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Saturday is Nebraska’s annual salute to veterans at Memorial Stadium, and even though the Huskers will recognize each branch of the active military and veterans from foreign wars, one late vet will have his own rooting section perched high atop the North Stadium. Fifty-two members of the late Jerry Minnick’s family and extended family will be wearing red Minnick Family Reunion t-shirts with their honored serviceman’s #76 on the backs of their shirts and the last name Minnick camped out right above the number.
What a cool way to honor an all-state Cambridge (Neb.) prep fullback who became a 1953 Nebraska football All-American and then decided to become an accomplished pilot instead of seriously pursuing a career in pro football. A 1981 inductee into the Nebraska Football Hall of Fame, Minnick died in August of 1996, but his family’s passion for Big Red Football continues to burn like a giant bonfire.
Somehow, the football gods were aligned for the entire 52-member family reunion party to sit together for a Husker game that also celebrates the 60th reunion season of Minnick’s final year as a Cornhusker. Because Northwestern returned a batch of unsold tickets to Nebraska, 50 reunion celebrants will sit in Section 41, Row 80 (Seats 1-27) and Row 81 (1-23) in the North Stadium. Son Steve Minnick and his wife, Brenda, get the honor of sitting in the family seats Saturday. After finishing his playing career and graduating, Jerry bought two season tickets, and the family still maintains Section 5, Row 34, Seats 23 and 24 in his honor. Those 45-yardline seats are absolute treasures for Steve Minnick and his three brothers – Mike, Bill and Jay – and their families.
First-Team All-American, Hall-of-Famer, Co-Captain
Ann Vander Kooi Minnick, Bill’s wife, is the Communications Department Chair at Northwestern College in Orange City, Iowa. She helped fill in some blanks for her late father-in-law, who launched his Husker career as a fullback before moving to tackle as a freshman. He became a three-year starter, a First-Team All-America pick of the International News Service as a junior and a co-captain who helped lead Nebraska to a second-place finish in the Big Seven Conference as a senior.
Ann found a letter to her father-in-law from the Los Angeles Times, indicating that the LA Rams planned to select Minnick in the same round of the NFL Draft as the Washington Redskins, but the Redskins were positioned to pick ahead of the Rams. She also found a letter dated in 1954 from the Winnipeg Canada Football Club. Interestingly, Minnick even received a letter from the Chicago Bears in December of 1951, asking him to consider playing for them. The letter mistakenly indicates that Minnick was nearing graduation, even though he had just completed his sophomore season at Nebraska.
Jerry Minnick never returned the Bears’ questionnaire form because his focus went beyond a pro football career. He met his wife, Lois, in the hospital where she was his nurse following post-season elbow surgery his senior year at Nebraska. He turned down the Redskins in favor of the military. He joined the Air Force to become a pilot. When he moved to Ashland, Neb., he flew helicopters for the Army Reserves, and then he joined the Air Guards to fly reconnaissance missions in R-F4 Phantoms.
Lived in Same Small Town as Astronaut, Gates Exec
Prior to living in Ashland, where Minnick coached football and taught school, he ranched with his brother John near their hometown of Cambridge. Later, he became the owner of a Goodyear dealership in Ashland, the same small town between Lincoln and Omaha that produced both an astronaut (Clayton Anderson) and the CEO of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (Jeff Raikes). While orbiting the earth, Anderson once focused in on a Nebraska football game from outer space and even shot high-end digital photos of live Memorial Stadium action. The Raikes name is attached to Memorial Stadium South, the home for Nebraska’s best and brightest computer science students.
Now you know the rest of the story. So if, by chance, you happen to see 52 Minnick Family Reunion celebrants outside the stadium Saturday or inside the expanded structure looking down on everyone else, give ‘em all a hearty Go Big Red! A proud family of an All-American from more than a half century ago deserves recognition. So congratulate the Minnicks. Make it your own special stadium salute to honor the memory of a military veteran who had three military sons. They’ll all be wearing their reunion shirts not only in honor of their dad’s contributions to his home state, but also to his country. Memorial Stadium was built to remember people like the Minnicks and every other family who helped pay the price so we can enjoy our sacred football Saturdays.
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I grew up in Ashland. Jerry was my Jr. High shop teacher (We would listen to Paul Harvey while making tie holders and spice racks). He and his family lived directly across the street from us. Consequently, the Reece and Minnick kids were pretty close, as were our parents. His passion as a football coach is similar to Coach Erstad’s. He was a fiery competitor and demanded the same from his players. I don’t think Ashland appreciated his approach until well after he left the position. My dad was on the school board when they hired him and I remember there was a controversy (or two) about Jerry’s “style”; maybe a little more intense than what the Bluejay fan base was used to. My dad said it was what Ashland’s team needed and stood by him. Jerry was a tremendous family man, friend and neighbor. His tire business did well because he had a great personality and work ethic. He was brutally honest and you always knew where you stood with him. His wife Lois continued in health care in Ashland and was a wonderful caregiver, administrator and consultant even to the very end of her life. Ashland was a better place because of Jerry and Lois. I hope I can run into the kids this weekend to say hi. I remember my dad taking me to the NU Coliseum for Husker basketball games where I would see Jerry’s All-American picture above the inside entry (remember those?). I was very proud that I knew him and his family. I still am. These are the traditions of greatness that Nebraskans need to be reminded of and hold onto. Thanks for the article. Bill Reece, Lincoln, Nebraska
Great article. I remember Lyell Bremser talking about Jerry Minnick, our All-American tackle, on the radio. Wow! I was in the fourth or fifth grade back then. Thanks for leading me back through memory lane. Larry Andrews, Omaha, Nebraska
I love the story about Jerry Minnick and wish I were able to be in Lincoln this weekend to be part of the group of 52 family members attending the game. Jerry was my brother-in-law. He married my sister, Lois, when I was 11 years old. I still remember the year or so before they married when Lois brought Jerry home to meet her family. I was in awe. From day one he treated me like the little brother I became. When I was a bit older, I spent several summers working on the farm with him in Cambridge. He would drop me off in a field far from town and I would drive a tractor all day, plowing straight rows the way he taught me. I appreciate you acknowledging that Jerry chose not to take the offer from the Redskins in order to join the Air Force. Had he elected to play professional football I have no doubt he would have been successful. His greatest success over all was as a father and husband. He treated my sister very well and he and my sister reared four wonderful sons. I am pleased they will all be in Lincoln for the reunion. Best wishes, Richard Owen, Somers, New York
I would describe the Minnick Family Reunion in six words: There Is No Place Like Nebraska. Time passes but Big Red loyalty always stays the same, year after year, decade after decade. GBR! Steve Simmons, Scottsdale, Arizona
I just ran across the article you wrote on the Jerry Minnick reunion! When growing up on a farm in southwest Nebraska, we had a Cambridge mailing address although I went to high school in the neighboring town of Holbrook. I remember going to Cambridge when I was quite young and watching Jerry Minnick and the powerhouse Trojans play football. Jerry Peterson was another great player from Cambridge playing at about the same time. Then, of course, I listened to Lyell Bremser describe the games on the radio when both Jerrys were playing. This brought back a lot of great memories and I thank you for writing it! Gene Eubanks, Lincoln, Nebraska
I graduated from Ashland High in 1966. Jerry was my head coach and remained a friend. He was also a good friend of my parents. I remember how he would get into scrimmages or drills to demonstrate techniques without pads. When he did that he became the tall skinny kid. He was very confident, but you would never have known he was an All-American if you did not know his history. I always thought he must have been awfully strong and tough because he did not carry much weight on his frame. He was a good coach who cared about his players on and off the field and never forgot about them after they graduated. Curt Sikyta, Ord, Nebraska