Lou Barle

(This story was published in the Jan. 5, 1997 edition of the Herald-Review.)

COLERAINE — To many Greenway-area students growing up between the mid1950s and the mid-1970s, Lou Barle was a legend.

A respected coach, teacher and principal, Barle would use his large physical presence to physically intimidate in need be, but it was his warm, out-going personality and kind, understanding nature which stood out most about him.

Barle died Monday, Dec. 30, at age 80, in his Coleraine home. Former Greenway athletes and students mourned the loss of the man whom most called, even many years after graduating from high school, as “Mr. Barle.”

Barle had an illustrious 34-year coaching career which started at Sauk Centre High School and then moved to Greenway High School in the mid1950s. He coached football, basketball, track, golf and wrestling during his career and his teams won numerous titles and honors. He also served as athletic director at Greenway for several years. In addition, he was a basketball and football referee, past president of the Minnesota Football Coaches Association, and was inducted into the Minnesota Football Coaches Association Hall of Fame.

“Lou Barle meant everything to Greenway sports,” Grand Rapids attorney Kent Nyberg, a 1966 graduate of Greenway, said. “I think he was an awesome individual. I think Greenway sports were built around the principles that he instilled through his high school football program. Today, a lot of kids are hockey players only and I think kids are giving up a lot by not learning the discipline of a Lou Barle or the coaches from that era who grew up in a different time than we did.”

Pete Jones, a 1975 graduate and captain of the 1974 Raider team, said, “The thing I always remember about Mr. Barle is that he was a good football coach. He was an excellent coach as far as being fair to you and giving everybody a chance. Everybody who I grew up with always respected him and thought he was a terrific guy. He was always looking out for you and he always had your best interests at heart. He was a legend. I remember the earlier years, in the 1960s when Greenway had all those good football teams. Lou was always respected because of his athletic abilities when he was playing sports and also the fact that he was a winning coach.”

Mike Tok, a 1962 graduate, and now an instructor at Grand Rapids High School, remembers, “I remember Lou as being such a leader. He was so inspiring. I remember when I was going out for football my junior year. I was on the bench a lot my sophomore year. During my junior year, he instilled in us such a pride to play the game of football for him. We worked so hard that summer getting ourselves in condition. That was the kind of guy he was. He just made you want to do your best.”

Lou’s son, Mike, remembers when his family moved to Coleraine in the mid-1950s. “I think he just happened to come at a really good time. I think Greenway was at a turning point where there were lots of good athletes, lots of good families in the community. He just loved to coach, loved to be involved with kids. He and Greenway were a great match. They worked well together to bring Greenway up to the next level of competition and respectability. He was willing to put that effort forth and found kids who wanted to play for him who wanted to do the same thing.”

Barle was born in Gilbert in 1916, and had a great high school career before graduating from Gilbert High School. He then went on to have an illustrious career at Duluth State Teaches College (now the University of Minnesota-Duluth) in football and basketball while earning his bachelor of science degree in education. He later earned his master’s degree from the University of North Dakota.

After his collegiate athletic exploits which included earning 1etters in four years in three sports, he played two seasons in the National Football League for the Detroit Lions and Cleveland Rams. He also spent two seasons in the National Basketball League, the forerunner for the National Basketball Association for the Oshkosh All-Stars who won the world championship in 1941. After his athletic career, he was named as a charter member into the Northern Intercollegiate Conference Hall of Fame and also was a charter member of the UMD Athletic Hall o Fame.

“There was nothing he couldn’t do well as an athlete,” Mike Barle said. “He was a legend in a lot of ways, and I am not saying that because I am related to him. I heard that so many times from the people around me. He did a lot of good things and being a good athlete was one of them.”

Lou Barle just didn’t leave his mark on Greenway athletes. Serving as the principal of the junior high in Bovey for many years, he displayed the sternness necessary for the position, but he also was quick to put his big arm around students and congratulate them for a good report card.

“As a principal, I remember that he always looked out for the kids,” Jones explained. “If you had a break coming, he would give it to you. But at the same time, if you had a swat coming with the paddle, he also gave you that.”

Said Tok, “I think when I was younger, I really kind of feared him. No way would I want to come in front of him if I did something wrong. So, you really watched your step. That was the kind of guy he was. He made you, just by his presence, walk the line. I found out later, getting to know him very well, that his bark was worse than his bite. He was just a fine, fine gentleman and he would do anything and everything for you.

“People just didn’t want to mess up. When you mentioned his name, it almost had a fear that you didn’t want to do something wrong to embarrass yourself in front of him, or embarrass him or the school. That is the kind of reputation that he built in this community of Greenway, and it was just excellent.”

Mike Barle said, “There are a number of people who have told me he was hard on them, yet he was fair. I have heard people say that when he was a middle school principal and he paddled them that it was probably the best thing to ever happen to them. He always remembered those kids who he tried to straighten out and move forward and help them make something of their lives. That meant something to him. He was an educator, and it was a lifetime thing. He was trying to teach me things right up to the end, in his own way. He was teaching people all the time. He saw that as his job to teach and he did that all his life.”

Mark White, president of the First National Bank of Coleraine and a 1976 graduate, remembers Lou Barle, who was a close family friend, “They have named the football field (Dixon-Barle Field in Coleraine) after him and it just goes to show that he has really had an impact on everybody. There is no doubt that he is one of the more respected gentlemen I have ever known. He was the nicest man you would ever want to meet. Growing up and having him as a coach, teacher and principal, there was a little bit of fright there because he was a big man. He carried that paddle around school and he would stand outside of his office when the lunch bell rang. You had to go right by him to get to the lunchroom and boy, you didn’t run because you were in trouble if you did.”

Said Tok, “One of the things that I admire about him is that the guy had a memory. He didn’t forget you. He knew your name. There were people who would come out of the past and he would know them and he would remember them. He always had time for you. I don’t care who you were, he always had time for you. He always took a little time out of his schedule to greet you and talk to you.”

Mike Barle explained, “I think more than anything else, people really appreciated the fact that he had a lot of character and he was honest and straight forward, and I think that was probably his greatest attribute. I have just been blessed by terrific parents (Lou’s wife Mary Alice preceded him in death.) They were very fair, they were loving, they were kind, they were stern but yet tried to teach us a lot of the good things such as how to be a good person. I have just been blessed in so many ways by my parents. I just consider myself one of the luckiest guys in the world.”


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