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Ex-Minnesota high school coach Schmoker passes

Ken Schmoker, who made a name for himself as a wrestler in Iowa and in Colorado before becoming a high school wrestling coach in Bemidji, Minn., passed away Nov. 1 at age 91.

Ken Schmoker
Schmoker was head wrestling coach at Bemidji High School from 1958-1976, leading the team to 10 district championships, nine Region 8 titles, and two Northwest Conference crowns. He coached three Minnesota state wrestling champs: brothers Jerry and Rick Lee, and Nestle Grimes. Schmoker compiled a 129-83-10 record in 19 seasons.

For his coaching accomplishments, Schmoker was inducted into the Bemidji High School Lumberjack Hall of Fame in 1996, the Minnesota State Wrestling Coaches Hall of Fame in 2002, the BHS Athletic Hall of Fame in 2003 and the National Wrestling Hall of Fame in 2009.

Despite spending nearly 60 years of his life in the north woods of Minnesota, Kenneth John Schmoker was born in Fort Dodge, Iowa in Aug. 1926. Raised on a farm, Schmoker was allowed to drive the family Ford Model A to deliver milk pails, attend school and sports practice, then return to the farm with the empty milk pails.

While at Fort Dodge High School, Schmoker participated in football, track and wrestling. He was a runner-up at 145 pounds at the Iowa high school state wrestling championships. Schmoker's coach described his wrestler as being "the sparkplug of the team."

After graduating from Fort Dodge in 1944, Schmoker served in the U.S. Air Force until 1946. He then enrolled at what is now Iowa Central Community College, later transferring to Colorado State (now University of Northern Colorado) in Greeley, where he was a three-time Rocky Mountain Conference champion and two-time NCAA competitor at 145 pounds (1949 and 1950).

Upon graduation from the Greeley school, Schmoker launched his teaching and coaching career in Colorado, first at Trinidad High School, then at Pueblo Centennial High School, leading that wrestling program to the Colorado State Championship in 1954. Ken was the President of the Colorado Coaches & Officials Association and Member of the National High School Wrestling Rules Committee.

While in Colorado, Schmoker met his eventual life partner Maedel, the woman who he would marry in 1953, and remain a couple until his passing. The two discovered Bemidji, Minn., deciding to relocate there. In 1958, Schmoker accepted a job as industrial arts instructor and head wrestling coach… positions that he held until 1976.

"Ken was a long-time advocate for wrestling and the people who participate in the sport," according to his obituary. "As a coach, he was known as a taskmaster who molded young people to stand on their own two feet and strive to become the best possible individuals they could. Many of his wrestlers gave him full credit for pointing them in the right direction in their lives. He organized and directed many wrestling tournaments, including District and Regional Tournaments."

Darrell Bahr, who wrestled for Schmoker in 1958 and 1959 -- his last two years at Bemidji High, and Schmoker's first two -- confirmed those sentiments to the Bemidji Pioneer, saying, "He liked to help people. He'd go out of his way to help people. He wanted to make sure the kids had a good time, graduated and did the best they could."

"He was one hard-working, hard-nosed guy, but he had a heart like a teddy bear," said Howie Schultz who became an assistant to Schmoker at Bemidji High. "He was very driven, and he took some kids that probably never would have finished high school. (They) not only finished high school, but became very, very respected citizens once they left Bemidji High School."

"I learned so much about being who I am and what I could do. And I was like anybody else," Schultz said. "That's what he did. He brought the best out of people."

Schmoker is survived by his wife Maedel, son David, daughter Mary Ann (Rod Anttila) and grandson Kenneth.

No services will be held, per Ken Schmoker's request. Memorials may be made to a charity of the donor's choice.

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