper High School working under his coach from Cass-Midway, Laurel Hobick. Although his first year there did not have a classroom assignment, he was defensive coordinator for the football team. The following year found him teaching social studies and weight training.
After teaching at Piper six years, he spent a year teaching and coaching at Princeton, Mo., before the job teaching social studies at Prairie View Middle School came open in 1988. With it came the opportunity to coach football. The young family, now with their youngest child Anna in tow, wanted to get back to rural living, and the new job was the perfect opportunity.
Doug and Sterling Hudson both applied for job, and instead of turning one of them down, Prairie View hired them both to teach and coach. Hudson was named head coach, and Doug took the defensive coordinator position in addition to teaching social studies and weight training and also being a track coach.
“Prairie View seemed like a good place,” Susie said. “By that time we had four kids, and that was the most important thing.”
Soon after he started teaching at Prairie View, Doug started a chapter of Fellowship of Christian Athletes there, and encouraged athletes to spend time in the weight room to help prevent injuries.
Band on the road
While he continued to be a track coach all during his tenure at Prairie View, after 15 years of coaching football, he stepped back from the gridiron to follow another passion: performing with his Christian alternative rock band, BarJudah.
Starting the band with three other musicians, Doug focused on that ministry, playing at schools, churches, festivals, games and other events. His sons Jeriah and Caleb eventually joined the band, and the group went on to record three compact disc albums.
As the group gained popularity, they played around the region, opening for nationally known performers, but also playing at such venues as Rock the Light festival at Starlight Theater and shows in Branson, Mo.
“It became a family thing,” Susie said. “We were on the road every weekend.”
Doug Whitcraft, center, performs with sons Caleb, left, and Jeriah during an event with the alternative Christian rock band, BarJudah.
BarJudah went on to earn band of the year honors at the Kansas City Christian Music awards. That same year, Doug was honored as artist of the year and for writing song of the year.
“Doug was a grounding force,” Susie said. “The whole point was we wanted kids to be encouraged or helped in some way. We want them to have something to do on Friday night instead of them being in trouble.”
The group toured for 10 years, and often loaded up equipment after a Saturday evening performance, driving all night so they could attend church on Sunday morning with little or no sleep.
The family faithfully attended services at La Cygne Christian Church before moving to the Living Proof Church in Paola about eight years ago.
Doug saw performing with the band as his calling to teach and preach and get the word out about God, she said. Although he saw it as his duty to spread the word about Christ, he never did consider going into the ministry. But by his example and teaching he was often mistaken for a pastor.
Doug would return to coaching, first as defensive coordinator again and then head football coach until he stepped down four years ago.
He coached varsity boys basketball for several years, and then coached middle school boys basketball until retirement. He also coached girls middle school basketball for several years.
“Whether football or basketball, you knew Doug's boys – and girls – would give you a defensive battle. He believed in giving it everything you had,” Susie said.
During that time, the Whitcrafts got into the fireworks business, setting up Crazy Suzy’s Fireworks in La Cygne to cater to area residents wanting fireworks to celebrate the Fourth of July.
Doug and his friend, Dave French, also spent summers painting houses and other buildings with their company, Coaches Painting. He continued to paint through the summer of 2020, and he and his partner did more than 30 jobs that summer.
“In July he told me he felt better than he had felt in years,” Susie said.
Doug and Susie Whitcraft, center, pose for group photo with their family shortly after Doug was diagnosed and released from the hospital in September 2020.
But in September 2020 doctors performed surgery on Doug, thinking he had a bacterial infection in his lung. “The last thing the surgeon said was, ‘Don’t worry, it’s not cancer,’” Susie said.
But it was, and that same doctor was in tears when he delivered the bad news. But Doug didn’t blame the doctor, instead turning to his faith to see him through the trials that lay ahead. Doug began to undergo chemotherapy to fight the disease.
Doug taught classes until January 2021. His health was compromised, and he couldn’t teach in person because of the pandemic. Although he had been teaching virtual classes, he thought it was unfair to his students to not be there in person. So he resigned, still a few years away from when he planned to retire.
True to his physical education background, Doug had kept in shape, running nine to 10 miles five days a week. A non-smoker who had a healthy lifestyle, the diagnosis of cancer was unexpected.
He continued to improve and last December began maintenance chemotherapy because doctors felt that the cancer was gone. But shortly thereafter cancer once again returned in a different form.
This time as a rare brain cancer that the doctor said would prove fatal within five weeks. Even worse, the doctor said the pain would be excruciating.
But it wasn’t. “We think God deadened the pain receptors,” she said. The family and friends prayed that Doug would not be in pain, and he did not seem to be in pain during his final days. He was taken to a hospice facility shortly before he died.
Susie said he always wanted to get the Good News out there. “I need to teach this right,” he would tell her.
“We know that he is healthy and happy again,” she added.
The couple’s son Jeriah received this email from a man in India a few days ago: “Really sorry for your loss. May The Almighty give strength to all of you.
“Your dad was a good man with an infectious laugh. I met him just once, but still remember his warm welcome and the way he thanked me for coming to watch his team's game. Rest In Peace Sir! This is … something which I will cherish life long.”
The family is setting up a scholarship fund for Prairie View students that can be used for education or for students who want to go on a mission trip. Those wanting to donate to the fund can do so by sending their donation to the Living Proof Church, Good News Scholarship Fund.
The visitation for Doug will be from 10 a.m. to 11 a.m. on Saturday, Feb. 5, with service following at 11 a.m. at Living Proof Church, 32401 Harmony Rd., Paola, Kan. 66071.