Counselor, coach, collector: Jerry Jansen retires from college; continues antique pursuits
WORTHINGTON — Jerry Jansen wasn’t totally unfamiliar with Worthington when he decided to apply for a job in 1977 at what was then Worthington Junior College.
He had passed through the community quite often on the way to visit family in Onawa, Iowa, and had also wrestled as a student in the National Junior College Athletic Association tournament that was then hosted by Worthington.
Originally from Staples, Jerry attended Itasca Community College in Grand Rapids for two years; earned a bachelor’s degree in political science from the University of Minnesota, Morris; and had a master’s degree in college student personnel from Mankato State University. He was employed at a junior college in Grayslake, Ill.— newly engaged to wife-to-be Sharon — when he happened upon the job listing for Worthington.
“Actually, my boss at the College of Lake County was looking for a job, and there was this ad in the Chronicle of Higher Education for a counselor, a wrestling coach and a basketball coach,” said Jerry, whose qualifications fit the bill.
But Jerry looked at Worthington as a stepping stone to other opportunities — not as a place where he would live for the next 36 years.
“When we came for the interview, we got out by what was then Armour’s (now JBS), and I turned to Sharon and said, ‘Now, we won’t be here for more than three years, and I guarantee not more than five years,” recalled Jerry with a laugh. “I always thought my dream job was up in Willmar, but when it opened up, they offered it, and I turned it down.”
Jerry recently retired from Minnesota West Community and Technical College, Worthington campus, just one month short of putting in 36 years at the college. He and Sharon raised their three children — Nathan, Brittany and Tarryn — here, and now have one grandson, Leo.
“When I started in September 1977, they told me I had to have eight weights filled by Oct. 31, or they were going to put the wrestling season on hold and start again the next year,” explained Jerry about his initiation as the WJC wrestling coach. “On Oct. 31, I got the commitment for the eighth weight. I also coached baseball that first year, although it was more like I babysat baseball that first year. I wasn’t that knowledgeable about baseball. So I was an assistant football coach, head wrestling coach, head baseball coach, and I was in charge of going around and talking to all the high schools.”
His recruitment efforts — both academic and sports — encompassed schools within about a 60-mile radius of Worthington, and when combined with traveling with three sports teams, Jerry was on the road a good share of the time. He credits longtime Minnesota West teacher and coach Arlo Mogck and the late Bruce Traphagen for taking him “under their wings” during those early months at the Worthington college. Jerry only spent two years with the baseball program, but built up a solid wrestling program during 20 years as its head coach.
“The first time we beat Willmar was fantastic,” he reminisced about some of his coaching highlights. “We had this kid, Jeff Jandl from Jasper, and he got a win that secured the final score and we ended up beating Willmar. It was the first time a Worthington team had beat the Willmar team. I think it was the fourth or fifth year.”
During his tenure, Jerry coached two national wrestling champions — Leon Bullerman, who won two, and Justin Blasius. Teddy Bullerman was second in the nation, and there were many others who placed during the national events.
Outside of coaching, one of the more significant events in Jerry’s career was the creation of the college’s Post-Secondary Education Option program.
“Minnesota passed a law so that high school seniors and juniors could attend college classes, and I was the only one available to go to a meeting about it in the Twin Cities,” Jerry explained. “It turned into the PSEO program, and I ran it since the first day.”
PSEO has continued to grow since it started in the mid-1980s.
“It helps the students get their feet wet, so they know where they belong,” noted Jerry. “If they can do our work, they can do it at a four-year university.
“We also attract a lot of the older students, too — the nontraditional students,” he added, “and with the diversity, now we have students from all over the world, quite literally.”
Jerry witnessed many other changes on the college campus, including name changes — from WJC to Worthington Community College and now Minnesota West. In addition to his coaching and counseling duties, Jerry also served for a time as the college’s athletic director and even taught a few classes.
“When Arlo retired, I took over teaching geography, had two classes that I taught,” said Jerry. “I’m going to teach one of them again this coming spring — Intro to Geography.”
Change of pace
If there was a defining date in Jerry’s life, it would likely be March 3, 2004 — the day he suffered a series of strokes.
“I had two strokes — two or three,” he clarified. “I didn’t feel quite right when I got up that morning, and then about 9:30, I went over to (co-worker) Mike Fury’s office and suggested we needed to go to the doctor.”
In retrospect, Jerry realizes there were earlier signals that something wasn’t quite right with his health — signals he ignored.
“In February sometime, I can remember being in my office and walking around when I was kind of incoherent, but it went away as fast as it came,” he remembered.
The stroke forced Jerry to take time off work — the rest of that semester — and there are still lingering effects. The most noticeable is his speech, now very slow and deliberate as he sometimes struggles to come up with the right words and get them out.
“I have a hard time with the speaking part of it,” Jerry said. “That’s the main lasting effect.”
Despite such setbacks, Jerry managed to put nine more years into his career at the community college. But now in retirement, he’s turning his full attention to his hobby, which has been a sideline business for many years — antiques.
“I bought my first piece for resale in 1974,” Jerry said. “I just have always liked that old stuff. I had a roommate, Dave Johnson, and he drove an old Maverick that he’d load up his boxes of glass in and go to some flea market. He’d come back and say, ‘I made $500.’”
Intrigued, Jerry accompanied his roommate to a Twin Cities show, where he was introduced to antique guru and show promoter Luther Kolstad.
“I bought seven plates and cups and saucers on time and then picked them up when I finally paid for them,” Jerry recalled.
Glassware quickly became a passion and specialty for Jerry — buying and selling for other people along with a personal collection.
“It was really hot back then, and figured that people people liked it, and they would buy it,” he said. “Sharon and I have collected some Caprice by Cambridge, any of the Heisey stuff and lately the Fenton stuff.”
The base of operations for his enterprise, called Uncle Jer’s Antiques, is the Hodgepodge Lodge, an antique shop owned by Roy and Marlys Hodge located at 214 Eighth St., between Worthington’s downtown and the shore of Lake Okabena.
“I open it up for Dr. and Mrs. Hodge, and that’s where I can be found most days,” said Jerry, admitting that it’s pretty much a full-time gig. “I try to get down there at about 10 and go home about 4 — six days a week, and then Sunday from 1 to 4. When I’m not in town, it’s not open.”
Jerry likes having a fixed place to market his wares, although he also participates in a Sioux Falls, S.D., flea market and plans to return next year to one of the Okoboji, Iowa, market venues on the Fourth of July.
For Jerry, antiquing is all about the thrill of the hunt — and making a bit of a profit along the way.
“It’s thrilling to find the unique piece that I haven’t had before,” he said. “For instance, this spring I found a 10-inch vase in Rosepoint ... and I know a collector who didn’t have a 10-inch vase. ... I just like to go out and find stuff that I think is undervalued, and I can make a dollar on it.”
Daily Globe Features Editor Beth
Rickers can be reached at 376-7327.