The tears came quickly and hard, as they often do when someone close to you dies.
“I was the flower girl in his wedding,” Chester principal Missy Meyer said Saturday morning of Pat Knowles. “His wife was my babysitter.”
Knowles, the three-time girls basketball coach of the Yellow Jackets who enjoyed the most successful season of his career this past winter, died Wednesday morning from cancer at 67 years old. He passed at his Chester home, surrounded by family, including his wife of 43 years.
It was the second time the Yellow Jackets’ girls basketball program has been rocked by tragedy in the last five weeks. Assistant coach Jennifer King battled cancer for close to nine years before she passed on March 28. King left behind a husband and a coffee shop.
Knowles’ departure shook Meyer and many others to their core. While he wasn’t a teacher, he imparted his share of life lessons on and off the floor. He spent most of the last 20 years coaching multiple sports at Chester and St. John Lutheran School in Chester.
“It’s just a big shock,” Meyer said. “He was definitely a leader in the community. He was a very private guy, not flashy, and he was the type of guy that if you knew him and you saw him out somewhere like Walmart, you’d talk with him for 30 minutes because he wanted to catch up with you.
“He always took time to talk with people. In general, he was a super-great guy.”
Born on March 27, 1953 in Belleville, Charles Patrick Knowles graduated from Chester in 1973 and married Jennelle Klindworth on March 12, 1977. He worked for Union Pacific Railroad for 15 years before embarking on his two life passions — taxidermy and coaching.
Knowles started Wildlife Artistry and operated it for about 30 years. Being in business for himself allowed him the opportunity to shape more lives through coaching. He coached multiple sports all the way up from fourth grade to varsity.
During a memorial service Friday night held for Knowles at Colbert Gym, Meyer was talking with his wife and heard a remarkable anecdote.
“He never got a technical foul,” Meyer said.
Using his energy to coach instead of working officials, Knowles parlayed his experience and a star player in Destiny Williams to produce his most successful year in 2019-20. The Yellow Jackets posted a 26-6 record and finished tied for second in the competitive Black Diamond West, losing to Freeburg in a Class 2A regional championship game.
Chester won its tournament and tied for the championship of Carbondale’s mid-winter tourney, beating teams with two and three times its enrollment.
“He was a great guy,” former Vienna coach Jamie Kerley said on Twitter Friday night, “and I’m going to miss coaching against him.”
In addition to his wife, Knowles leaves behind two children, two grandchildren, three sisters, a special aunt, a brother-in-law and two sisters-in-law.
Meyer said Knowles’ cancer was recent and ravaged his body quickly.
“He had been in the hospital in Chester, and then they transferred him to St. Louis and they found cancer,” she said. “I got a call Tuesday evening that he was on hospice.
“I knew him my entire life. This is hard … he is going to be missed.”