The late Odis “Oats” LeGrand, his wife Eunice and son Steve moved to Fergus Falls from Felton, northeast of Moorhead, in 1952.
Over the years LeGrand had four roles in Fergus Falls as a physical education teacher, coach, summer recreation director and radio sports announcer.
His thinking cap was always on.
Don Walseth of the Fergus Falls High School Class of 1957 recalls the summer of 1954 when Oats cobbled together a baseball team of 15-year-olds.
“I was on the team which today would be considered Babe Ruth age players,” Walseth said.
“Oats arranged for us to play in the Sunday North Star League against towns such as Menahga and Sebeka. With old Fergus Red Sox town team uniforms and some equipment, we were ready to play.”
The family of Walseth’s classmate and teammate Dave Landberg provided team members with one of the vehicles to use on the road, a 1947 Chrysler touring car.
“This car was so worn out that the front wheels would shimmy at speeds between 20 and 40 miles per hour,” Walseth said.
One Sunday the Fergus Falls team traveled to play a game at Sebeka, north of Wadena and east of Perham.
“Apparently, the people in Sebeka had been partying quite heavily Saturday night. This continued into Sunday,” Walseth said.
As the game progressed, Sebeka led by one run. That one run held up until late in the game.
“I was on base with the tying run when Chuck Weiss got up to bat,” Walseth said. “Chuck hit a line drive home run. As I rounded third base whiskey bottles, beer bottles and whatever they could throw came sailing over the fence.”
Walseth surmises that some Sebeka fans simply could not accept the fact that a bunch of kids from Fergus Falls had beaten their hometown baseball team.
“Needless to say, we packed up and, with a police escort, left town quickly,” Walseth said.
Even as 15-year-olds, teammates could see that Weiss was an exceptionally talented athlete. Four decades later, in 1994, LeGrand said that Weiss was far and away the best local athlete he had seen during his many years of working in Fergus Falls.
Weiss, who also starred in football and basketball, later became a star fullback at the University of Colorado. He died this year in mid-March in San Jose, California.
“Chuck was more than just a teammate. He was like a coach who taught us how to win,” Walseth said. “He also had a positive effect on the younger athletes in Fergus Falls.
“Chuck’s passing has really affected me and I am still trying to wrap my head around it. He will be dearly missed.”
Walseth has a closing send-off to his classmate and friend.
“Happy trails Chuck. I’m sure we will meet again.”
Oats and the grand
days at Pebble Lake
Pebble Lake’s waterfront, 2 miles south of Fergus Falls, buzzed with activity during the morning hours in the 1950s and 1960s. Swim classes, under the direction of summer recreation director Oats LeGrand, were held at 9, 10 and 11 a.m.
Middle school and YMCA pools weren’t available in Fergus Falls until the late 1960s and early 1970s.
The wave of baby boomers desiring swimming classes at Pebble Lake, under the direction of LeGrand, topped 2,000 kids in 1962. They represented children born in the years following World War II, starting in 1946.
Some Pebble Lake lifeguards and swimming instructors, working for LeGrand, included Loren Woolson, Myron Johnson, Chuck Hyslop, Mary Rockwood, Beth Lightfoot, Marilyn Hoff, Dean Nelson, Terry Keane, Mary Severn, Gayle Beecher and Joe Edlund.
Close to a half century ago the Pebble Lake beach was three times what it is today, and much farther into the lake itself. In 1962 there were two diving towers and one floating raft, in addition to docks.
Back then the changing rooms and snack bar were located on the east side of the waterfront.
Tom Hintgen is a longtime Daily Journal columnist. His column appears Saturdays.