Memorable evening: BHS welcomes Saeger, Aguiar, Lawrence, Aitken to Hall of Fame
BEMIDJI — Bob Saeger and his wife Gloria are not fans of cold weather. Living in Scottsdale, Ariz. since 1974 they don’t usually have to contend with temperatures that dip into the 40s or worry about having to put on an extra sweater.
“I’ve been back to Bemidji for some high school reunions,” Saeger said. “I really don’t like cold weather but we’ll be happy to deal with it this week.”
In the 1960s Saeger was too busy to notice the cold. A member of the Bemidji High School class of 1965, Saeger spent his time competing in four different sports, earning 13 letters during his Lumberjacks career.
Saeger also was an academic leader, being elected to the National Honor Society as a junior and graduating seventh in his class of about 310 students.
Monday night Bemidji High School officials displayed their appreciation for what Saeger has done for the school and the community by electing him to the BHS Athletic Hall of Fame.
Joining him in the Hall of Fame Class of 2013 is former Lumberjack and Gustavus Adolphus teammate Dennis Aguiar, Jim Lawrence and Rob Aitken. Their additions bring the number of Hall of Fame members to 78 and Saeger is very proud to be included in the fraternity.
“I was surprised when (BHS activities director Troy Hendricks) called me,” he said. “I was working outside and my mind was somewhere else and it took some time to sink in.
“I feel very honored.”
A three-time football and basketball letterman, Saeger was the quarterback and safety of football teams that won 27 straight games from 1962 to 1964. He also was a guard on the basketball team and helped the Jacks advance to the state tournament, finishing fifth in 1964 and third in 1965.
In baseball the pitcher and outfielder won five letters and played on two state tournament teams. He also won two golf letters.
But the retired dentist is equally proud of his academic achievements.
“You can be an athlete and still do well in school,” Saeger said. “Doing well academically is very important if you want to be successful.”
As an athlete Saeger was the trigger on a football program that was unbeatable.
“I’m proud that we never lost in football,” he said. “Going undefeated in football was one of my best memories. Making the All-State basketball team in 1965 (Saeger helped lead the Lumberjacks to the state tournament in 1963-65) also was a highlight.
“We had powerful football and basketball teams. Since high school I have met some of our opponents and they always tell me that we were dominating,” Saeger added.
Denny Aguiar Saeger’s teammate on some of those squads was Denny Aguiar who also was inducted into the Hall of Fame on Monday.
“Bob was two years behind me in school and I’m proud to be inducted with him,” Aguiar said. “It also makes me proud that there are a couple of Gustavus alums who are inducted this year.”
Aguiar was not an imposing figure on the field or the track but he did possess a quality that every true athlete needs.
“When you are 5-foot-nothing and weigh 100-nothing, nobody wants you on their football team,” Aguiar said. “I didn’t have the size but I did have speed and athletic ability. But the biggest quality an athlete needs is the desire to play hard and I had that.”
That desire was obvious to his high school coaches and teammates. And some of his teammates displayed that same type of desire in their efforts to reward Aguiar with membership in the Hall of Fame.
“Jim Neuenfelt, Roger Johnson and Jerry Phillips were my champions,” Aguiuar said. “They promoted me and I feel proud to know that guys I played with would champion me into the Hall of Fame.
“But in my mind they have it all wrong,” Aguiar continued. “Jim, Roger and Jerry were all much better than me and they should have nominated themselves instead of nominating me.”
Aguiar established Bemidji High School and Gustavus athletic records during his playing days and in the business world Aguiar went on to found the Ag Commodity Trading Company which is based in Kansas.
“I’m very humbled by being selected to the Hall of Fame. Of all the riches and awards that I have had during my life, Bemidji named to the Bemidji Hall of Fame is the one that mom would have been the most proud of,” Aguiar said.
“I was lucky to go to Bemidji High School and I was lucky to play for coaches like Bun Fortier and Red Wilson. And I was lucky to play when I did. I was the guy running down the football field with the ball but it was the other guys who did the work.
“Because of my teammates when I was on the field I felt like I was Ray Cronk (a legendary BHS athlete who was inducted to the Hall of Fame in the inaugural class of 2001). And now I’m (in the Hall of Fame) with the immortal Ray Cronk. And that is something special.”
Jim Lawrence Jim Lawrence was a Lumberjack in the early 1950s and he said good fortune was as instrumental in his success as was any other factor.
“I just did my thing,” Lawrence said. “After my first grade in school we moved from Red Lake to Bemidji and I was lucky to get in with a good bunch of guys.”
Lawrence’s brothers Dick and Bill also were beneficiaries of that good fortune and, like Jim, they took advantage of their opportunities. All three can now boast that they are members of the BHS Hall of Fame as Dick was inducted in 2002 and Bill in 2005.
In 2011 Jim’s son, David, also became a member of the Hall of fame.
“I was always proud to represent Bemidji High School and I was proud to be a student here,” Lawrence said. “I was proud to play for my coaches here and at Bemidji State.
“Bun Fortier taught me how to play basketball and we ran and pressed the whole game. And at Bemidji State Harry Fritz was my football coach and he challenged me. My coaches forced me to work on my skills and take advantage of my abilities and when I coached that’s what I expected from my kids. If you do those things, you will be successful,” Lawrence added.
Lawrence’s BHS resume includes playing baseball, being an end on the 1952 state championship football team and being on the basketball team that finished third in the state in 1953.
“When I was in school we played everything,” Lawrence said. “As soon as football ended we couldn’t wait to get in the gym for basketball. And when that ended we couldn’t wait to get to the diamond for baseball. During the summer I played baseball for the Bagley town team.
“I actually would like to see more kids become involved in two or three sports,” he continued. “I think that playing more the one sport makes you a better overall athlete.”
Rob Aitken When Aitken received word that he would be a member of the Class of 2013 he immediately thought of those who made this honor possible.
“Right away my thoughts went to Ray Kavanagh, Des Sagedahl and Bryan Grand,” Aitken said. “They were my coaches. They were exceptional coaches and my being elected into the Hall of Fame is a tribute to them.”
Kavanagh (a Hall of Fame inductee in 2010) was Aitken’s football coach, Sagedahl (a 2004 inductee) coached baseball and Grand (a 2006 inductee) coached hockey.
“Those three coaches taught their teams how to work together and those lessons have stayed with me,” Aitken said.
Aitken experienced tremendous success during his tenure with the Lumberjacks. The baseball team captured a pair of Region 8-2A titles and in 1986 the Jacks finished second in the state tournament. He also participated in the state tournament as a member of the 1986 hockey team.
“As the seasons changed we would just continue to play the different sports and I was fortunate that I was good enough to make those teams,” Aitken, who played in 168 varsity events and missed only one during his BHS career, said.
“That’s the path I took and I’m glad that I did because each sport gave me more contacts and more friends. In football my highlight was being able to play with friends like George Pelawa. In hockey and in baseball it was a thrill to play in the state tournaments at the Civic Center and at the Metrodome.
“But whatever success I had was a tribute to the coaches and my teammates,” Aitken added. “I’m excited to share my special day with all of them. I’m proud of being elected into the Hall of Fame and I’m sure Desi and Ray will be smiling.”