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Memories of a Coach: How Franklin Changed by Life by Coach Ron Eickhoff

1965 Franklin Basketball Team! Coach Eickhoff is on the left of the photograph.

BY Coach Ron Eickhoff

I had never heard of Franklin, MN, when I was job-searching after graduating from St. Cloud State in 1960. Then I got a phone call from H.A. Mahler, Superintendent at Franklin.  We agreed to meet in Owatonna for an interview, and he hired me that day to teach business education classes and coach 7th and 8th grade football and basketball.

Franklin was a great place to start my teaching career. There I met many great families with great kids and learned that if I treated these students with respect, that’s what I got in return.

My dream of being a head coach was realized after my first year in Franklin when both Coaches Rich Wichmann and Don Ehrich moved on to bigger schools. I was then hired as coach of all 3 sports offered at the time – football, basketball, and baseball. That was not my only stroke of good fortune that first year in Franklin. I also met Sharon Sather, who would become my wife 2 years later. And still is, 53 years later at the time of this writing.

Coaching presented some challenges. Franklin had recently held the state record for the most consecutive football losses. I went farm to farm, recruiting guys to join the team, and starting in 1961, more came out for the sport than had happened in recent years. We worked our way up to 2 undefeated seasons in a row, ’63 and ’64, a regional football powerhouse that continued for many more years.

My first year of coaching basketball (’61-’62) was a building year with a 3-16 record. The guys worked hard and by the end of the next year (’62-’63), we were able to see much-improved ability and skills in the younger players. That year we just had a 6-12 record, but we only lost our first tourney game by 2 points to Belview. I remember being quoted on the sports page, “Just watch out for us next year!”

And it was true! We won 17 games the next year with only 1 loss and were seeded #1 in District 10. We still played in the old quonset hut with a tile floor and boundary lines right against the wall. Spectators filled the bleachers which were at only 1 end of the court while students and pep band sat on the stage at the other end. The players’ bench was built into a 6-foot-high niche on one side of the court, and I learned the hard way that I shouldn’t jump up when I was excited about something!!

We lost to Springfield in the District 10 Championship game that season — by their heart-breaking last second shot from mid-court that swished. My own mind’s most second-guessed and re-played career coaching moment would’ve had me putting a defender on that guy at the throw-in to prevent the possibility of that shot ever being taken, giving Franklin the chance to go on to Regions and possibility even of having gone on to State that year!

Thanks to efforts of all in the community, Franklin built a new gymnasium and classroom addition that was completed for the 1964-65 school year. Following the undefeated football season, basketball began with much anticipation for a successful year, with only 1 starter lost from the previous year.  We lost only 2 games, one of them being the last of the regular season. That game was filmed by a fan on Super 8 mm, and watching it motivated this team to work harder, to improve even at that stage, and for those players to play the best basketball of their high school careers — winning District 10 and Region III — and on to the 1965 State Tourney, back in the day when only 8 teams statewide participated, 1 per region!

District tourney games saw us defeating Lamberton, Walnut Grove and Redwood Falls in order to meet up with our nemesis from the previous season, Springfield. We won handily!

Getting to the Regional Tourney games proved a challenge! We won the District on a Saturday night followed by 3 beautiful sunny spring days. But starting Wednesday, a St. Patrick’s Day blizzard dumped 16 inches of snow on much of the entire state, just at tourney time.  The blizzard raged on, snow banks clogging roads and even railroads. Schools were closed for 2 weeks. The basketball players stayed in town with family or friends so we could continue to practice, and by Saturday, many faithful fans managed to dig out and make their way through tunnels of snow to Dusty Gusty, the old gym at Gustavus Adolphus College in St. Peter, where we beat Tracy to advance to Regional finals. We were back on Monday for that game where Granite Falls fell to our Tigers, and FHS school history was made with our first-ever entry into the State Basketball Tournament!!

TV and other media showed up Tuesday for our first practice after qualifying for State. With a mere 69 students in the high school, we were the Cinderella team! I let them take their photos and do their interviews, and then I sent the guys home with instructions to return later at a secret time for “real” practice.

As our team bus made its way Wednesday morning to the State Tourney to be played at Williams Arena on the U of M campus, we were cheered on at Fairfax, Gibbon, and Winthrop by students and towns folks, lining the highway. That was just thrilling for us, to see the support of other communities!

All teams stayed at the Curtis Hotel; we checked in there and had 45 minutes of practice time at Williams Arena. Sid Hartmann, the sports writer at the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, reported we seemed to have as good ball-handling, passing and shooting skills as any other team. That night was a fun and memorable event, the all-team banquet, and then early to bed.

The next afternoon we played the opening game of the tourney — Franklin vs. Minnetonka, the smallest school against the largest, a team that was bigger, stronger, and better. Though we were within a couple of points for three quarters, their strengths showed in the fourth quarter, and we lost by 20.

At 8:30 the next morning, we played the consolation game and lost again — to Henning.  Despite the losses, this trip to the MN State BB Tourney was an exciting experience that the players, coaches, school and town fans of Franklin will never forget.

We stayed in the Curtis for the rest of the tourney (which Minnetonka won), and on our return Sunday, our bus was escorted by fire trucks and a car caravan from Fairfax to Franklin where a packed house greeted the team at the new gym for a congratulatory welcome home ceremony! A fabulous cake, a gift from the town of Fairfax, contained not only every team member’s and coach’s name but also the opponent and score of each game played!

Monday morning, all involved were back to school or work. Fans could finally wear something other than their “lucky” outfit, and team members started thinking of baseball. I was the exception, however.  I was looking back to my youth, as my Grandma Eickhoff had passed away over the weekend, and Sharon and I drove to Wykoff for the funeral.  That sad event is always tied into the happy memories of those times in Franklin.

Long-term friendship was another thing we gained in Franklin. Two fellow-teachers, Jerry Logan and Robert Krcil, helped our team by keeping the books and running the clock. They and their wives Pat and Joyce have become life-long friends, and though we all ended up teaching in different towns, we’ve gotten together every year and still take trips together, and at each gathering, we replay the great times we had in Franklin.

Only Two Renville County newspaper recognized D-Day on June 8, 1944

Only two Renville County newspapers published a headline that stated the phrase “D-Day” on June 8, 1944, this included The Franklin Tribune and the Sacred Heart News. Today, June 6, 2019, marks the 75th anniversary of this notorious battle of World War II. Read the following articles below!

Franklin Tribune published June 8, 1944

Franklin Tribune June 8, 1944
Nation Startled Tuesday Morning with Radio Announcement of Invasion by Allied Forces Crossing English Channel into Northern France–Absence of Arial and U-Boat Opposition Brings Speculation that Hitler Maybe Setting Trap–
While the invasion of Europe by the Allies had been eagerly awaited for some time, people the country over were startled Tuesday morning when they tuned in their favorite morning radio programs and found instead that they were tuned to the broadcast of world-history making news that “D” Day and “H” Hour were history, and that invasion of northern France was well underway.
By the time most people arose that morning and switched on their radios, the first beach-head on French soil had been well established in its first phase and Allied Soldiers were fanning out over the countryside to mop up any resistance the enemy might bring into action in an attempt to block their way before the sea-borne artillery and supplies could be stabilized or landed.
Practically all radio commercial programs were shunted all day Tuesday to give way to the news flashes constantly coming in from the war zone and the comments and interpretations given by experienced reporters on the scene.
Rome and the battle lines south of there were taken during this weekend–a victory which up to that time was considered of major importance but that Rome was taken without damage to that ancient city, seemed to receive little notice after the northern invasion got underway.
News coming from the invasion fronts were in reality largely lacking in tangible detail. But one can gather that the invasion really entailed several beachheads extending fifty miles along the Normandy coast. As these beachheads were made temporarily secure, the soldiers fanned out to the inland to meet any counter attacks by the enemy, and to bring these landings in contact with each other.
Caens, a town nine miles south of the central landing place, was the first town taken, and here also the Allies met with terrific opposition which continued throughout Wednesday.
Where Hitler’s vaunted “Luftwaffe” is is still a puzzle. There is speculation as to the possibility that a trap may be contemplated by the Germans once the Allies reach one of the strongly fortified lines which were expected by the Germans to black the invasion.
The fall of Rome and the route of the German Italian army, has put a strong poser before Hitler, and the Russian army on the east holds a real threat. This will probably answer the question of where the German air force is located. Any big shift and concentration of the enemy air force would leave some other sector vulnerable to attack.
The latest reports on Wednesday evening before going to press are to the effect that the battle for the north coastal points are going ahead satisfactorily and according to schedule. Montgomery’s army is driving the disorganized German army northward from Rome towards the south boundary of France and the Russian army is poised for another major offensive in the Balkans.

Sacred Heart News published June 8, 1944

Tuesday, June 6, is ‘D-Day’–Successful Landings Made By Allies on Cherbourg Beachhead
The kick-off of what many consider to be the real start of the European war came at dawn Tuesday (about midnight by our time) when 4,000 naval vessels and “air trains” of transport planes unloaded Allied troops along a 100-mile front between Cherbourg and Le Havre, France.
The British-based English, Canadian and U.S. soldiers succeeded at once in clearing the beaches of enemy resistance, aided by a terrific combat force overheard. Paratroops landed further inland to wipe out enemy defense posts, while from across the channel more trips by ships and planes continued the following day to bring reinforcements.
Early Thursday, the invasion forces captured Bayeux, a 9,000 population cathedral town at the base of the Cherbourg peninsula. Meanwhile, strong fighting was going on at Caen south-southeast of Bayeux, and at St. Mere Eglise, off one of the chief beach-heads just below Cherbourg.
Whiles a Nazi military spokesman had broadcast Tuesday that the invasion came “just where we expected it,” events of the day proved otherwise. German Resistance has been increasing steadily since the first attack began, indicating that the enemy was taken by surprise when the landings started. There is evidence that the German high command had lost contact with its defense forces in the Charbourg area Tuesday, and was fishing vainly for information as to exact progress of the fighting.
Nazis Fleeing Italy
The invasion of France eclipsed the triumph of the Allied troops in Italy, who took Rome Sunday with but little resistance from the German armies, and by Tuesday were pursuing the remnants of Kesselring’s 10th and 4th armies 40 miles north of the eternal city.
General Sir Harold Alexander, the commander-in-chief of the Italian campaign for the Allies, proclaimed Wednesday that “the strength of the German armies has been broken”.
Worst Fighting Ahead
The worst of the fighting in France is expected at any moment when the Germans have organized their air and land strength for a showdown fight. Bad weather has kept the air battle from developing, and the Allied landings are expected in Holland, Belgium and possibly farther north. The inhabitants of the occupied nations have been counseled by General Dwight D. Eisenhower, commander of the invasion, to await the signal from him before attempting action against the Germans.
Meanwhile, the temporary quiet on the Russian front, where American air bases have been put into use the last two weeks, holds dreadful possibilities of fresh attack from the east. The Nazis make no secret of the gravity of their plight.

Olivia Times Journal published June 8, 1944.

With the invasion of Europe running into its third day, Allied forces have cleared and consolidated their beachheads on a 60-mile front and have captured the Nazi-fortified city of Bayeux on the Normandy peninsula.

Officials this morning said the British, American and Candian invasion forces were “doing better than expected,” in the face of ferocious armored counterattacks by German reserves.

Landing on a 60-mile coastal front in Normandy in northern France began Tuesday moring when radio reports of the start of the invasion began reaching Olivia residents.
The invasion which involved 4,000 watercraft crossing the English channel, together with a supporting force of 11,000 airplanes, met only minor opposition at first, as thought the Germans had been caught napping.

However, as operations progressed, Olivians, who have kept close to their radios since Tuesday, heard of strengthened German opposition.

Fighting is expected to increase in severity as more enemy reserves comes into action against the advancing Allies.
General Dwight D. Eisenhower, supreme commander, and Admiral Sir Bertram Ramsey, commander of the Allied naval forces, conferred for 4 1/2 hours off the invasion coast yesterday.

For the most part, Olivia residents took the news of the invasion calmly; there was no fanfare, no blowing of whistles.

Businessmen kept the radios on in their shops and stores Tuesday and yesterday, picking up minute-by-minute reports of the progress of the gigantic operation.

American flags were displayed in front of most of the business placed in the village on Tuesday.

Olivia pastors sought the prayers of local citizens on behalf of the success of the invasion, and an organized prayer service was held in the Methodist church Tuesday evening.
Instead of cheering at the news of the beginning of the battle of Europe, Olivians, as well as the populace throughout the nation, have accepted it grimly, and a stern seriousness has pervaded the community since the first reports reached here.
Undoubtedly hundreds of Renville count young men, including many from Olivia, are taking an active part in the initial landing efforts and numerous others will be sent into the battle zone within the next few days.
Parents, wives, brothers, sisters, children, and friends of these men are anxiously awaiting word of the success of their undertakings.

Published in the Sacred Heart News on June 29, 1944

Salvation Army “Donut Lassies” June 1, 2019 National Donut Day!

Beginning in 1917, approximately 250 Salvation Army volunteers provided assistance during World War I to American soldiers in battle on the front lines in France.

Two female Salvation Army officers, Ensign Margaret Sheldon and Adjutant Helen Purviance had an idea to comfort our soldiers with good home cooking, using their limited ingredients to fry up in helmets delicious doughnuts for the boys.

Nicknamed “Doughnut Lassies” and “Doughnut Girls”, these women served countless treats to grateful soldiers, traversing through the trenches to bring the men doughnuts and coffee. They also made history by introducing this tasty new treat to the United States when the “Doughboys” returned from war.

The Salvation Army celebrated the first National Doughnut Day in 1938 in the city of Chicago as a way to honor Salvation Army “doughnut lassies” from World War I. They began the holiday as a way to raise funds and bring awareness to the Army’s social service programs during the Great Depression.The donut has become synonymous with The Salvation Army’s social services and continues to be a comfort food served by The Salvation Army to those in need during times of disaster.

Above Information from https://blog.salvationarmyusa.org/nhqblog/news/the-salvation-army-celebrates-national-donut-day

Salvation Army Donuts recipe from salvationarmynorth.org

Opportunity at Training Camp, Fairfax Standard, 12-5-1918

Chas. Lammers, Branch Chairman of the Military Training Camp Association, has received an announcement to the effect that authorization has been made for a citizen’ training camp in the Officer’s Training area at Zachary Taylor cantonment near Louisville, Ky.

The opportunity is given to citizens without further obligation for service, to attend this civilian training camp under authority of the War department.

Beginning January 6th and continuing two weeks, until January 18, 1919, an opportunity is given to the men in the smaller cities who are usually busy in the summer months and less strenuously occupied during the winter months, to take advantage of gaining this training. The cost will be $30 for the period including instruction and board.

Editor’s Note: We do not have a photograph of Charles Lammers.

The Victory Boys, Renville County Journal, 11-8-1918

The “Victory Boys & Victory Girls” is a new organization – an outgrowth of the needs of funds to carry on War Activities and of the enthusiasm of the young folks of our land to do their mite to encourage the older boys who have gone to the front. A nucleus of a “Victory Boys” organization was formed in the Journal office the other evening. As the organization grows, the names of the new members will be published in the Journal. Application for membership may be handed in to any member of the Journal staff or the Post Office force. Suggestions as to how to earn the money required will be cheerfully given.

Palmer Gilbertson, Harold Johnsrud and Zieberg Birk have each pledged themselves to earn and give $5.00 to the United War Fund Campaign. This entitles them to membership to the “Victory Boys”, a new boy’s organization now springing up all over the country. The purpose is to enroll every boy in the land to back their older brothers, over in France.