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Bronze statue honors Windom pro footballer

Larry Buhler, a 1935 graduate of Windom High School, went on to a professional football career and was later commemorated in a statue by sculptor Arthur H. Norby. (SUBMITTED PHOTO)1 / 2
Larry Buhler, a 1935 graduate of Windom High School, went on to a professional football career and was later commemorated in a statue by sculptor Arthur H. Norby. (SUBMITTED PHOTO)2 / 2

WINDOM -- Though he became a Golden Gopher football legend during the "golden years" of Minnesota football, Windom native Lawrence "Larry" Buhler is now memorialized in bronze, a tribute to one of Cottonwood County' s most famous sons.

According to a biography on the University of Minnesota's Gopher Sports Web site, Buhler "was the team's leading scorer, a top backfield defender and a part-time punter during his career from 1936-38."

After posting a career rushing average of 4.8 yards per carry for the Bernie Bierman-led Golden Gophers, the 1935 Windom High School graduate went on to a three-year career with the Green Bay Packers.

The biography continues: "As a sophomore in 1936, Buhler cracked the starting lineup, joining an elite group as sophomores rarely started for Bierman. During that season ... Longhorn head coach Jack Chevigny stated that Buhler was every bit as good as Bronko Nagurski was as a sophomore. That year, Buhler led the team in rushing and average yards per carry (6.66)."

"He was an all-star high school football player, and just well-liked all around the town," said Windom resident Ray Sartorius. He, along with Lucille Lewis Nelson and Korky Byam, were instrumental in bringing the 8-foot statue to fruition.

With a laugh, Sartorius described fundraising efforts for the bronze-plated memorial as "begging"-- it was funded mainly by community donations. "It was a worthwhile project," he said.

Lewis Nelson said she served as the "silent partner," keeping records for fundraising efforts and doing grant writing.

"(Buhler) always was highly thought of. We got money from players who had played with him in the Green Bay Packers and from the Southwest Minnesota Arts Council," she said.

The county donated the land on the courthouse's front yard, where the statue now stands -- the figure itself cost $26,000 and was created by Granite Fallsbased sculptor Arthur H. Norby, who was also commissioned to create the Minnesota Korean War Memorial in St. Paul.

The statue, which shows Buhler in his 1940 Most Valuable Player uniform holding a football in one hand and helmet in the other, was dedicated during the city's Riverfest celebration in 1993.

"People come to see that, especially in the summertime," said Marilyn Wahl, a volunteer at the Cottonwood County Historical Society. "The courthouse square is used in summertime for craft shows and entertainment and (the statue) is seen then."

"Once we had a group of people from Sweden, and they were so fascinated that instead of a statue of a statesman, we had a football player," recalled Lewis Nelson.

Buhler merited a number of accolades in his short football career. He earned Honorable Mention All-America honors in 1938, was voted the Chicago Tribune Gopher Most Valuable Player and was named MVP by his teammates. He also placed third in voting for the Big Ten MVP and was selected to play in the prestigious East-West Shrine game. During each year of his Minnesota career, Buhler finished second in the All-Big Ten Team voting.

"Buhler was the fourthleading career rusher at Minnesota during the "golden years" of 1932-41, behind only Pug Lund, Bruce Smith and Harold Van Every. He was also in the top 10 in career total points and 100-yard rushing games during that era," details the Web site.

In 1939, Buhler moved on to a professional career, becoming Minnesota's second first-round NFL draft pick when the Green Bay Packers selected him with the ninth overall selection, according to the Gophers' biography.

He played halfback and fullback in 22 games for the Packers, including 11 in his final season.

"He was a standout there," Sartorius said.

"He was really the only person in Windom who attained pro football status," added Lewis Nelson.

He retired from the game in 1941 following a car accident, and returned to Windom to work on the family's hatchery and mink farm.

"He lived a very quiet life, he and Doris," said Lewis Nelson of Buhler and his wife. They were members of First United Methodist Church in Windom, and Larry continued to support high school athletics in town.

Though Buhler died in 1990 at the age of 73, his legend lives on in the University of Minnesota "M" Club Hall of Fame, in which he was inducted in September 2007, alongside gymnast Delver Daly and football player Sigmund Harris.

The Hall of Fame aims "to honor achievements and to preserve the tradition of those athletes, coaches and athletic staff members who have contributed in an outstanding and positive way to the University of Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletics Department," the Web site states.