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From the farm to Hall of Fame

Garth Lappin grew up on a farm outside of Leroy with his parents, three sisters and a brother.

It was during the Great Depression, a difficult time to be sure.

With the scarcity of jobs, Garth's dad — Robert  — thought farming was the only way to go because it  was a sure way to make a living. Anything else was too risky.

Garth thought differently. He decided that farming was not his cup of tea and first and foremost, wanted  to get an education, something his dad vehemently opposed.

So he packed his knapsack, said goodbye to his family  and headed for Cresco, Iowa.

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On foot.

He was 16.

Did he make the right decision? Apparently so.

On Thursday night, Garth Lappin will be inducted into the University of Minnesota M Club  Hall of Fame and the 2011 class will be formerly introduced at halftime of the Gophers and North Dakota State football game Saturday.

"It's a huge honor, my dad would have been so proud,'' said Garth's son Greg, of Rochester, a vice president and general manager of the Rochester Athletic Club.

Garth died a year ago on Tuesday. He was 89.

Backing up a step, Lappin made it to Cresco where he hooked up with the owner of Hub's Clothing, who let him have a room above the store. The owner — a big wrestling fan — also introduced Lappin to the sport, which was as big in Iowa back then just as it is now.

But then came the bombing of Pearl Harbor.

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"He immediately enlisted in the Navy, no questions asked, and served for years in the South Pacific,'' said Greg.

All along he wanted to attend the University of Minnesota and Garth finally did. And, in fact, he became a big-time wrestler, where he lettered from 1947-49 and was crowned Big Ten champion in 1948. He was a two-time All-American at 120 pounds in 1947 and 1949 and just missed out on qualifying for the United States Olympic team.

After graduating, he was approached by Gophers legendary coach Dave Bartelma, who took Lappin and two of his former Gopher teammates  — Alan Rice and Vern Gagne — on exhibition tours to high schools around the state.

"They tell me that's what got wrestling started in Minnesota,'' said Greg. "He was a pioneer, especially for youth wrestling.

"Vern has remained friends of the family ever since.''

Lappin coached at Anoka High School, compiling a 102-17 record along with two team and 16 individual state championships.

After leaving coaching, Lappin arranged for national wrestling tournaments at Anoka and Coon Rapids high schools, including a match between the USA team and the USSR touring team.

He was also tournament director for the 1972 Olympic Trials that featured Dan Gable, Chris Taylor, Ben Peterson and Wayne Wells among others.

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"To see those guys in person, boy, that was a childhood thrill,'' said Greg.

Garth referred high school and college matches for years, helped found the fist metro Wrestling Association and was president of the Minnesota High School Wrestling Association.

He is also a member of the Minnesota High School Coaches Hall of Fame and the Minnesota Chapter of the National Wrestling Hall of Fame for lifetime service.

"I remember dad coaching on a Friday night and then we would get up early on Saturday and drive to another match where he would ref all day,'' said Greg. "Wrestling became his life and that was fine by me.''

Greg eventually turned to tennis where he walked-on with the Gophers and eventually earned three letters.

"I know how much playing for the Gophers meant to my father,'' said Greg. "Gopher sports became his passion.''

None more so than wrestling, at any level.

"I'm not saying this because I'm a proud son,'' said Greg, "but dad really had an impact on wrestling in Minnesota.

"You can ask anyone of that generation and they'll tell you the same thing.''

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