Bob Lehman passed away on July 3. Bob coached the Cardinal track team for 30 years and the short-lived boys gymnastics program in the 1960s. He also started a competitive mathematics team during his 39 years as an educator. That was only a part of the Iowa native's contributions to the community.
He was a doer, active in Boys Scouts, the Historical Society, and church, civic and military groups. In his 80s, I remember Bob sitting at the end of the basketball bleachers with Doc McCarthy and Ed Leschke. They were regulars until it became too hard for Doc to leave home.
Bob's seven children included one of the most distinctive names ever to grace these sports pages. Cricket Lehman ran track and cross country in the early 1980s. She lives in St. Louis Park and told me at her father's funeral that she never used her given name, Christine, except for legal or professional purposes.
Bob and his bride, Loretta, came to Willmar in 1948 after Bob's graduation from Mankato State. He got big money to come here. A letter dated June 4, 1948, from Superintendent Arthur M. Wisness made the Army veteran an offer he couldn't turn down.
"Since I have to follow our schedule," the superintendent wrote, "the best I can do Mr. Lehman is $2,750, which includes compensation for some athletic activities."
The money would have looked pretty good to Lloyd Lehn, who landed in Willmar two years earlier. The cagey Wisness signed the Navy veteran and St. Cloud Teachers College graduate for just $1,800 to teach math and contribute as a coach.
Now that his good friend has passed, Lloyd is the last district employee remaining with a link to the coaching staffs of the 1940s, and perhaps the 1950s.
Lloyd coached junior high football starting in 1946 under head coach Bill Hansen and his assistant Howard Iverson. Ace Hoberg, who came here in 1947 from Mountain Lake to head up basketball, boosted Hansen's 8th-12th-grade staff to three assistants.
Lloyd has special memories of Iverson. "He was the cleverest individual I ever knew," Lloyd told me. "I remember once in the 1950s he said, 'If we ever get (a salary) of $4,800 we'll have it made.' ''
Lloyd coached football and ninth-grade basketball until 1960. He quit after a summer accident while working for the highway department left him with a broken leg.
But Lehn forever will be remembered in Cardinal lore for his singular accomplishment of coaching the 1946-47 hockey team to the state tournament. To qualify, the rag-tag lot beat Granite Falls in a best-of-three series. At St. Paul, the small band of Cardinals played inspired hockey, but were no match for Eveleth or St. Cloud, schools with a hockey tradition.
Lloyd said he borrowed hockey stockings from a friend connected with the St. Cloud team. The rest of the gear was salvaged from the football storage closet. The starter team had played on Foot Lake the previous winter. Lloyd secured grain doors from the Northern Pacific Rail Road to use at Garfield Park the second year.
When Hoberg showed up, the legend is that he coveted the best athlete in the school -- Harlan Brogren -- and saw to it that the fledgling winter program disappeared.
Lloyd will be 90 in November. He's sharp and seemingly quite healthy. He lives alone in the same house he and his wife, Eleanor, moved to 50 years ago on Southwest 10th Street, just a block away from Garfield.
Eleanor died suddenly of lung cancer in 1970. She was 43 years old. Lloyd had seven children to raise alone. Six were at home and the oldest was starting college.
Lloyd recalls: "One of the kids told me, 'Don't worry dad, we'll make it.' ''
Six year ago Lloyd had surgery on his larynx. He ended up with cut vocal chords, he said, and has a tracheotomy. He speaks clearly in his natural voice by placing a forefinger over a metal valve on his throat.
It must be mentioned that Lloyd also officiated football and basketball with two legendary figures in Willmar sports history. Art Grangaard, the player/manager of the famous Willmar Rails of the late 1940s and early '50s was an officiating partner in the 1950s. Later he paired with Lefty Ranweiler, sports editor of this newspaper from 1958 until his death from cancer in March, 1974.
"We'd ref a game in Benson or Redwood Falls and have a beer afterwards and then Lefty would go into work that night at the Tribune and write up all those games and the next day he'd go down to the Minnesota Gophers football game. No one worked harder than Lefty; he was just a prince of a fellow."
Bob Lehman started coaching track under Al Lucas in 1948 and was head coach starting about 1958 until 1977.
Lloyd and Bob were close.
"We both went to the same church (St. Mary's) and our wives were best friends. When Eleanor died I think it was pretty tough for Loretta, too."
On the fly
Willmar had a player, Courtney Magnuson, on the Minnesota Comets 14U Elite girls basketball team that won the AAU Great Lakes Shootout Tournament in Menomonie, Wis, last weekend. The Comets, based in St. Cloud, are eighth and ninth graders and competed in the older Silver Division. The Comets compiled a 19-10 record and placed 10th in the AAU State Tournament, the highest finish in the Comets' program history. Ross Magnuson of Willmar was co-coach with Barry Peterson of St. Joseph.
Ridgewater College football coach Rob Baumgarn has a pre-camp roster with just over 100 names. He expects to see 75-80 to show for the first day of practice, Aug. 7. He'll be supervising a six-man coaching staff, four of those are volunteers. The 10-game schedule starts at St. Cloud State on Aug. 27 against Itasca CC.