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PIONEER PERSPECTIVES: John McRae's talents touched many people

Friends and colleagues were stunned early this week with the news of John McRae’s sudden passing at the age of 65. They will celebrate his life along with family members on Sunday, July 3.

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When Bemidji State won the 2009 Midwest Regional men’s hockey championship at Grand Rapids, Mich., to earn a trip to the Frozen Four, John McRae was there.

It was clearly a highlight in his sports writing career, and he brought the story and emotion of the event to Bemidji Pioneer readers in his familiar, stylish way.

McRae wrote: “It's not too often that the stars align and everything goes perfectly in life, if even for a fleeting moment in time. From the moment the Beavers boarded the charter on Thursday afternoon there was a hard-to-explain feeling that something good was going to happen. There was this quiet confidence surrounding the team that was unmistakable.”

Friends and colleagues were stunned early this week by the news of John McRae’s sudden passing at the age of 65. They will celebrate his life along with family members from 4 to 7 p.m. on Sunday, July 3, at Slim’s Bar and Grill.

Pioneer readers were treated to John’s talented stories and columns, but his skill with words also made a difference in his most recent position as Youth Sports Coordinator for Bemidji Community Education. His former workmate, John Buckanaga, said McRae was responsible for bringing millions of dollars in grants to the program.

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“We were able to nail quite a few of those grants with John’s expertise in writing,” Buckanaga said. “These were highly competitive grants. John just kept writing them and we kept getting them. It was a really good run. Without John, we never would have had a chance at obtaining these grants.”

Buckanaga, who played Babe Ruth baseball and high school basketball with McRae, said John also enjoyed working with youths at their after-school and summer events.

“The kids loved him,” Buckanaga said. “He was someone the kids always looked forward to seeing. He would do anything for those kids. What a loss to the community, the school district and his family.”

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A March 31, 2009, column from John McRae.

Childhood friend and teammate Bob Luoma shared a story that illustrates McRae’s character.

John was a member of Bemidji High School’s state championship basketball team in 1974. Luoma’s father, Jack, was the head coach.

Some 10 years after that season, Jack was in his classroom one day when John McRae walked in. He just wanted to thank the coach for giving him a chance to be on that team.

“That had an impact on my dad,” Bob Luoma said. “John was a good guy. He was the kind of guy who observed and watched. I think that’s what made him such a great writer. He had nuance and he had layers. He wanted to know why. He had a kind heart and soul.”

Tom Serratore certainly agrees.

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“I think the world of John,” said Serratore, head coach of the BSU men’s hockey team. “He was a great human being. It was so fun having him around Beaver hockey. He was so good of a writer, I’d always say to John, ‘You know what to write. Finish it off the way you do it.’ He had a way with words, a special way of writing that made everybody feel good about the articles he wrote.”

After the Beavers ended their magical run at the Frozen Four in April 2009, McRae wrote:

“It's become a tired cliche to say that sports can be a metaphor for life. But it describes the Beavers and their incredible run perfectly — the value of hard work, overcoming adversity, facing challenges head-on and succeeding against all odds. The Bemidji State men's hockey team did it all and more.”

So did John McRae.

Dennis Doeden is the former publisher of the Pioneer. You can reach him by phone at (218) 333-9771 or by email at ddoeden@bemidjipioneer.com.

Dennis Doeden, former publisher of the Bemidji Pioneer, is a feature reporter. He is a graduate of Metropolitan State University with a degree in Communications Management.
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