UPDATED: Windom Hero Jack Kelly Elected Into Minnesota Baseball Coaches Hall of Fame

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UPDATE Thursday Feb 26th: I talked to Jack yesterday and he sends his love to you all. He thanks you for your prayers. As Franz posted yesterday, Jack has some health challenges. Please keep him in your prayers.

Please pray for Jack, From Coach Franz Boelter :

Had a chance today (Tuesday Feb 25th, 2020) for another nice visit with one of my favorite people, Coach Jack Kelly. He’s dealing with some health challenges, and if you’re a friend, former player, or anyone who knows him well, I know he’d appreciate a card, an email, or a phone call, if you’re so inclined. Message me if you need his contact info. Thanks!

What a tremendous work Dave Fjeld of the Cottonwood Country Citizen did on this story on Coach Jack Kelly of Windom, Minnesota. I talked to Jack awhile back and we had such a great conversation. When I played Pee-Wee baseball, in the early 60’s, Jack was my coach. I had him as a teacher, Industrial Arts, and when I was night custodian at the Middle School in Windom, I would find Jack working on some project in the shop late at night! We had some very awesome talks about life. My Dad, Wally and Jack were good friends as my Dad and Jack served on the Windom Fire Department together, Dad would drive the team bus for the baseball and basketball games, as Dad was the Transportation Director for the School for many years. I was blessed that got to ride the team bus for many years when Dad would drive. Jack also severed on the Windom Rescue Squad, I may stand corrected, but I beleive Jack was one of the first members of the squad when it was formed in the early 60’s. It was during that time that 11-year-old Larry Van Norman got buried in the sand pit by Cottonwood lake. There was a picture in the Citizen that is forever in my mind of Jack shoveling the sand trying to get Larry out. tragically Larry passed away. Rod Byam took that picture. Jack was always serving Windom in so many ways.

One of my greatest memories of Jack is when my Dad died suddenly in 1993……Jack poured out love to my Mom, having the baseball team take care of Mom’s yard. At the funeral for my Dad, I spoke, I looked out into a full Church at ALC, and there was all the Fireman in their dress blues, and Jack smiling at me as I gave a tribute to my Dad. It really Helped me get through my tribute to a man I loved so very much, my all-time hero, my Dad.

I might add it was payback for me when we did the first Windom Revival in 2015, and we held a tribute to Jack the first night! Windom is a blessed place because of people like Jack Kelly, my Dad, and so many others including the writer of this story Dave Fjeld, Rod Byam, and Greg Warner. My list is very long of my heroes from Windom, maybe some day I can write about them all in a book like Mike and Pat Fisher. Windom will always be my home, maybe again some day, who knows, but it always will be where my heart is. They say you can’t go home again, I just heard that song again at the end of a cowboy movie last night. The song is wrong, you can go home again, I always do when I get a chance.

The picture I used at the very top is of Rod Byam on the left presenting Jack, to the far right, a portrait the Rod did of Jack, so wonderful. In the center of the photo is Greg Warner of the BARC that has helped make all the Windom Revival’s possible at the BARC. I have to add that Jack has been so instrumental in the care taking of the BARC! The picture I also posted is of Jack and the love of his wife Marilyn. It was a very sad time when Marilyn passed away. I member when I came back home to take part in the funeral of Pat Fisher and at the viewing of Pat at the funeral home….Jack and I were the last ones to leave, and he shared with me how Pat had ministered to him after the passing of Marilyn.

This verse fits the life of Jack….Work willingly at whatever you do, as though you were working for the Lord rather than for people. Col. 3:23

Windom is so super blessed to have the Citizen owned by local folks! I have been in news many of my 64 years……The Citizen is one of the best newspapers ever! Check around America and you will find for the size of Windom, it is one of the best! Local ownership is almost unheard of anymore. Shop Local! I still get the Citizen in the mail here in Albuquerque!

Here is Dave Fjeld’s amazing story!Windom Citizen

One more call to a Hall

Windom’s Jack Kelly inducted into State High School Baseball Coaches Hall of Fame

Sometimes you can know someone for 60 years and still learn something new about that person every day.

Franz Boelter, a 1970 graduate of Windom High School, played high school basketball and baseball for legendary Windom Coach Jack Kelly, but more importantly the two became lifelong friends. In fact, Boelter continues to talk to Kelly at least once a month and usually more often than that. He could probably write a 1,000-page book on all he knows and has learned from Kelly over the years.

Yet, one day as the two were conversing, Boelter and Kelly began talking about the halls of fame into which Kelly had been inducted – the Minnesota High School Basketball Coaches Association Hall of Fame and athletic halls of fame at St. Cloud State, Pipestone Area High School and, of course, Windom Area High School.

“ I said, ‘You’re in the baseball coaches hall of fame, too, aren’t you?’ And he said, ‘No,’  ” Boelter recalls. “I have good friends that are on the baseball coaches association executive board, so I called and checked and they said, ‘No, he’s not.’

“I said, ‘Well, that’s just not right.’ Not to take anything away from Dean Jaacks. Dean did a great job on the hand-off (of the baseball program), but Jack established the baseball program in Windom and put the baseball field where it is. He put the whole program in place.”

Kelly’s omission from the state baseball coaches hall was corrected in late October when He was inducted into the MSHSBCA Hall of Fame.

“I got to give Franz Boelter a lot of credit for that,” Kelly says. “It was something really special.”

Much has been documented about Kelly’s illustrious high school and college athletic career and even more about the 25 years and unparalleled success he had as a high school basketball coach in Windom.

Most people close to Windom baseball also know him as the driving force behind the creation of the Island Park baseball/football field. But what about his career as a head baseball coach in Windom from 1960 to 1976? That has quietly faded into the shadows, mostly because he last waved runners home from his coaching box at third base more than 40 years ago.

However, Kelly’s work with the Windom baseball program is every bit as outstanding as his coaching acumen with the Windom basketball program. But while Kelly maintained and enhanced an already solid basketball program in Windom, he was the one who built the baseball program, says Boelter, who played for Kelly on Windom’s first high school state tournament baseball team in 1970.

“The people who are most successful in the coaching profession are people who are in it for the right reasons,” Boelter says. “A small part of it is the sport they are coaching. A large part of it is the fact that they really love working with kids and understand that the athletic venue is the best classroom there is. There’s so much to be learned through athletics. I learned more about life from Jack Kelly than from anybody else.

“He taught you how to deal with success, with failure, with people, how to be a good teammate, a good citizen. You can just go down the line. If I needed something, or I wanted to talk to somebody about something, he’s the guy I talked to. That’s what he did for so many of us over the years.

“His record is certainly impressive, but the number of lives he touched and continues to influence even today, is what made him the great coach that he was.”

Early baseball days

Kelly’s connection with baseball goes back to his prep days in Pipestone, where he was a standout athlete. In fact, he started as a batboy for the amateur team in Pipestone, which, he says, “really locked me in.” Those were the days when teams recruited top players from around the country, providing them a job during the day in exchange for playing baseball at night.

Kelly was bitten by the baseball bug and showed exceptional talent at an early age. In fact, he won a varsity letter in baseball as an eighth-grader.

He would go on to be a four-sport letterwinner in baseball, basketball, football and track before graduating from Pipestone High in 1954.

After graduating from Pipestone, he went on to St. Cloud State where success on the diamond further fueled his passion for baseball. He won 12 letters in baseball, football and basketball and his baseball teams won the conference his first two years at SCSU.

Kelly primarily played first base in college, but played a little bit of everywhere in high school. He also pitched – in high school, college and a little for the town team.

In his senior year at SCSU, the Huskies went to the NAIA national tournament and finished third, losing only to San Diego State. It was that experience at SCSU that causes Kelly to consider baseball his favorite sport, but quickly admitting that his favorite sport really, “depends on the weather. You don’t have to shovel snow in basketball,” he says, noting that he had to do that to play baseball some years.

Kelly arrives in Windom

He graduated from SCSU in the spring of 1958 and arrived in Windom that summer – in style.

Kelly made one of his first appearances in town at former Witt Park, across from what is now the Business, Arts & Recreation Center. He pulled up in a blue and white Corvette convertible. Jed Domeyer was running the summer youth baseball program at the time.

“Jed said, ‘Guys, I got somebody I want you to meet,’ and everybody ran down there and – I give Jack a hard time about this when I tell him – ‘I think they ran right past you and went to the Corvette,’  ” Boelter says with a laugh.

Kelly was an assistant track and field coach his first year in Windom because that was the only paid coaching vacancy available. However, he was a volunteer coach in several other sports.

The following year in Windom he took over the community’s summer rec program, from Domeyer, which became his feeder program. In the spring of 1960, he assumed the head baseball reins from Loie Grandprey.

Island Park is born

Now as the head baseball coach, one of Kelly’s first jobs – and arguably his lasting legacy – was creating an inviting place to play and watch the game. He wanted to move the field from the county fairgrounds, where the infield had been known to double as a demolition derby pit during the fair.

Thanks to a suggestion from longtime Windomite Coxy Christopherson, Kelly went to work pitching the idea of building a baseball/football field on a former bass pond at Island Park. After playing that first season on dirt because grass seed never grew on the sandy soil, Kelly sodded the entire field the following year. In 1962, lights were added and Windom would call Island Park home for the next 60 years.

Kelly still counts the creation of Island Park his fondest memory.

“From start to stop,” Kelly says with a smile, recalling the many times he climbed the towers to change light bulbs. “I and the kids put so many hours into it. And my wife (Marilyn) put many hours into it.”

Boelter was one of those youths he recruited to help lay sod at the field and subsequently would spend many hours playing and helping maintain it.

“I can remember being involved in the youth program when it was down at the fairgrounds. Island Park was a little bit of an improvement,” he says with a chuckle.

Building the program

Now in control of the baseball program and playing on a new field, Kelly immediately began teaching his players “the little things” – baseball fundamentals, such as backing up a base, or cutting off a throw. Kelly knew mastering such fundamentals would ultimately make his team better. He says that first year he spent a lot of time with his players explaining why and showing how practicing the fundamentals were going to make them better.

“He taught us how important defense was, situational defense,” Boelter says.

Kelly also knew what kind of team he wanted to put on the diamond.

“I always wanted to have a team that could run,” Kelly maintains.

Boelter says two aspects of the game that Kelly pounded into him and his teammates was being able to bunt and run bases.

“You were going to make that team do a couple of things,” Boelter says, relating another Kelly lesson. “First of all, they had to pick the ball up, then they had to make a decision where they were going to go with the ball, then they had to make a good throw and somebody had to catch it. You’re making the other team react in more ways than they would in some other way. And I don’t think people worked real hard on their bunt defense or on their bunting.

“We hit the ball well, too, but we were good bunters and got a lot of people on base.”

And once on base, Jack Kelly teams ran the bases well.

“Jack taught us a ton about base running. Our senior year, I think we stole something like 137 bases,” Boelter recalls. “We had a bunch of guys who were in double figures for stolen bases. We constantly put pressure on people.”

State tournament run

It was those facets of the game that were instrumental as Kelly built a real contender on the diamond by 1970.

“That team of 1970 was very successful in basketball and baseball, and pretty successful in football,” Kelly recalls. “There were a lot of good athletes in that era.”

Boelter says that he and his teammates’ favorite sports were football and basketball. However, over their last couple of years in high school, players heard from their coaches, time and again, that their best sport was baseball.

“We had depth in our pitching staff, we had flexibility in fielding positions, we hit the ball pretty well and we had good team speed,” Boelter says.

That team lost its first game of the season to St. James – they didn’t have a single outdoor practice prior to the game. However, the team would go on to win 18 in a row, including the Region 2 championship with a 4-2 win over Mankato in the semifinals and a 4-0 victory over Fairmont in the title game, led by Boelter’s no-hitter. In 1970, the tournament was still one class and Mankato was one high school.

“I remember winning the region championship and the big smile Jack had on his face – how proud he was and how proud we were of him and he in us,” Boelter recalls.

The winning streak ended in the first round of the state tournament. Windom lost to eventual champion Albany 7-5, with a key play at third base in the bottom of the fourth inning being the turning point in the game.

Windom was leading 3-0 when Albany loaded the bases loaded with no outs and the right-handed Boelter on the mound.

“Left-handers have the advantage to put their foot up and throw to first (for a pick-off). Franz was good at doing that to third base,” Kelly says, remembering the play vividly. “I had a signal for him to pick him off, so both he and the third baseman knew what was going on. Franz threw over and Jeff Spielman put the tag on top of the kid’s arm. There was that much space (Kelly holds his hands about two feet apart) between the base and his glove laying on top of him and he called him safe.

“I walked out there – and what I should have done, but didn’t think about it at the time, but remembered that from then on – I should have stopped the game and got the umpires together. The guy was probably 70 years old (that made the call) and didn’t know where the ball was at.

“There were three guys on base, there should have only been two, the next batter hit it to deep left center and we got beat by two runs.”

Albany scored three runs in the inning and added three more in the fifth and another in the sixth. Windom tried to rally, but came up short. The team went on to win the consolation championship and finish the year 20-2.

Another state trip

Kelly’s prep baseball coaching career would last six more years, concluding with another state tournament trip in 1976. The first round of the state Class A tournament, at that time, was held at four of the state tournament teams’ sites. Windom hosted that quarterfinal game, but lost and was eliminated.

In all, Kelly’s teams won nine district championships in his 17 years at the helm. They would advance to the region championship five teams, of which they won two.

Of course, Boelter spent his high school days playing both baseball and basketball under Kelly, which he enjoyed because Kelly’s expectations for players on the court and the field were the same.

“We knew he had high expectations and was going to hold us accountable for our effort and attitude, and you could always see the amount of preparation he put in,” Boelter says. “You felt like you were in the hands of someone who had the ability to prepare more than the people he was coaching against. So, we always felt like we had that advantage.

“He always knew the rule book, inside-out – and the officials knew that.”

Playing amatuer ball

Kelly’s affiliation with baseball wasn’t limited to the high school ranks. He played amateur baseball for nearly 20 years with Pipestone and Windom and played in 13 state tournaments. In fact, he won a state title in 1958 while playing with Pipestone. While coaching baseball in Windom and playing for the Pirates, the Pirates made eight state tournament trips – including six straight, 1967-1972. He also managed the Pirates for four years.

After having him as a coach during high school, Boelter was fortunate enough to play amateur ball with Kelly after Boelter finished his senior year of high school. Other notables on that team included Ron Meyer, Dean Jaacks and Ron Kuecker.

“It was awesome,” Boelter recalls. “We had so much fun playing with those guys.

“You really got to know your coaches. They were a lot of really neat, older guys who were mentors for us. We really played only one year with them and got to the state tournament, but then they all retired.”

Remembering the players

Kelly helped mold some of Windom’s top baseball talent, including Ed Maras, who pitched at South Dakota State University and went on to pitch in the Baltimore Orioles organization.

Kelly also considers Boelter and Bob Elness, who were seniors on that 1970 state tournament team, as two other outstanding players he coached, both in baseball and basketball.

Under Kelly’s tutelage, Bruce Grams, another member of that 1970 state tournament, wound up finishing his prep career as the all-time career base stealer in Minnesota state high school history.

Kelly says Dave Koep was another gifted athlete.

“Dave was playing left field and either Dean Jaacks or Ron Meyer was hitting fly balls. They’d hit it back, Dave would look at it, go back, turn around and be in the spot where the ball was coming down. Nobody has ever been able to do that,” Kelly recalls.

Kelly the innovator

Kelly also put his industrial tech skills to work for his baseball program.

He built Windom’s first pitching machine – an original spring-arm operated machine. When the Jugs machines came out, Kelly built two of those, too.

Kelly also brought legendary University of Minnesota Baseball Coach Dick Siebert to Windom to talk and work with younger players for several years. A lot of the work was with drills focused on fundamentals. It helped younger players start playing at a higher level and often gave them a leg up on the competition by the time they started playing other schools in junior high.

Kelly also started an annual Knot-Hole Game bus trip to Metropolitan Stadium to see the Minnesota Twins. It was an opportunity for youth to see Major League Baseball at a low cost, while inspiring them for greater things on their own diamond back in Windom.

Jack’s son, Kent remembers the Twins games and Siebert visits.

“I think the combination of that fundamental training and then seeing what high level play looks like just made a difference,” Kent says. “It made those fundamental things important because they get to see, ‘This is what it takes, that’s how they play it, that’s why we’re learning it here.’ It made more sense and you had more buy-in.

“I still remember sitting on the infield grass and Dick Siebert standing on the pitcher’s mound talking. I was probably 8 or 10 years old.”

Ultimately in 1975, Kelly stepped down from the summer rec program and Dean Jaacks took over. Following the ’76 state tournament season, Kelly left the baseball program altogether, also handing those reins to Jaacks.

In addition to coaching baseball in Windom for 17 years, Kelly also spent 25 years as the head boys basketball coach in Windom, retiring in 1973. He still has the home he and Marilyn built in Windom, but is presently living in the Twin Cities area with his daughter, Kim, and her family.

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