Selvig will leave unique impression in Willmar lore

Dick Selvig, who wrote for this newspaper in the 1950s, died Oct. 6 at age 85. I knew him in his latter years but that was seeing only the tip of a fascinating iceberg.

Dick Selvig, who wrote for this newspaper in the 1950s, died Oct. 6 at age 85. I knew him in his latter years but that was seeing only the tip of a fascinating iceberg.

He is remembered by oldtimers as a gifted ballplayer -- both baseball and fast-pitch -- a WW II soldier, author, councelor, municipal judge, a wise-cracking tough guy, and self-admittedly, a belligerent drunk.

His rowdy years came first.

Howie Peterson, 85, played shortstop for the Willmar Rails state championship team in 1952. He and Selvig were teammates on Willmar High School baseball teams before both graduated in 1939.

"Willmar didn't have a town team in those years, so we played for Norway Lake or Kerkhoven," said Peterson, who lives in Benson.


"He was a good pitcher," said Peterson. "I think he threw seven shutouts one year."

Quipped Archie Hansen, 94, another great ballplayer from the golden era of town team baseball: "(Selvig) had big-legue potential but he couldn't stay sober."

Selvig's name shows up in box scores for the Rails of the semi-pro West Central League, but more often for the Willmar Kernals of the Corn Belt loop.

Gene Olson was recruited out of Lake Lillian by manager Art Grangaard to pitch for the Rails in the late 1940s. Olson spent 1951-54 working his way up the Yankees' farm system before arm trouble ended his professional career.

"Dick was a good guy but his enemy was booze," recounted Olson, who stayed to make his home in Willmar where he owned a car dealership.

He recalled Selvig and catcher Byron Sharpe going down south in the spring of 1947 for a tryout with the St. Paul ballclub, part of the Dodgers' chain at the time.

"Dick didn't stick it out and on the train back north he got so drunk they took him off the train and put him in a local jail," said Olson.

Such up-roars were occupational training. He became a highly-respected pioneer, a crusader really, in the field of alcholol counseling and treatment.


In his 1980 book High and Dry, written with Pioneer Press sports columnist Don Riley, Selvig writes: "I owe everything I am to my little hometown of Willmar, Minnesota. It knew me as a little boy and then a drunken troublemaker and gave me a chance to fight for my life and then help others as best I could. I suffered from acute alcoholism form 1939-1949 ... many there tried to aid me, but I was too crazy from alcoholism at the time."

He won a hometown judgeship, "Because I had so much experience in court, [people figured] I'd make a very humane judge."

Selvig's short tenure as sports editor immediately preceded that of Lefty Ranweiler, another acclaimed pitcher who was recruited out of Bird Island by the Rails.

Riley and Selvig, both recovering alcoholics, provided insight into the destructive disease. Their collaboration is sub-titled "How to Discover .. Understand ... and Love ... the Alchoholic, Family and Friends."

Selvig started his counciling career at the Willmar State Hospital in the 1960s. He went on to help establish counciling centers in North Dakota and Albert Lea. In retirement, he and his wife, Elsa, spent summers here on Lake Florida and winters in Arizonia. His memory had slipped away in recent years.

The name of his column -- "Dishing it out by Dick" --seemed to fit his pugnacious spirit. Yet his empathy for those who struggled is evident in his writing. In a September, 1957, column he wrote about the previous Tribune sports editor Loren Wolfe: "Drop Loren a line or two at the Veterans Hospital, as hospital life is a very lonely one."

College wrestlers

Jesse Nelson's Ridgewater wrestlers opened practice this week with a robust turnout of 14 returnees to the college work room, plus eight freshmen. The veterans include national qualifiers Brian Beilke (125 pounds) of Sauk Centre, Justin Turek 149) of New Prague, Cody Pahan (184) of Glenwood and Ben Thonvold (Hwt.) of Willmar, the latter finishing up his last week with the football team. Among new prospects are Brandan Schunck, a former Section 3A champion, three-time state finalist and the 130-pound champion at the 2005 state tournament as a senior.


"Having so many with a year of experience in the college wrestling will be key," said Nelson. "They know what to expect and they can help the younger kids develop." The first of 18 schedule competitons is Nov. 11 for the 2005 NJCAA Division III champions.

On the fly

Senior hitter Danielle Dahl (WHS 2003) had 13 kills and four ace blocks to help Concordia (9-0, 20-1) defeat St. Olaf 3-1 on Saturday in Northfield and clinch at least a share of the Cobbers' first-ever MIAC title in volleyball.

Seniors warming up for their final college swimming season are former Cardinals Ray Nelson, at St. Cloud State, and teammates Crysta Johnson and Cindy Dokkebakken at Minnesota State University Moorhead. Senior Scott Hagemeyer and sophomore Krista Koenen swim for Gustavus Adolphus.

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