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Basche will be missed

WORTHINGTON — Long-time Worthington educator, coach and community volunteer Don Basche died Wednesday after suffering a massive stroke. 

The 80-year-old fell ill during a meeting of the Hospice Cottage Inc. Board of Directors, of which he served as president, and later died at Sanford Worthington Medical Center.

Basche was known to many in the Worthington area. He served as a teacher in Worthington School District 518 for decades, and also led the Trojans boys basketball team for 28 years until turning over the reins to Ron Vorwald in the 1989-1990 season. After his retirement, he dedicated his time to volunteer roles in the community, serving on the Habitat for Humanity board of directors, filling the role as chairman of the Rock-Nobles Community Corrections board for the past 16 years and serving in various capacities in other organizations.

Gary Prins worked alongside Basche as one of the board members of Hospice Cottage Inc. Basche became involved in the local organization after losing his own son, Scott, to cancer seven years ago. Scott had been under Hospice care at the time of his death.

“(Don) really had a passion for Hospice,” Prins said, adding that Basche was elected president of the board earlier this year.

“With the Hospice Cottage, when he grabbed ahold of something, he got it done,” continued Prins.

Basche was instrumental in getting the walking path constructed at the cottage and had moved on to a new endeavor — getting a bathing tub for the facility.

“His last comment on his notepad said, ‘Stay on it,”’ Prins noted. “And that describes Don. He made things work.

“The community is really going to miss him.”

Prins had known Basche for 50 years, stretching back to high school when he was a student and Basche a coach.

Former WHS coach and athletic director Mike Traphagen of Worthington recalled his own days playing basketball for Basche while in high school.

“He was a great mentor for me,” Traphagen said. “Having him as a high school coach, I was very fortunate to have played for him. He was just a straight-up guy.

“He was a very competitive guy in everything that he did, which is what makes a successful coach,” Traphagen continued. “But he was very fair. He pushed us hard but he always wanted us to have fun.”

Like many, Traphagen said it was a shock to learn of Basche’s death.

“It hurts,” he said.

“He was extremely hard-working … very passionate not only about Worthington High School but also the community of Worthington. He will be sorely missed,” added Vorwald, saying he was “eternally indebted” to the man who had helped get him started as a varsity boys basketball coach.

Retired WHS football coach Denny Hale first met Basche as a high school freshman at Jackson, playing against Basche’s teams.

“His teams were always good,” he said. “You always knew Worthington would put a good team on the floor. He had a great coaching career and did a great job as an athletic director.”

More than that, Hale saw how Basche transitioned into retirement.

“He’s been such a mainstay in the community and helping those in need,” Hale shared. “If I had an extra chair, he knew where to take that chair; if I had an older television set that I wanted to get rid of, he knew what to do with it.”

“I think he was just dedicated to his community and improving the lives of everybody in the area,” said Jon Ramlo, director of Rock-Nobles Community Corrections. Basche served on the agency’s board for more than 24 years — the past 16 years as its chairman — and often attended the state conference.

“He’d go there with an open mind … and always on return, he’d say, ‘Let’s look into this — see if it’s feasible for our area,’” Ramlo said.

While people, at times, may give up on folks, Ramlo said Basche never had that attitude.

“He had the personality (to say) how can we help each other out and improve the lives of everyone,” Ramlo said.

That was evidenced by Basche’s service with Habitat for Humanity as well. During home builds in Worthington, Basche could be found with a hammer in his hand and working to ensure the build was going as planned.

Sharon Johnson served with Basche on the Habitat for Humanity board of directors for several years and said he was “very committed to building decent, affordable housing for our whole region.”

Basche was volunteer coordinator for one of the home builds in Worthington. On another occasion, he and his wife, Marcia, served as a partner family to one of the Habitat’s new homeowners in Worthington.

“That’s a really big commitment,” Johnson said. “They provided mentorship to the homeowner about home ownership and financial management. He was definitely hands-on, and did a great job of recruiting volunteers and leading by example.”

It was that hands-on volunteerism that Ramlo appreciated as well. His staff also enjoyed Basche’s visits to the corrections office every once in a while with a box of donuts.

“He’d say, ‘I know they’re not good for you, but eat them up anyway!’” Ramlo shared.

Basche definitely had a sweet tooth — garnering him the nickname Sugar Junkie around the high school, said long-time friend and neighbor Rolf Mahlberg.

“Don Basche had the sweetest tooth of anybody I ever knew,” he said, adding that when he brought his own children over to the Basche house on Lake Ocheda, Don would find a good reason to go to the freezer and get some popsicles.

Mahlberg and Basche hunted deer together for 35 years, and hunted waterfowl for at least 30 years along the shores of Lake Ocheda.

“It was kind of cute because he was such a good shot and I was a horrible shot,” Mahlberg said. “For 35 years I would be Don’s deer dog. We determined that early on I was the right one to move the deer because he was the one that could shoot — he just had this knack for deer hunting.”

Over the years, Mahlberg guessed Basche dropped at least 20 deer in hunts they conspired on.

One time, though — and Mahlberg still laughs at this — Basche came up and said he thought he shot a deer but wasn’t sure.

“He was so color blind, it was comical,” Mahlberg shared. “He was 100 percent color blind in the red. He knew, because he was such a good shot, that he hit him.”

Sure enough, Rolf saw the pool of red blood that Basche couldn’t see, and they found the deer less than 50 feet away.

“We just have so many fond memories of hunting on Lake Ocheda,” Mahlberg said. “He just loved the outdoors.

“He had so much character — that’s the hard part for me,” he added with a catch in his voice.

With one more story to share, Mahlberg talked about the time he rode along with Basche to a hunting area near Sioux Valley with an Irish Setter Basche was determined to make into a hunting dog.

“Don took a cloth diaper and tied it around the dog’s head and tied 50 feet of baler twine to this dog of his,” Mahlberg shared. “A rooster gets up, Don shoots and all you see is the dog laying on his back, flipping the diaper off his head and heading to Don’s truck. Don got the biggest kick out of that.

“I know that that was one of the funniest cotton pickin’ times trying to get good hunting out of a dog that was gun-shy,” he added.

Services for Don Basche will be at 10:30 a.m. Saturday at the American Lutheran Church, Worthington. Visitation will be from 5 to 7:30 p.m. today, and from 9:30 to 10:30 a.m. Saturday, all at the church. Burial will be at a later date in Fort Snelling National Cemetery, Minneapolis.

Daily Globe Reporter Julie Buntjer may be reached at 376-7330.