Educator Gerald Cady of Plymouth brought innovations to South High School in Minneapolis, helping at-risk students to stay in school.

Cady, 86, died of heart disease July 28 in New Hope.

Cady, who had a brief professional football career, called the last seven years of his career at South High School in Minneapolis his best, said his wife, Katherine of Plymouth.

"He really influenced a lot of kids," she said.

In the late 1970s and early 1980s, he established programs to keep at-risk kids in school, and to raise needed funds for the school.

"He had vision and wisdom, and could see the students' potential," said Helene Turnbull, South High School social worker.

"He was just a big-hearted person" who saw beyond the disruption and manipulation that low-achieving children used to get attention," said Turnbull. "He realized it was based on deeper problems."

Cady founded a program at South to provide encouragement, tutoring and scholarly extracurricular activities for those children. "That kept kids on track," said Turnbull.

The program, which used businesses and social agencies as partners, is still active at South.

He was instrumental in establishing the South High Foundation, and continued working with it after retirement. It provides money for students who can't afford the expenses of extracurricular activities, and for teachers who need money for classroom projects.

To the staff, "he was an encouraging force," Turnbull said.

Cady graduated from high school in Fairmont, Minn., and then served in the military during World War II.

In 1949, he graduated from Gustavus Adolphus College in St. Peter, Minn., where he was a Little All-America, playing tackle on the football team. He was also on the basketball and track teams.

He played professional football for a few months with the old Los Angeles Dons, leaving after being injured in training camp.

He began his high school teaching career in Menahga and Aitkin, Minn., joining the Minneapolis schools in 1952.

He also coached varsity football at the former Vocational High School in Minneapolis.

Al (Skipp) Quick, one of his players, said the team had a poor record but Cady kept the boys coming back to practice, urging them to show weekly improvement.

In retirement, Cady painted ceramics and gardened at home and for his church, St. George's Episcopal in St. Louis Park.

In addition to his wife of 62 years, he is survived by two sons, Tom of Orono, and Chris of Independence, Minn.; two daughters, Betsy Ford of Plymouth, Mich., and Linda Jensen of Plymouth, Minn., and seven grandchildren.

Services have been held.