Press Box View: Rochester sports giants gone but not forgotten
There's an old saying in Hollywood that celebrity deaths always come in threes. Often times it's true, this so-called "rule of three'' has been documented several times over the years.
Eerily, that same rule has hit home recently with three Rochester sports giants — legends really — dying within the past six weeks.
Paul Lehman was 88 when he died on Jan. 24.
"When it came to sports,'' said Ed Rauen, a longtime friend, "Paul was one of the most enthusiastic individuals I have known.''
He could — and often did — talk for hours about his beloved Minnesota Gophers, or the Twins and the Vikings.
Lehman secured Vikings season tickets —at one point he had 10 of them — when they first moved to the Metrodome in 1982. His son, Jim, said his dad made the trip to the Dome 600-plus times over the years to watch sports.
"He was proud of that fact,'' said Jim. "He kept going and going until a few years ago when it got to be too much of a challenge.''
Being a Vikings, Gophers and Twins fan hasn't been easy, either. There have been some lean, lean years.
"One thing about Paul, he was always looking at the positive, that's the thing I will remember the most,'' said Rauen, "That and all the memorabilia and newspaper articles he collected over the years. And he always took pictures. Always.''
Rauen is the president of the Rochester Quarterbacks Club and in 1991, the club started its hall of fame. Lehman was on the original nominating committee, and he kept that seat until he died.
"He hardly missed a Monday meeting,'' said Rauen, "and it hasn't been the same since he left us. In fact, we kept his chair open for a couple of weeks after he died.''
Lehman, an employee of the Post-Bulletin for 42 years, was memorialized at a wake this past weekend.
Evar Silvernagle was buried on Monday. His coaching resume is mind-boggling and there's a reason why he's in eight sports halls, that and the recipient of numerous other awards and honors.
He coached 12 state swimming championship teams, compiled a (are you ready for this?) lifetime record of 200-10 and is credited with producing 60 All-Americans. At one point, his teams won 87 straight dual meets over one seven-year stretch.
"A lot of his coaching was done in the old Kaufman Pool,'' said Kerwin Engelhart, who, as a Rochester athletic director, worked with Silvernagle for a number of years. "It had four lanes and not really conducive to the caliber of swimmers he turned out.
"But he was still awfully successful.''
Silvernagle was presented the Coaches Lifetime Achievement Award by the Rochester Amateur Sports Commission at is annual banquet on Jan. 30 and as it turns out, it was his final honor.
Engelhart and Dick Thatcher presented the award to Silvernagle at his home.
'He was still plenty sharp,'' said Engelhart, "and it wasn't until the past couple of years where he had difficulty getting around.''
Silvernagle died on March 1 at the age of 96. He and his wife Dorothy June celebrated their 74th wedding anniversary on Valentine's Day.
Dr. Phil Gentling died two weeks ago on Feb. 21. He was 94.
When you research the history of hockey in Rochester, Gentling's name surfaces near the top.
He was one of the men responsible for bringing the Rochester Mustangs to the city and was president of the Mustangs Hockey Association from 1947-52.
"From what I understand Phil never played hockey,'' said Mark Janes, whose father Joe Janes formed the Mustangs in the 1940s, "but he played a big role in any success they had. I've known the Gentling family for years. We used to go to the Auditorium on Saturday and Sundays and get paid 10 cents to shovel off the rink.''
Gentling, who also played football for Tulane, got the hockey itch when he moved to Rochester. Back then, Mustangs games were played at the Mayo Civic Auditorium — on a short rink — and they had to turn away fans because the team was so popular.
"Phil was a part of that,'' said Janes.
Time marches on, however, and now all we have left are memories.
But there are plenty of those.