Category Archives: people

Truly, One of a Kind

Flashback Film Friday:


Walter Harper Day

Walter Harper

Today, 7 June, is the first Walter Harper Day. Harper, whom I have written about on here before, is one of my favorite historical Alaskans.

It was on this day in 1913, when Harper became the first known person to stand on the summit of Denali.

Harper tragically died at the age of 25, along with his young bride, Frances Wells Harper, with the sinking of the Princess Sophia in 1918.


Rest in Peace, Senior

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Larry Ball Sr; Induction into the Knoxville Raceway Hall of Fame; Photo credit: The Curator

Larry Ball Sr, the father of a good friend of mine, passed away from Covid-19 complications over the weekend.

I spent several months in Iowa in 2007-08, and was lucky enough to get to know Senior, or LBS, as he was known to many of us.  I worked, i.e. volunteered, as a glorified bouncer on the Second Floor of the National Sprint Car Hall of Fame during races.  LBS and his family had a suite above, and I would wander up to see them at some point during every race, and Senior was always a most gracious host.  In 2008, LBS was inducted into the Knoxville Raceway Hall of Fame, as the successful car owner of Ball Racing.

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Photo credit: Ball Racing, Inc; Jeff Tuttle in #3, 1994

The last time I saw LBS in Des Moines, he and Saint Donna, his wife, put me up for a night as I spent some time in DSM.  Senior kept me up half the night arguing a point that was desperately important to him.  The best part of that conversation, was that we were debating something that we were in total agreement on. To this day, I’m not sure if he was hammering the point home because I wasn’t a convincing accomplice, or because he expected me to come up with a plan of attack, because he had already done the hard part by detailing the problem.  It’s a night that I look back on fondly.

LBS was a frequent visitor here between The Circles.  I remember hearing from him one February, because my posts had been very infrequent, and he wanted to know what was up.  When I told him it was February in Fairbanks, and there wasn’t much going on to write about, he was unconvinced and told me to try harder.

Over the course of the years, I’ve done a fair amount of traveling, and the great surprise and reward of travel is not the locations, but the people I have met by chance.  A random hockey game in Fairbanks brought Des Moines back into my orbit, which in turn, brought me into the orbit of Larry Ball, Sr.  What a rewarding hockey game that turned out to be.

Rest in peace, Larry.  You will be missed by many, and East Des Moines will never be the same.

 

 


Rest in Peace

America’s Poet: John Prine

Former Navy mechanic, and self-taught guitarist: Bill Withers

Patriarch of a jazz dynasty: Ellis Marsalis


Rest in Peace Little Bird

Jazz saxophonist Jimmy Heath passed away this week.  Heath performed on over 100 albums, and wrote over 125 compositions.

Heath’s saxophone play, and slim build, earned him the nickname “Little Bird” by the late 1940’s.

Jimmy Heath was 93.


The Huslia Hustler

Attla on Independent Lens:

For a glimpse into a completely different world, check out the documentary Attla on PBS.

Link:

http://www.pbs.org/independentlens/films/attla/

George Attla was Alaska’s iconic dog musher.  When he flew into Anchorage from the village of Huslia for that first Fur Rendezvous, he took the State completely by storm.


The Wooger

Claimed by South Saint Paul; adopted by the entire State of Hockey.

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Credit: Golden Gopher Hockey

Doug Woog, the former coach of the University of Minnesota Gopher hockey team, passed away this past Saturday.  Woog was 75.

Wooger was the Gopher coach for 14 years, leading the team to 12 consecutive national tournament appearances.  He led the Gophers to the Frozen Four finals in his first four seasons behind the bench, and to six Frozen Fours in all.

At the time of Wooger’s retirement, he led the team in victories as a coach.  Don Lucia has since passed him in wins.  Woog still out paces Lucia in win percentage.  His win percentage at Minnesota is also higher than two legends of the game: John Mariucci and Herb Brooks.

When Woog was coaching the Gophers, it was common knowledge in Minnesota, that if you wanted to complain about the Gopher power play, you didn’t have to go through the University switchboard.  All you had to do was open the Saint Paul phone book:  The Woogs were always listed.

After his coaching career, Woog made an incredibly easy transition into broadcasting Gopher hockey games.  He was a natural, and another generation of fans came to know the Wooger.

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Doug Woog receives a kiss from his goaltender after scoring the only goal in a 1-0 victory over Minneapolis Patrick Henry in the 1959 state tournament. Photo: Minnesota Hockey Hub

Doug Woog made the South Saint Paul high school hockey team as a 5’6″, 140 pound freshman.  Woog and the Packers went to four state tournaments in hockey.  Woog was All-State for three years, was named to the State’s All-Tournament team for three years, and led the tournament in scoring in 1962.

For good measure, Woog was also All-State in football as a tailback.

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Doug Woog as a Gopher; Photo credit: Golden Gopher Hockey

Woog would go on to play for the University of Minnesota, under the God Father of Minnesota hockey, John Mariucci.  He won three letters, since freshman were not allowed to play in this era.  In 80 career games, Woog tallied 101 points.  As a junior, he led the team in scoring, and was named First Team All-America.  As a senior, Woog was named Gopher captain, and the team’s MVP.

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Wooger showing concern over Referee Shepherd’s eyesight 

With all of the high accolades that Woog received as both a hockey player and coach, I think he was really a teacher at heart.

When I was a student at the University of Minnesota, Doug Woog was the hockey coach.  I spent many Friday & Saturday winter nights at the Old Mariucci Arena.  Campus was a lot different back then.  There was no “athlete village”, and running into players and coaches was a common occurrence.  Since I played some rec sports during my time at the “U”, I was often around the sports facilities and I only remember two coaches that gave the time of day to the average student.  One was the still current baseball coach, John Anderson, and the other was Woog.  A quick comment to Woog of “Nice win on Saturday, Coach”, would more often than not get a response about how the transition game wasn’t quite what he was looking for, or the power play left some goals on the ice.

Once, while at Williams Arena, I literally ran into Coach Woog.  I was probably picking up student tickets to the weekend series, and was bundled up to race across campus for a class I shouldn’t be late for.  I bumped into Woog on my way to the door, and he joked about my being in a hurry, then he asked if I was going to the game on Friday.  I said I was, then I said that the Gophers would have a tough time with So-And-So in goal for the opposing team.  Woog then spent the next ten minutes telling me exactly how and why So-And-So would be that tough.  Then he spent ten minutes telling me about their defensive corps.  If I hadn’t stopped him, I think Coach Woog would have given me the run down on their entire line up, as well.  I was young and foolish back then, and I thought that the class was a priority, so I raced off, no doubt leaving Woog chuckling. I was quite late to class anyway, and the professor made sure everyone in the hall knew I was late.  It’s only years later that I realize that the class was the least important thing I did that entire day.

My favorite Woog story comes, of course, from North Dakota, Minnesota’s main rival at the time.  As a student, nothing was better than a bus ride to Grand Forks to see Minnesota play NoDak.  There is just something about youth that longs to be surrounded by people who utterly hate your very existence.  A trip to Madison was second best; hat tip towards Peewaukee.  Back in the day, when NoDak played the Gophers, their fans would throw dead prairie dogs onto the ice when North Dakota scored their first goal.  Woog’s Gophers had one mission: To keep those dead prairie dogs in the NoDak fans’ pockets for as long as possible.  A shutout was an epic victory.  Woog relished the idea of the stinky, dead rodents thawing out inside the NoDak jackets.

I became excited about college hockey as a very young kid, sitting in the stands at Old Mariucci with my Dad, watching Herb Brooks coach the Gophers to national prominence.  That culminated with the 1980 Miracle on Ice.  But there is no doubt that I learned the game of hockey watching the Doug Woog coached Gophers.

Woog was a class act through and through, and he will be missed at rinks all around Minnesota.  His passion and dedication to the sport was infectious, and he passed that on to so many people, that he didn’t even know were watching.

Rest in peace, Wooger.

 

 

 


Freddie the Foot

Fred Cox attempts to put one through the uprights at The Met, Paul Krause holding

Fred Cox, the long time kicker for the Minnesota Vikings, passed away this week. He was 80, just three weeks shy of his 81st birthday.

Cox was drafted by the Cleveland Browns as a fullback out of the University of Pittsburgh. The plan was for Cox to block for the future Hall of Famer, Jim Brown. A back injury had legendary coach Paul Brown telling Cox to switch to kicker. Unfortunately, another Hall of Famer, Lou Groza was still kicking for Cleveland. Cox was traded to Minnesota, and became their full time kicker in 1963.

Cox would play 15 seasons for the Vikings, never missing a game. He retired as the franchise leading scorer with 1365 points. Still the franchise record.

Cox was named All-Pro for the 1969-1971 seasons, playing in the 1970 Pro Bowl. He is one of 11 Vikings to have played in all four of their Super Bowl appearances. Cox was also named to the squad of the Top 50 Vikings when the team hit their 50th Anniversary.

While playing for the Vikings, Cox and Minneapolis resident John Mattox teamed up to invent the NERF football. While Mattox wanted a heavy ball that “kids couldn’t kick out of their yards”, Cox suggested a foam ball to “prevent a bunch of sore legged kids.” After making a mold, and injecting it with foam, Cox & Mattox took the ball to Parker Bros. The rest is back yard history. Not to mention a few living rooms.

As a young kid, my Dad would take me out to the old Met, and I saw Freddie the Foot kick many, many times, and I can’t tell you how many NERF footballs I owned when I was growing up. Rest In Peace, Freddie; you were in the middle of a lot of very good memories.


Robert Frank

Ordinary people, doing ordinary things…

Robert Frank, in his New York home; Photograph by Allen Ginsberg

In 1954, Robert Frank set off across the United States in a used Ford with his Leica camera. He had the idea of photographing America as it unfolded before his eyes. He spent two years on the journey, shooting 767 rolls of film, for over 28,000 shots.

83 of those shots would end up in the book “The Americans”.

Image: “Trolley – New Orleans” 1955, photo by Robert Frank

The Americans was first published in 1959, and it took the photography world by storm. The images were honest and gritty, and most of all raw. It was a masterwork of street photography.

US 285 – New Mexico 1956; photo by Robert Frank

Initially, it did not go over well. America was high on the post war 1950’s. Images showing that not everyone in the country had achieved the “American Dream” were not what the public was shouting for. The book went out of publication after only 1100 being printed.

Rodeo – New York City 1955; photo by Robert Frank

History has been kinder. The Americans has seen several reprints, and few photo books have had as large an influence on contemporary photography.

Frank would go on to make fifty documentary films, but he never abandoned still photography.

Map of Robert Frank’s photo trek

Robert Frank died on Monday; he was 94.


Jay Hammond Day


Former Alaskan Governor Jay Hammond in front of a section of the Trans-Alaska Pipeline

July 21 is Jay Hammond Day in Alaska. Hammond, a popular figure in Alaska, served as governor between 1974 – 1982.

Hammond, born in Troy, NY, was a Marine fighter pilot in WWII, flying for the Black Sheep Squadron in China. He moved to Alaska after the war, and continued his flying as a bush pilot. Hammond entered state politics in 1959.

Governor Hammond died at his homestead on Lake Clark in 2005. Alaska could use the Bush Rat Governor right about now.