THE FRONT ROW with Mark Nelke July 12, 2012 - Coeur d'Alene Press: Sports

THE FRONT ROW with Mark Nelke July 12, 2012

Passing of 'Big Dad' quite a big loss in Coeur d'Alene

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Posted: Thursday, July 12, 2012 12:15 am

Greg Stern was coached by Gary Rasmussen in football.

Ran track for him too.

But his memories of the man they called "Big Dad" had very little to do with Xs and Os, or the technique needed to stride over hurdles.

"He was just everything," said Stern, whose family moved from Lincoln, Mont., in 1967 and became next-door neighbors with the Rasmussens. The families remain close to this day. "It was incredible the impact he had on people."

Gary "Big Dad" Rasmussen, one of the icons in the long history of Coeur d'Alene High athletics, passed away Monday at age 75.

A memorial service is scheduled for next Wednesday at 7 p.m. at Coeur d'Alene High's Viking Field.

Stern was part of a two-parent family, but he noted the many kids of single parents that Big Dad took under his wing. Didn't matter if it was for football, or basketball - sometimes he would take the kids up to Clark Fork to fish.

That was also back in the days when high schools had designated smoking areas.

"He would get the guys out of the smoking circle and say, 'You're going to come to football practice,'" Stern said. "And most of them did. He brought the best out of people.

"If people could have seen him back then," Stern said, referring to the late 1960s and early 70s. "He could handle all the misfits, and make something out of them. There was so much more to him (than just a coach)."

BIG DAD, who was born in Libby, Mont., in 1936, and graduated from Libby High in 1954, got his start in coaching and teaching in Clark Fork, then moved to Coeur d'Alene a few years later. He coached football, track and basketball during his 32-year career as an educator. He even was a drill team instructor for a time. He retired from teaching in 1996.

Big Dad was Coeur d'Alene's head boys track coach from 1979-86, and then he coached both the boys and girls programs until 1989. Under Rasmussen, the Vikings won seven regional titles and twice were runners-up at state.

Back in the day, Big Dad was the driving force behind the starting of the Iron Horse Invitational track meet, a premier meet in the region for years before being discontinued. It was revived a few years ago, and renamed in Rasmussen's honor.

"Most would remember him as an awesome track coach, but he was also a heckuva football coach," said Larry Schwenke, former longtime Coeur d'Alene High coach and administrator, who coached football with Big Dad in the early 70s at the Mid-High - a school at the time for freshmen and sophomores. "I just know the kids just absolutely loved him. He was tough, but his heart was as big as gold, and he really cared about the kids."

When Donna Messenger moved up from Kamiah in 1984, she worked as an assistant track coach under Rasmussen until succeeding him as head coach in 1990.

"That man, absolutely, loved kids," Messenger recalled. "He had such a big heart, and he was quite a motivator ... I just think (athletes) liked him, and they just wanted to please him."

Messenger said one thing that jumped out about Big Dad treated everybody fairly - stars as well as the others. Also, she said, he would see the potential in some kids that other coaches may not have noticed.

"He was an inclusive person - he included everybody," Messenger said. "I think that was a good lesson for myself and other coaches.

"He was just a colorful spirit."

BIG DAD could be just that around the house as well.

Just ask Bryan "Bud" Rasmussen, one of three sons to Gary and Lois Rasmussen, who became one of the top throwing coaches in the country, and now runs an athletic training business in Coeur d'Alene.

"He obviously was the inspiration and, along with Bart Templeman, the mentor I needed to follow my dreams," Bud said. "You couldn't ask for a greater father, mentor, all of the above. From all of my coaching stops to the training business that I started, he's been with me every step of the way. And obviously Big Dad was that same type of person to so many others - a motivator to so many people trying to pursue their dreams."

"He was a true blue Viking through and through," added Rick Rasmussen, another son. "He especially loved watching his beloved Mariners and Seahawks no matter how poorly they did, and he was friendly to everyone he met - be it a student, community member, waitress, stranger - and everyone called him "Big Dad."

EVEN THOSE who came along later, when he had made the tranformation from coach to doting grandfather, were touched by Big Dad.

"I have not known Big Dad as long as many, but it didn't take long for me to 'get' why he is such a legend in Coeur d'Alene," said Julie Stark, a longtime youth softball coach whose children attended Coeur d'Alene High. "I've had the pleaure to coach his grandkids and work with Rick on the CHS Booster Club, and I can honestly say that I have never known a man more proud of his family than Big Dad."

This year, granddaughters Chelsey and Kylie Rasmussen played on a Viking softball team which won an improbable state title.

"His presence at a sporting event was bigger than life, even if he could only watch and cheer from the car. He was able to attend the end-of-the-season softball banquet and state championship celebration, and it was though it all came together for the Rasmussen family that night. As Chelsey and Kylie thanked their family for their support, you know there was a little extra thanks that Big Dad was there to see what they accomplished this season. It was very touching.

"I know that Big Dad touched many people's lives over the years, and I am proud to have gotten to know him, if even for a short time."

"WHO'S GONNA be on the cover?"

I would hear that question coming from the booming voice on the other side of the partition about three times a year.

I would look up just in time to see Big Dad rounding the corner, walking into our sports department and plopping himself down in one of the chairs.

Big Dad sold the ads which run in our high school and North Idaho College sports preview editions which ran at the beginning of the fall, winter and spring sports seasons. He did that pretty much every year since the Press approached him about doing that some three decades ago.

"Who do you think should be on the cover?" I would ask.

Big Dad would usually have his opinion. Sometimes we both had the same cover subject in mind, and if not, sometimes I'd see it his way, sometimes he'd see it mine.

If it was right before the spring sports special section, he was usually days away from his annual trip to Arizona for spring training baseball, among other loves. And we would be envious because he would be leaving us behind in the cold and the snow and the yuk.

Then, as quickly as he arrived, he would get up and walk away, often not to be seen again until it was time for the next sports special section.

BIG DAD used to also sell memberships to the Viking booster club, and the book on him was that he was pretty good at collecting money, especially when it came to funding projects that helped area athletes.

"He was very good to us, and a great supporter of young people," said Greg Crimp, owner of the Sports Cellar, a supplier of athletic clothing and equipment for local teams. "When he could, he went out of his way to be loyal, and to shop with us when he could. I think that's who he was in general - he was a loyal person to family and friends. When he was selling ads for the Press, he would ask how we were doing. He was more concerned about us than the ad."

ON GAME nights, we get a few calls into the sports department, asking for score updates.

Not many callers get away with identifying themselves only by their nickname.

"This is Big Dad," came the voice on the other end. "How'd the Vikings do?"

Sometimes he would call up to make sure we knew how his granddaughters did in a softball game.

One time, if memory serves, he called up to tell us he had done something impressive in a card game (another one of his passions), and could we write a story about it.

I told him I would see what I could do.

Soon, another sports season would roll around.

"Who's gonna be on the cover?" he would say.

RIP Big Dad, as you head off to that big card game in the sky.

Mark Nelke is sports editor of The Press. He can be reached at 664-8176, Ext. 2019, or via email at Follow him on Twitter at CdAPressSports.

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  • Jan C posted at 9:44 pm on Thu, Jul 12, 2012.

    Jan C Posts: 76

    I believe everything in the article is true...besides all that he was a wonderful Algebra teacher, too!
    He made it so easy to understand and so much fun!

    I have never forgotten the time I aced my Algebra test in 9th grade and he told me: "So, I guess your brother (whom he taught the year before and was an A student) isn't doing your homework, after all! Good job!" ;-) I never forgot it, and don't know how many times I have told that story in the last 40 years.

    He was "Big Daddy" to everyone he taught. He will be greatly missed and always fondly remembered; and yes, I am sure by EVERYONE who knew him. God bless his family at this time.

  • SamuelStanding posted at 7:46 am on Thu, Jul 12, 2012.

    SamuelStanding Posts: 621

    It was an honor to work with and know this man, what a great soul. You will be greatly missed in local sporting events and in this community. Rest in peace my friend, and may you family be told daily, just how wonderful of a human being you were to EVERYONE.

    Great article Mark, thanks for stepping up.

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