BLAST FROM THE PAST: Baldy will be missed, Thompson featured Saturday, more about the 1961 tournamentWORTHINGTON — Friends, family and colleagues of Floyd W. “Baldy” Nelson gathered at the American Lutheran Church in Worthington Saturday for a Memorial Service for Nelson, who passed away at the age of 93 in Maplewood in early February.
By: Les Knutson, Worthington Daily Globe
WORTHINGTON — Friends, family and colleagues of Floyd W. “Baldy” Nelson gathered at the American Lutheran Church in Worthington Saturday for a Memorial Service for Nelson, who passed away at the age of 93 in Maplewood in early February.
Inducted into the Augustana College (Sioux Falls, S.D.) Athletic Hall of Fame in 1973, Nelson was featured in a Daily Globe article written by Aaron Hagen in October of 2007.
Nelson had been an outstanding football player at Augie in the late 1930s and early 1940s, playing well enough to receive offers from five professional teams.
But after graduating in 1942, Nelson — like so many of his generation — joined the military, enlisting in the United States Navy.
After completing officer candidate school at Columbia University in New York City, Nelson served as a Deck Gunnery and Recreation Officer in the Pacific Theatre during the remainder of World War II.
Prior to heading “out to sea,” Nelson married his college sweetheart, Agnes Louise Tonning, on August 19, 1943.
I knew “Aggie” well. Mrs. Nelson was the librarian at Heron Lake High School for many years and was my English teacher in both my eighth and ninth grade years.
Then a few years later, I was a colleague of Aggie’s as we both were teachers at HLHS.
She was a wonderful woman and a great teacher.
I knew “Baldy” just a little.
He was with Aggie at several of our faculty functions and always had a kind word to say, as he was genuinely interested in what was going on in the “world of the Falcons.”
While Nelson had an interest in HLHS athletics, it was the Worthington Trojans who really caught his attention and dedication.
“What a tremendous educator, Baldy was,” praised long-time friend and colleague Ken Thompson. “He did a great job as the head track and field coach for so many years, including starting the Trojan Relays. He was the line coach in football and he even started the wrestling program at Worthington in about the third year he was here.”
I didn’t know all of that.
I just knew that Baldy had a lot of thick white hair, that he was Mrs. Nelson’s husband, and that he was a very nice guy.
“Baldy was a class guy all the way,” exclaimed Heron Lake’s Don Steen, who officiated basketball games with Nelson several times and also knew him through Aggie, as Don’s wife, Laurie was also an English teacher and librarian — at HLHS and later at Lakefield.
“Baldy was a tremendous athlete, having once hit a double off of Bob Feller (Cleveland Indians Hall-of-Famer from Van Meter, Iowa),” recalled Steen, who noted that Nelson was an All-State football player as a halfback at Cambridge High School in 1935.
Nelson’s double off Feller came in an impromptu baseball game on a Pacific atoll during WW II.
While excelling in all sports, track was Nelson’s favorite — and he was able to pass that passion onto numerous successful athletes at Worthington during his tenure as the head “cinder” coach for the Trojans.
“Coach Nelson loved track and worked hard at getting us extra opportunities,” remembered retired Owatonna athletic director Gary Ridge, who was a stellar all-around performer for the Trojans, excelling as a state-meet qualifier in the high hurdles as a senior in 1961. “He was a terrific coach who really did a great job of emphasizing both the team and individual aspects of the sport.”
Starting the Trojan Relays in 1953, Nelson had to endure lots of mixed weather conditions as the multiple-school event became increasingly popular over the years.
“He was the ramrod of the whole thing,” Thompson recalled of Nelson’s involvement with the Trojan Relays. “There were so many others — like Reuben Svingen, Danny Regnier, Swede Lundgren and Doug Ahlf, to mention a few — who put in so much time, lining the track and working on lots of other details, which needed to be taken care of for a such a large meet.”
Nelson later passed the torch of directing the Trojan Relays on to Rich Adel and John Forsythe, who passed it down to Larry Petersen and on to Mike Traphagen and Ken Henkels, as the Trojan Relays continues to be an outstanding area athletic event.
Thank you, Floyd “Baldy” Nelson — your legacy lives on!
Thompson featured in Saturday’s Review
Nelson was one of several outstanding athletes — and class gentlemen — who graced the WHS teaching and coaching staff during the decades of the ‘50s, ‘60s and ‘70s.
Nelson started in Worthington in 1951 and retired in 1982.
Thompson came to town a few years earlier, beginning in 1947 and also retired from WHS in 1982.
Be sure to pick up a copy of Saturday’s huge edition of the Daily Globe — with its four extra sections, known as the Annual Review.
A most interesting character, Thompson is featured — with pictures and a long story — in one of those sections.
I had the privilege of three previous opportunities to visit with Ken — once about his 1957 golf team which won the state championship, once about “town team” baseball in Worthington during the late ‘40s and through the ‘50s, and once seeking his input about my 1950s all-time, all-area basketball team — but this visit was the best yet.
It was truly fascinating and I hope readers will enjoy the story.
A bit more about those ’61 Bluehawks, Bluejays
Two weeks ago, I wrote a feature about the 1961 Okabena Bluehawks, who won 19 of 21 games, claiming the co-championship (with Ceylon) of the Southern Star Conference and finishing as the District 7 runner-up after an impressive 69-44 district semifinal victory over perennial power Mountain Lake.
An interesting fact about doing that story was how the players were quickly on the phone, calling each other and telling one another what was happening.
I know the players — and Coach Darold Baumgard — certainly appreciated the “blast back in time.”
Here are a couple of facts which didn’t make the story — one from 20 years before and one from 24 years after.
Okabena and Jackson had met one time previously in the District 7 championship game — 20 years earlier in 1941.
Jackson won a close game, 38-35, ending a 21-game winning streak for the Bluehawks.
Baumgard brought in two of the stars from that ’41 team — Warren “Lefty” Gentry and Meryl Ostwald — to talk to the OHS squad and speak at the school’s pepfest on the day of the ’61 title game.
Jackson won that night, 55-50, and then went on to defeat St. James (70-64) in the Region 2 semifinals at Worthington.
The season ended for the Bluejays with a 65-52 loss to defending state champion Edgerton in the regional finals, after trailing by just one point, 27-26, at halftime.
Twenty-four years later, Jackson and Heron Lake-Okabena (consolidated since 1978) tangled again in the District 7 championship game on the Worthington floor.
Playing guard for the Scarlet Knights was smooth-passing junior Todd Johnson — son of ’61 senior starting guard Dave Johnson.
Scott Kruse remembers
HL-O’s leading scorer and rebounder was Scott Kruse — whose twin daughters (Brittney and Courtney) starred for Jackson County Central during the Huskies recent run to the state tournament, and older sister Ashley sparked Iowa Central (Fort Dodge, Iowa) to the NJCAA Division II junior college national tournament in Peoria, Ill.
With Dave Milbrath (17) Kruse (16) and Johnson (11) — a trio of Okabena residents — each scoring in double figures, the Scarlet Knights won in a thriller, 54-50, giving the community its first-ever victory over Jackson in a district title game.
“That sure felt good,” remembered Dave Johnson. “I always thought that we should have or could have won that game in ’61, but when Todd’s team won it all in 1985, I was sure happy for those guys.”
HL-O went on to defeat St. Clair in the ’85 Region 2 semifinals at Mankato State’s Highland Arena before being defeated by Ceylon in the championship game.
Four years earlier, Kruse — as eighth-grader, shooting baskets in the HL-O junior high gym in Heron Lake at the beginning of physical education class — had said that March 21 should become a permanent holiday in the two towns and should always be a “day off of school.”
Kruse said this exactly 30 years ago today — Monday, March 23, 1981, — the same day the Daily Globe had a huge spread about what Kruse was talking about.
Kruse was referring to Saturday’s (March 21, 1981) state girls’ championship won by the Scarlet Knights.
That story — and others — will be coming up in the next two weeks, as we “wrap up” basketball before spring sports take over these pages.