by Cori Hilsgen
For his decades of quality coaching, St. Joseph resident Jerry Lahr recently received the “Golden Crusader” award, Cathedral High School’s highest honor.
The award is given annually to one or more people who have helped the school achieve its goals throughout a long period of time.
Cathedral President Mike Mullen said Lahr received the 2012 award for his decades-long dedication to coaching and for his outstanding character and integrity. Lahr has coached hundreds of the school’s athletes.
Lahr is a 1953 graduate of Cathedral. He began coaching as a Parochial Athletic Association volunteer coach more than 50 years ago and continues to support the school as an enthusiastic fan.
The PAA program was originally established for students in fifth- through eighth-grade to offer students a chance to learn about and participate in sports. Lahr, who was a catcher for the area’s amateur baseball league for 29 years, was one of the first coaches for the program. He coached basketball and baseball and came into the program at the same time as other familiar names such as Dick Putz, Jack Hall and Albie Peckskamp.
Lahr said the PAA program was a strong athletic feeder program for all the area high schools and graduated many fine athletes.
After graduating from Cathedral, Lahr went to work for the Great Northern Railroad. He worked with the railroad for 44 years. During that time he was laid off and spent time drilling wells and welding for a pontoon company.
Lahr and his first wife, Kathleen, had four children, Kevin, Tom, Theresa and Sandy. All four graduated from Cathedral High School. He never coached any of the teams on which they played.
Kathleen died from surgical complications in 1976 when their children were between the ages of 8 through 15.
Lahr became reacquainted with the woman who is now his current wife at a class reunion. He and Bev dated for about six years until his children moved away from home before they married. Bev, a former special-education instructor for 34 years at St. Cloud State University, said Lahr is a “delightful person.”
Lahr’s job with the railroad relocated him to Lincoln, Neb. when his daughters were still living at home. His youngest daughter was in high school, and his oldest daughter had just graduated and was attending community college in St. Cloud.
Lahr said there were 96 people who got transferred with the railroad. Many of them were travelling back and forth from Minnesota to Nebraska as he did.
Lahr commuted back and forth every weekend before suffering a stroke on Friday, Jan. 13, 1989 while he was up on scaffolding on a railroad car.
Lahr said he was required to see the company doctor every four months for a period of time before the doctor determined he could no longer return to work because of the stroke. Lahr was 59 years old at the time.
After Lahr’s stroke, St. Cloud resident and 1966 Cathedral graduate Don Bellmont asked Lahr if he would consider helping coach PAA baseball for the year. Lahr had been Bellmont’s sixth-grade basketball coach. Bellmont’s children were in the PAA program at Sts. Peter, Paul and Michael school. Lahr ended up helping for six years before retiring after 40 years of coaching.
Bellmont said Lahr had a mild-mannered approach to coaching and set that good example for the athletes at a time when many coaches took a more aggressive approach.
Bellmont said Lahr helped prepare a lot of young athletes for their successful athletic careers at Cathedral.
Lahr, who is now 77, said his leg was stiff for a period of time after his stroke. However, he feels very fortunate when he sees other stroke victims. Through the years, he has also had knee and hip surgeries and a severe stomach bleeding problem during which he lost 20 units of blood and almost didn’t recover.
Throughout it all, Lahr has actively volunteered in the communities where he has lived. He was inducted into Cathedral’s Hall of Fame in 1997. Currently, Lahr remains active as a church lector, working with Meals on Wheels, helping with Toys for Tots and volunteering with his parish – St. Boniface in Cold Spring.
More than 250 people attended Lahr’s award ceremony held at the Gorecki Center in St. Joseph. His two daughters flew in from Colorado and one son drove from Rapid City, S..D.
Lahr has 10 grandchildren and one great-grandchild. Many of them also attended the event.
“I was very honored and a little surprised to receive the award,” Lahr said. “It was just a wonderful evening.”