Willmar notebook: Gopher coaches coming

The public will be able to visit and take pictures with their favorite Minnesota Gopher coaches Tuesday at the Willmar American Legion. Expected among the 10 to 12 mentors are men's hockey coach Don Lucia, wrestling coach J Robinson, football coa...

Bud and Joan Groen
Tribune photo by Rand Middleton Bud and Joan Groen moved off the farm 27 years ago to Big Kandiyohi Lake to manage County Park No. 1, shown in a circa 1967 aerial photo.

The public will be able to visit and take pictures with their favorite Minnesota Gopher coaches Tuesday at the Willmar American Legion. Expected among the 10 to 12 mentors are men’s hockey coach Don Lucia, wrestling coach J Robinson, football coach Jerry Kill and new women’s basketball coach Marlene Stollings, with remarks by athletic director Norwood Teague.

The Chalk Talk tour bus should arrive about 11 a.m. at the American Legion. From 11:30 to noon, fans will have a chance to mix with coaches. Bob Grim, the Gophers’ radio voice, will MC the program.

There’s no charge and there’s a complimentary lunch, thanks to the support of local businesses.  The Chalk Talk website urges attendees to wear their maroon and gold. Pre-registration is encouraged at 1-800-846-7437 or at

From Willmar, the bus heads to Park Rapids for an evening program. On June 3, the tour stops in Redwood Falls. This is the second year Willmar has been on the bus route; doesn’t hurt that local clergyman Dean Johnson happens to be on the Board of Regents.    

Boys tennis rising


Four teams are left in Section 2AA-South. No. 3 Willmar (12-3) takes on No. 2 Mankato East Cougars at Mankato today while No. 4 Hutchinson is at top-seed Mankato West.

Willmar head coach Jim Anderson mapped out the Cardinals’ route to victory.

“East is very strong at No. 1 and No. 2 singles. We need to sweep doubles and grab a win in singles,” Anderson said. “We lost to Mankato West in our first match of the season, 4-3. West beat East 4-3 so we showed we can play with each of these teams. The message to our kids is ‘We now need to play our best tennis and we will win.’ ’’

Regardless of the outcome, the splendid season, played in difficult elements, has been a real boost for Cardinal tennis.

True test at Stillwater

Willmar track and field won its True Team Section, both boys and girls. At 3 p.m. Saturday, they compete at the Class AA level (there’s also A and AAA) at the Minnesota Coaches Association State Meet at Stillwater High School.

Head coach Jerry Popp passed along the seeding sheets. The Willmar boys seed third out of nine teams, trailing only Totino-Grace of Fridley and Hutchinson. The girls team seeds eighth.

The Willmar boys seed top three in three relays. The girls have one top-three relay. Individually, Sophie Schmitz is No. 1 in the 400-dash and Bailey Hovland No. 2 in discus.


Next Thursday, Willmar will host the Central Lakes Conference meet at Hodapp Field.

Joan of parks

Kandiyohi County’s brag that this is “Where the Lakes Begin,” is quite accurate if you have motored up from Iowa on U.S. 71 or on Highway 23 from Omaha.

And where it starts, just above the county line, is County Park No. 1 at the west end of Big Lake Kandiyohi.

That’s where Bud and Joan Groen preside. This is the 27th year the couple has managed the park. For 27 years before they farmed 3 miles south of Roseland on the Renville County line. A son, Scott, now farms the land and raises buffalo and elk.

Kandi Park No. 1 has 90 electric and four tent sites. Seventy to 80 sites are seasonal, most families from the countryside to the south. They come back year after year. Kids have grown up, become adults and started families of their own knowing only the Groens as caretakers.

Despite two heart attacks, Bud’s eyes display frontier toughness. And he is a big-game hunter (as in Alaska) who does all the park maintenance. The couple keeps a little camp store with tables for serving hamburgers and pizza.

The couple has four children, 16 grandchildren, four great-grandchildren, sometimes providing backup on weekends.


Joan and I have a history. Many times, I have made Park No. 1 a stop on the opening day of fishing. There always is free coffee and a roll to take the edge off another damp or cold opener.

Twelve or 15 years ago I wrote a piece on the park in which I flip-flopped ages and made Joan 5 years older than her mate (now married 54 years), when in fact she is 5 years younger, to finally set the record straight.

When Donna and I visited Saturday the lake was silver with an east wind whipping up waves. With good nature, Joan chided me about the age thing long ago, that I had either never caught onto or had repressed.

So, good lord, what happens when the fishing opening story mentions the Groens? This reporter renames Bud’s wife (think Goober doing his Cary Grant imitation).

Once again, Joan took this second printed affront with good humor. She was far kinder than the reporter deserved when he phoned to apologize.

After managing a busy campground for over a quarter century, Bud and Joan surely know “Some people do the craziest things.”

Brother, sister act

Trent Molacek (WHS, ’07) and his sister Tara (Molacek) Bernhagen (’06) each ran their first marathon on Saturday, in step through the thoroughfares of Fargo to finishes simultaneously in 4:08.09. Tara, a fourth-grade teacher at Kennedy and an assistant running coach, made it a goal to run a 26.2-mile race at age 26. Her brother said he would join her and they began training on New Year’s Day. They enjoyed family support at the run. In a stroke of beginners luck, they appear together in a wide-angle color photo on the cover of The Fargo Forum special section on the 2014 Fargo Marathon published Sunday.


On the fly

n NDSU freshman Rose Jackson (Willmar) measured a 19-2 long jump at the Bison Tune-up last week. Today through Saturday, NDSU hosts the Summit Conference outdoor championships.

n St. Aloysius Catholic Church in Olivia, with its soaring marble columns supporting a vaulted ceiling of glorious paintings, is an architectural and spiritual marvel. Late Tuesday afternoon, a line easily a block long stretched around the pews, waiting to offer condolences to the family of Marshall “Marsh” Thorstad, who passed May 6, three weeks short of his 76th birthday. The Battle Lake native served as athletic director and principal at Danube and later RCW, also Section 3 coordinator and 212 Conference administrator. Survivors include Todd Thorstad, Ridgewater College athletic director and coach.

n The 31st Annual Excellence in Education Awards Program is 6 p.m. Wednesday at the Willmar High School Theater. Students with grade point averages of 3.25 or higher are honored. This year’s guest is Dr. Laura Maursetter (’96), a three-sport athlete with a 4.14 GPA while at WHS. The mother of daughters ages 5 and 1 specializes in nephrology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, focusing on the care of dialysis patients, veterans and transplant recipients.

n It’s a tragic story. The skirmish outside a Mankato bar that has left former Mankato East and Minnesota State-Mankato football star Isaac Kolstad with a skull fracture in critical condition. We wrote recently of ex-Air Force star Alex Means, who is at the Carolina Panthers mini-camp this week. Gary Means, the Montevideo native and former Willmar resident now living in Phoenix, tells me that his son and Isaac, former teammates at East, were best friends. Isaac was best man at Alex’s wedding.

What To Read Next
Get Local