Jim Baxter coached students in hockey, life

  • Article by: AIMEE BLANCHETTE , Star Tribune
  • Updated: March 26, 2006 - 10:33 PM

He taught for 50 years and was "like a second father to hundreds," a former player said.

Jim Baxter received his ultimate thank you between the first and second periods of the Minnesota Wild hockey game against the Detroit Red Wings Jan. 30.

With many of his former players in attendance, the 72-year-old retired Minneapolis hockey coach and biology teacher was presented with a Wild jersey with the number 50, in recognition of a half-century of coaching.

"That was a memorable night for him," said his wife, Diane.

Baxter died Feb. 27 in Ely, Minn., after a long fight with cancer. His funeral was held March 3 in Ely.

Baxter coached hundreds of players at Minnehaha Academy, the old West High School in Minneapolis, then at Washburn and Southwest high schools. He was also a biology teacher and football coach.

But he was much more than that, said Mark Culhane, one of Baxter's former players. Culhane played under Baxter at West in the 1970s and went on to be captain of the Dartmouth hockey team that finished third in the 1979 NCAA tournament.

"He was like a second father to hundreds of people, and I was one of them," Culhane said. "He taught me and a lot of others an awful lot about hockey, but somehow he had a way of teaching us about life, too, more through his examples than through his words. He was a man of great faith."

Bill Conroy, another one of Baxter's players from West said Baxter "had a way of reaching out to people ... and anyone who played for him knew his guiding principals: God first, whoever that God might be, then family, then school, then sports," Conroy said.

Baxter retired in 1992, but he couldn't quite give up the game. He and his wife moved permanently to their summer home on Burntside Lake in Ely, and he served as volunteer assistant with the Ely hockey program. He coached on the ice until a month before he died.

He and Diane married in 1957 and raised three daughters on the hockey rink. The learned how to play and impressed the boys with their skill , said his daughter Laurie Juranitch. "It was fun learning to play and being at the rink with him, where he wanted to be."

Off-the-ice time with family and friends was spent playing in the Echo Trail Ramblers, a bluegrass band including Diane, Jim's brother, a nephew and a close friend. They played at coffee houses, banquets and churches throughout Minnesota. He also enjoyed hunting, fishing and carpentry, with his family.

Baxter also is survived by daughters Sherri and Barb,; sister Joan; brother Richard, and four grandchildren.

A public memorial observance will be held from 2 to 6 p.m. Saturday at Minnehaha Academy, 3100 W. River Pkwy., Minneapolis. A 3 p.m. service will be followed by a reception.

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