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Cougars court named for Gremmels

From left, University of Minnesota, Morris men's basketball coach Paul Grove, Cougars player Phil Allen and three of Jim Gremmels' grandsons unveiled an artistic rendition of the new James Gremmels Court on Thursday

A few years ago, friends and family of Jim Gremmels were anxious to honor one of the University of Minnesota, Morris' great founding faculty members and coaches.

But Gremmels was a little miffed by their attempts to honor him. Friend and colleague Mark Fohl, UMM's Athletic Director, said Gremmels didn't think he should be inducted into the Cougar Hall of Fame while he was alive.

"He was a very humble man," said Gremmels' wife, Ruth.

Those friends and family honored Gremmels, UMM professor of English and long-time Cougars basketball coach, in a special way on Thursday.

As part of a day-long celebration of Gremmels' life and accomplishments, UMM's basketball court was named James Gremmels Court.

Dozens of people turned out to hear tributes to Gremmels and witness the unveiling of a artistic rendition of the new court, which will feature a reproduction of Gremmels' signature along the front-court sidelines on both sides of the floor.

Fohl said the court will be reconditioned this summer and the refurbished court bearing Gremmels' name will be finished this fall.

In addition to the court dedications, Gremmels was honored Thursday during a noon-time dinner at Oyate Hall, and an afternoon program at Edson Auditorium.

Gremmels, a well-known fixture in many facets of UMM life, died in September 2009. He was 82.

Gremmels was one of the first 13 faculty hired in 1960 for the new public, liberal arts college in Morris that opened that fall.

Rodney Briggs, Morris's first chief administrator, interviewed Gremmels for a job, then later telephoned him to offer the position, said Dennis Clausen, a 1964 UMM graduate and basketball player who now is a member of the English faculty at the University of San Diego.

"Jim told me that that was one of the most important phone calls of his life," Clausen said. "He said, 'UMM has been so good to me and has given me so much.' But that phone call was one of the most important in the history of UMM because of what Jim gave to this university. He loved this university with every fiber of his being."

Ten years ago, on UMM's 40th anniversary, Gremmels quoted from his favorite novel to describe his Morris career. "Ishmael, Herman Melville's narrator in the novel Moby Dick says: 'A whale-ship was my Yale College and my Harvard.' I could easily say: 'The University of Minnesota, Morris was my Oxford College and my Cambridge,' but for me it was a 40-year voyage with a group of remarkable faculty, outstanding students, and an administration whose dead reckoning always kept us afloat and on course. This campus has meant a great deal to me."

Gremmels was born in 1927 and grew up in Sioux Falls, S.D. He earned a degree in English and philosophy from Augustana College, where he excelled in basketball. He received a master of arts in American studies from the University of Minnesota in 1955. He taught and coached at Glenwood High School from 1955 to 1960 when he began his Morris career.

Gremmels received the Horace T. Morse Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching. He was inducted into the Augustana Vikings Hall of Fame, the Cougar Hall of Fame, and the South Dakota Sports Hall of Fame for basketball accomplishments as a player and as a coach.

"One of the legacies of Jim Gremmels is the scholar-athlete," Clausen said. "He was as good a teacher as he was a coach."

The new floor design was unveiled with UMM head men's coach Paul Grove, Cougars player Phil Allen and three of the Gremmels' eight grandchildren standing by. Steven Gremmels, a 2009 UMM graduate, was moved by the honor.

"It's pretty amazing," he said. "It's a very special tribute for so many years of dedication."