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Blast from the Past: November 1963 -- Unforgettable

Les Knutson

Daily Globe 

HERON LAKE — I remember it vividly, like it happened yesterday.

I was in Mrs. Just’s fifth-hour seventh-grade English class at the K-12 Heron Lake Public School building and was sent to the office (on an errand, to get some chalk or more staples) and noticed that all of the other classrooms were empty.

Doing a little investigating, I discovered that the rest of the high school kids (8-12) were all sitting quietly in the balcony bleachers. Dashing back to my classroom, I told Mrs. Just the news and she took us down the steps and we (the whole seventh grade, about 18 of us) joined the somber group that was listening to the shocking news on the radio.

It was a cloudy and cool Friday in November. There was no snow on the ground outside — and inside it was quiet in the balcony, except for the crackling voice of the radio broadcast and the sobbing sounds of some high school girls who were crying.

It was Friday, November 22, 1963 — exactly 50 years ago today.

That day, of course, now lives on in infamy. For it was the tragic day of the assassination and death of President John F. Kennedy while riding in a parade in Dallas, Texas.

As we listened to the details that day in the gym balcony, little did we realize the impact that event had on America. It’s a day, as they say, that everyone who is old enough to remember the news knows exactly where they were and what they were doing when they heard what happened.

So, that’s my memory — from Friday.

Two days later, the story continued to unfold with another shocking event. Our family had just come home from church (Evangelical Lutheran in Heron Lake) to our Springfield Township (southern Cottonwood County) farm home and switched on the TV to see if there was more news from Dallas.

There was.

Right there, on live television, we saw it happen.

They were moving the alleged assassin Lee Harvey Oswald from one jail to another. This guy, Jack Ruby, comes up and shoots him — right in front of the cameras. Talk about eyewitnesses to a murder.

Yes, indeed, those were some shocking days — that fourth weekend of November, 50 years ago.

For me, it was the second sad news in less than a month’s time.

Just 25 days earlier (Oct. 28), we heard that our classmate Dale Gustafson’s younger brother Roger (an 11-year-old fifth grader) had died the day before (Sunday) of an accidental gun shot wound to the head. While carrying a gun, Roger had tripped and dropped the rifle, which fired as it hit the ground, releasing a bullet which took his life.

That was a tragic day, and I will never forget seeing Roger in the casket a few days later.

High School basketball

games were played

Due to the suddenness of the Kennedy tragedy, most Saturday college football games — including Wisconsin vs. Minnesota — were postponed.

On Sunday, the AFL (in its fourth year of existence) cancelled its games. But the NFL played, drawing some criticism on Commissioner Pete Rozelle.

For the record, the Vikings edged the Lions 34-31 on that Sunday when Ruby shot Oswald. Four days later, on Thanksgiving, the Badgers beat the Gophers, 14-9.

Meanwhile, the high school basketball season (boys’ only; it would be another decade before girls started) opened up with several games on that Friday night.

Worthington traveled to Fairmont on 11-22-63 and earned a 55-43 victory over the Cardinals as nine Trojans scored, including double figures from junior Skip Hoskins (14) and senior Ron Eshleman (12). Sophomore guard Marty Jorgensen scored nine points in his varsity debut. Tom Wing, Rich Mork and Doug Robinson were Worthington’s leading rebounders in that first game.

Slayton defeated Jasper (66-44) and Luverne claimed a 77-61 win over Fulda that same night.

Mike Kelley (20), Bob McDonald (11), Jim Johnson (10) and Dave Erlandson (10) all scored in double figures for the Wildcats, while Gary Sakry (14) and Ronald Griese (10) did the same for the Quartz-siters.

Del Jessen (21), Bill Toms (18) and Tom Kozney (12) paced Luverne, which scored 24 point in the second quarter, changing a 17-10 deficit into a 34-30 halftime lead. Leading scorers for the Raiders were Richard Tolzin, Bruce Nelson and Stan Nelson with 15, 14 and 13 points, respectively.

The Friday paper (it was an afternoon publication) featured preview stories on the upcoming basketball seasons for Mountain Lake, Jackson and Okabena.

Coming off a great football season, Mountain Lake’s Lakers were expecting big things in basketball, possessing average height, terrific speed and, according to the preview, “all the boys are good shots.” Paul Fuller, Don Dick, Dean Franz, David Joyce, David Pankratz, Roger Paulsen, Lowell Steinle, Jim Crawford, Charles Drews and the very fast Steve Klassen were the players listed. Both Steinle and Klassen were members of the Lakers’ state-qualifying 880-yard relay team the following spring.

Jackson’s listed players included senior captain Scott Hanson, along with Dennis Hummel, Dave Bornhoft, Denny Hale, Tom Willett, Bob Voda, Doug Pronk, Bill Peterson, Bob Haines, John Lee, Les Withers and Vernon Wing. George Gibbons was the Bluejays’ new coach after five seasons as the assistant at JHS.

At Okabena, new head coach Darrell Phelps and his assistant, Wes Anderson, had a large group of nine juniors on a Bluehawk squad which had only two players taller than six foot. Seniors Roger Christoffer, Jim Kruse, Wayne Finnern and Gene Holmquist were listed, along with juniors Steve Koster (6-2), LeRoy DeWall (6-1), Arnie Rients, Dale Olson, Harlan Rademacher, Mike Schmidt, Dave Christoffer, Verlon Ponto and Wayne Kolander. A trio of sophomores — Brad Glaser, Kevin Pomerenke and Randy Johnson — were also ready to contribute.

Corky Brace’s almost daily column, “Brace’s Bits,” featured his thoughts on the District 8 teams for the upcoming season, listing Terry Arends of Hills and Darwin Busselman of Lake Wilson as two of the best returning individual players.

Here’s a bit of prophesy from Corky:

“Luverne is always a big threat,” he wrote. “Coach Ray Merry will have a well-balanced team. The Cardinals have a tournament touch. It might take some time for Luverne to jell, but by the time the spring classic is in sight, the Merry crew will be ready to collect the bunting.”

How true. Luverne lost five games during the season, but won eight straight tournament games and claimed the ‘64 one-class state title.

The final week of the

‘63 football season

Worthington capped a strong five-game winning streak with a 20-13 victory over previously undefeated Redwood Falls on the final night — Friday, Nov. 1 — of 1963 high school football season, three weeks before the unforgettable day in Dallas.

That same night, Luverne rolled to a 25-13 win over Slayton, clinching a tie with Redwood for the Southwest Conference title. The Cardinals’ (LHS) only loss had been to the Cardinals (RFHS).

Scoring touchdowns for Luverne in the victory were Brian Wells (38 yards), Dave Mohler (one), Toms (seven) and Milo Herman (33-yard pass from Kozney). Wells, who the game report summary referred to as “speedy” also scored an extra-point and set up Mohler’s TD plunge with a 40-yard gain.

Trailing 25-0, Slayton (5-3, 3-3) scored the game’s last two touchdowns as a 32-yard pass play from Jim Johnson to Greg Stafne led to Bruce Fried’s eight-yard score, and halfback Tim Andrews later broke loose for a 56-yard touchdown run. Donald Grams made Slayton’s PAT.

Worthington, which lost early-season conference games to both Luverne and Slayton, was 1-3 before earning a hard-fought win over Jackson, changing the direction of its season.

“We all came to play that night,” remembers center/linebacker Tom Navara, who missed the Slayton game because of an illness. “We buckled it up against Jackson and closed out the season by winning five straight games, including the last one against Redwood Falls.”

The Trojans cruised past Waconia 38-0 in Game 8, as senior quarterback Dick Henry scored two touchdowns and fired a 25-yard TD pass to Eshleman. Wing and Mork were also favorite targets for Henry that night.

Hoskins intercepted a Waconia pass and dashed 40 yards for a Trojan touchdown and both Tom Rayl (30-yard TD to Dwayne Hochalter) and Jerry Griffith (35-yard completion to Tom Sowles) connected on big pass plays for WHS. Ron Febus scored on a seven-yard run after Sowles’ catch.

In that final night against Redwood Falls, Henry — who coach Milt Osterberg said “played just remarkable” — scored two touchdowns, recovered a fumble, kicked two extra points and rifled a TD pass to Wing.

A key pass interception by Gary Goetting late in the game helped the Trojans preserve their lead.

Osterberg had plenty of praise for Navara, saying:

“We have a very good player in the middle of our line who often goes unnoticed. But our center, Tom Navara, is a hard-nosed three-year veteran who makes very few mistakes.”

Navara, Henry, Wing and tackle Bob Holbrook were all named as all-state honorable mention players by the Minneapolis Tribune following the season.

That’s a look back at the some of the local sporting events from the late fall of 1963 when a fateful day in Dallas may have changed the course of history.