Former athletes of St. James High School will recognize the names of the 2013 Railroad Days grand marshals.
Together Howard Schmidtke and Arnold “Judge” Veglahn represent multiple state championship teams in both baseball and basketball. They coached athletes that would go on to play their respective sport at the college level – but more than that, they coached young men who would go on to become successful adults and influence communities throughout the state.
Schmidtke grew up on a small farm in Morgan, Minn. It wasn’t until he met his wife of 69 years, Audrey, that he felt the urge to leave his small town. He served in the United States Military after his marriage in 1944. In July of 1966, Schmidtke would move to St. James and begin a long teaching career at what is now Armstrong School.
Schmidtke coached a wide variety of sports while working as a teacher in St. James; tennis, track, softball and cross county but his greatest passion was for the local baseball team and players.
The St. James state high school baseball championship team of 1979 was coached by Schmidtke and was one of the greatest teams in high school baseball history. Schmidtke said the team had it all, from great pitchers to long hitters and was devastating for opponents.
In the eight years that Schmidtke coached baseball in St. James, the team won seven district championships, three regional championships and one state championship. His VFW baseball team also went on to win the state championship in 1978.
A number of individuals who played for Schmidtke went on to play at the Lions All Star Game, an event Schmidtke still attends, including his three sons.
“What’s great about being a coach is watching a guy go ahead and play in college,” said Schmidtke. “Some guys even tried out in the majors but they didn’t make that.”
Schmidtke is a fun-loving man who is proud of all his student-athletes. He said having the support of a woman like his wife made his job coaching for St. James a lot easier. Audrey supported her husband during his late nights and long travels while coaching and will be riding along-side the grand marshal during this year’s parade.
Coaching during the same stretch of time was Veglahn, who worked in the St. James School District from 1952 until his retirement in 1984 – coaching the Saints basketball team the entire time.
Veglahn coached basketball teams into the state tournament multiple times and lead the 1972 Saints to a 29-0 season culminating in a state “Class A” championship. The team finished their season by defeating the “Class AA” championship team Mounds View that year.
In his basketball coaching career, Veglahn had only one year in which he lost more games than he won.
Page 2 of 2 - “We had some awful good kids – they were good players and awful good people,” said Veglahn.
Veglahn was a two-sport athlete in college, excelling at both baseball and basketball. During his time in St. James, Veglahn also coached baseball for ten years and helped bring the baseball team to the state tournament twice.
When it became difficult to coach both sports, Veglahn gave up coaching baseball to continue helping his basketball team thrive.
Veglahn has enjoyed being a part of the St. James community. He built his home here in 1958 after receiving a GI loan for his service in the United States Military.
“I made a lot of good friends – it was hard not to stay,” said Veglahn. “I had chances to move, but it wasn’t a chance to get any higher and I didn’t care to go to the cities to coach.”
Both Veglahn and Schmidtke worked as driver’s ed. teachers and still look forward to hearing from their students. They are looking forward to seeing old students and enjoying the Railroad Days weekend with their family doing the things they love. Don’t forget to wave as these coaching legends make their way down Main Street this Saturday during the Railroad Days parade.