During the 1950s, Duluth native Joe Nowak was one of the top ski jumpers in the United States, competing in three Olympic trials.
During the 1960s, Nowak coached the Cloquet High School ski teams to six overall state titles.
That success as an athlete and coach helped Nowak to be offered a permanent position coaching ski jumpers for the U.S. Olympic team.
"He had the opportunity to advance [his coaching career]," said Brent Smith, who was coached by Nowak at Cloquet High School before becoming a coach and teacher in Cloquet. "He chose not to leave Cloquet. His loyalty really showed."
Nowak, who eventually coached Cloquet to 12 overall skiing state titles before retiring in 1984, died on Oct. 27 in Esko, Minn. He was 88.
In addition to the 12 team state championships — which included seven consecutive (from 1965-71) and 11 in a 12-year span, Nowak coached nine individual state champions. Among the athletes he coached at Cloquet was Mike Randall, a ski jumper on the 1984 U.S. Olympic team.
"Obviously [Nowak] had knowledge and expertise," said Smith. "He was just so extremely patient with us. I think the one thing that made him a successful coach was the amount of time he invested in all of us."
Nowak's biggest contribution to Cloquet skiing is still being used — the Pine Valley Ski Resort. The facility opened in 1963 after Nowak, who had grown up near Chester Bowl in Duluth, convinced Northwest Paper (now Sappi Global) to donate 40 acres of land. The donation was large enough to accommodate all three ski disciplines — ski jumping, alpine (downhill) and nordic (cross-country).
"In 1961, there wasn't anything" on that land, Smith said. "But he had a vision. He got the land and all the materials to be donated. It was a great place. All three of our teams were able to practice at one spot. Every Tuesday and Thursday night we'd practice under the lights. It sounds corny, but it was a great family atmosphere."
Nowak, who had eight brothers, started competing in 1945 at the age of 16.
"My brothers skied, and I just copied them," Nowak told the Duluth News Tribune in 2008. "We had great skiers to watch and picked out who looked best in the air, and tried to copy them."
He won three Duluth city ski titles. During his ski jumping career, he set 11 ski jump records at meets in the U.S., Canada and Germany. From 1951 to 1959, he was ranked in the top 10 in the U.S.
Nowak, a graduate of Duluth Cathedral High School, served as a corporal in the U.S. Army during the Korean War. After the war, he worked for Bell Telephone and IBM before finishing his degree at Minnesota-Duluth. He started teaching at Cloquet in 1958.
He retired in 1983. He is a member of the Duluth Cathedral Athletic Hall of Fame, the Minnesota State Ski Coaches Hall of Fame and the U.S. Ski Jumping Hall of Fame.
"Joe Nowak was a talented ski jumper and an absolute gentleman for our sport," said Bryan Sanders, executive director of the U.S. Ski Jumping Hall of Fame. "Furthermore, he focused on youth and introducing them to our original Minnesota sport of ski jumping.
"He is remembered by dozens of Minnesota Olympians as one of the most talented individuals when it came to motivating and encouraging kids to succeed in life and on the ski hill. He is irreplaceable and will be missed immensely by the ski jumping fraternity."
Nowak is survived by three brothers: Gerald and John of Duluth and Lawrence, of Torrance, Calif. Services have been held.
"He never married," Smith said. "The skiers became his family."