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Obituary: Jefferson T. Hennessy Sr. – Faculty 1959-88 & Gymnastics/Trampoline Coach – March 24, 2015

Jefferson T. Hennessy Sr.
October, 27, 1929 to March 24, 2015

Memorial services for Jefferson T. Hennessy Sr, age 85 will be held at David Funeral Home at 316 Youngsville Hwy in Lafayette Saturday March 28, 2015 at 3:00PM. Visitation will begin at 2:00PM Saturday March 28, 2015 in the funeral home.

“Coach” Jeff Hennessy, the former Distinguished Professor at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, died at the age of 85 in Lafayette, Louisiana, on March 24 following an extended illness. He was renowned internationally as the “father” of the sport of trampoline, coaching numerous world and national champions and serving as United States team coach from 1964 to 1980. He also played a key role in getting trampoline accepted into the Olympic Games, and he was inducted into the USA Gymnastics Hall of Fame in 1992.

Jefferson Thomas Hennessy, Sr., son of Lera Bryant Hennessy (deceased) and Leo James Hennessy (deceased), was born on October 27, 1929, in Ancon, Canal Zone, Panama but relocated to Monroe, Louisiana, in 1941 on the eve of World War II. He graduated from Neville High School in Monroe and earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Education from Northwestern State University in Natchitoches, Louisiana, in 1951.

While at Northwestern, Hennessy was a member of the swimming and gymnastics teams. He won the Southern AAU National springboard diving championship twice and was introduced to trampoline through George Nissen, the inventor of the modern trampoline.

After working as a math and social studies teacher, as well as a football and track coach in the Ouachita Parish School system in Monroe, Hennessy returned to Northwestern as an instructor of Physical Education and coach of the university’s swimming, diving, and gymnastics teams; he completed his Master of Science degree in Education at Northwestern in 1958.

In 1959, Hennessy moved to Lafayette, Louisiana, where he became Associate Professor of Physical Education at the University of Southwestern Louisiana (now the University of Louisiana at Lafayette). He was director of the gymnastics and trampoline programs, quickly establishing the trampoline program as the best in the world and bringing international acclaim to the city and university.

Hennessy was instrumental in establishing the first trampoline World Championships, which were held in London, England, in 1964. He hosted the 1966 World Championships at UL, and in 2014 he was a distinguished guest at the 50th anniversary World Championships in Daytona Beach, Florida. In addition, he was a member of the United States Olympic Committee for Gymnastics.

As a coach, Hennessy led the U.S. team in nine World Championships. His athletes won a total of 26 World Championship medals. Most notable among his athletes were his daughter, Leigh Hennessy, who won two World Championships; national champion and 1969 Miss America Judith Ford; World Champion and 1984 Olympic diving medalist Ron Merriott; World Champions Don Waters, Gary Smith, Bobby Neely, Jim Cartledge, and Wayne Miller; and National Champions Jimmy Yongue and Stuart Ransom.

His athletes won more National Championships than he was able to recall. As a measure of his accomplishments, his gym on the UL campus produced more world and national trampoline champions than anywhere else in the nation. In addition, his UL gymnastics team was undefeated in 1960 and 1961, and the trampoline team was National AAU Champions from 1964 to 1975 and 1979 to 1981.

Hennessy was named UL Distinguished Professor in 1982 and retired in 1986. He was the author three books and numerous articles about trampoline. Chief among his many awards were membership in the USA Gymnastics Hall of Fame, the International Gymnastics Hall of Fame, the World Acrobatics Society Hall of Fame, and the U.S. Trampoline Association Hall of Fame. He was also named the Amateur Athletic Union Outstanding Coach of the Year in 1970 and 1972 and the American Trampoline and Tumbling Association Outstanding Coach of the Year in 1982.

“Coach,” as he was affectionately known around the world, is survived by his wife of 63 years, Ruth Hennessy of Broussard, Louisiana; his son Jefferson T. Hennessy Jr. of Houston, Texas; his daughter Leigh Hennessy of New Orleans, Louisiana; and his daughter Kay Hennessy of Phoenix, Arizona.

He is survived by his wife Ruth West Hennessy of Broussard, Louisiana, and three children: Jefferson Thomas Hennessy, Jr., Houston, Texas; Leigh Hennessy Robson and her husband Mark Robson, New Orleans, Louisiana; and Kay Hennessy, Phoenix, Arizona. He is survived by one sister, Lera Hennessy Harris and her husband William “Bill” Harris and their son Scott; another sister, Kathleen Hennessy Neal (deceased) and her husband Jackie Neal of Monroe, Louisiana, and nephew Mark Neal of Monroe, Louisiana.

In lieu of flowers, the family requests donations be made to the “Jeff T. Hennessy Award” that was established by the USA Gymnastics Foundation in 2003 to provide scholarships for trampoline and tumbling athletes. To make a donation, please mail to: The Hennessy Scholarship Fund, c/o USA Gymnastics, 132 E. Washington St., Ste. 700, Indianapolis, IN 46204.

Condolences may be sent to the family at www.davidfuneralhome.org

David Funeral Home316 Youngsville Hwy 337-837-9887 is in charge of arrangements.

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Athletic Network Footnote by Ed Dugas.
Click here for the AN profile of Jeff Hennessy.
To view over 20 years of Gymnastics/Trampoline photos, click www.athleticnetwork.net , Photo Gallery (left side of home page),
Gymnastics/Trampoline, the 1960-2012 years.
Click here for story by Kevin Foote, the Advertiser, March 26, 2015.